Editor’s Note: Alison Novak is managing editor of Kids VT, a parenting newsmagazine published by Seven Days. As a mom to 11- and 13-year-olds and an outdoor enthusiast, she is always on the lookout for fun and engaging family activities.

Novak is a featured speaker at the upcoming Town Hall: Let’s Get Outside: Recreational Opportunities in Vermont.

Meandering down a trail while chatting with a hiking partner might appeal to adults, but kids often do better when there’s a focus to outside exploration. As a parent of an 11- and 13-year-old, I’ve found that time spent in nature is often more enjoyable for everyone when there’s a purpose to our outing.

Kid-Approved Activities that Give Structure to Excursions

At Kids VT, the monthly parenting publication where I’m managing editor, we’ve written about a number of kid-approved activities that give structure to outdoor excursions.  

Geocaching is essentially a digital scavenger hunt. Downloading the Geocaching smartphone app allows you to find hidden containers —  from film canisters to ammunition boxes – stocked with trinkets or notebooks where you can log your name and the date.  

Story walks are great for little ones. Picture books that have been taken apart and laminated are attached to stakes along a trail, allowing you to read as you stroll. You can find A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin at Leddy Park in Burlington through the end of May. And starting April 21, a story walk based on the children’s counting book, Over in the Forest: Come and Take a Peek, will be in Winooski’s Memorial Park. 

-Another option is joining the 251 Club. The organization, which has been around for more than 65 years, encourages members to visit all 251 towns and cities in the state to get to know the “real Vermont.”

Family-Friendly Destinations for Exercise and Entertainment  

Though my family hasn’t joined the 251 Club — yet! –  we have found a number of special and unusual local spots that serve up exercise and entertainment for all ages. Here are four of them: 

Across the dirt road from the famed poet’s summer cabin, you’ll find this one-mile loop. The path winds over rivers and streams and through blueberry patches and birch trees. Along the way, you’ll discover Frost’s poems and quotations mounted on plaques. Notable plants – including meadowsweet, beaked hazelnut and wild raisin – are identified on low wooden signs. The trail’s short length and flat terrain make it a great choice for little legs. 

Mysterious swirls, curves, circles and waving lines on the rock outcroppings of this 85-acre preserve give clues to the ocean life that once inhabited the area. Use the fossils as a jumping-off-point for a lesson in natural history for older kids, or simply play a game of “I Spy,” to see how many impressions you can find. See more fossils at the smaller, 20-acre Fisk Quarry Preserve nearby. 

One of my family’s  favorite “finds” this summer, this sculpture park — eight miles southwest of Middlebury College — boasts a mowed, mile-and-a-half walking path that snakes through grassy fields, past dozens of large sculptures made from steel, titanium, stone and concrete. Some are abstract, such as “The Tiller,” a playful orange swirl reminiscent of a twisted-up pool noodle. Others are amusing, like Vermont artist Martin McGowan’s “Fish on a Bicycle.” The park is open for self-guided tours from May 1 through November. Picnicking and on-leash dogs are permitted.  

Sculpture at Lemon Fair Sculpture Park, Shoreham, VT
Family-friendly fun and engagement at the Lemon Fair Sculpture Park.

This isn’t your typical outdoor excursion, but on a recent family day trip to this historic cemetery, I found myself surprised by how much there is to see here. Spread throughout the 65-acre grounds are a variety of unique gravestones carved expertly by local granite artists. Kids will be especially enthralled by the soccer ball, airplane and racecar, which commemorates local driver Armand J “Joey” Laquerre.  


Learn More Ways to Get Outside in Vermont

Learn about more ways to get outside in Vermont from Alison and outdoor enthusiasts from Vermont outdoors organizations at the April 27 Town Hall, “Let’s Get Outside: Recreational Opportunities in Vermont.” The full line-up of speakers includes:

“Let’s Get Outside: Recreational Opportunities in Vermont” is the third in COVID Support VT’s monthly Town Hall series. Learn more: Town Hall Aims to Get Vermonters Outside for Mental Health in Mud Season

You can watch recordings of past Town Halls, on Chittenden County Housing Assistance and Food Access in the Northeast Kingdom, here.

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