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Kid Stuff: Backyard camping and other fun stuff to do in quarantine

It’s “summer vacation,” yet many parents have already been at home with their kids for several months now, and ideas for activities may be running low. So here are some things you can do—either in your house, your own back yard, or in other outdoor spaces where social distancing is possible.

THE GREAT OUTDOORS

Plant something and watch it grow. Whether you have an established garden or room for a few pots on your front step, you and your kids can sow seeds, water them daily, and watch the transformation from tiny seedling to a flowering plant—or something edible like basil or tomatoes!

Go picking. It’s the height of blueberry season in New England, and many farms have made special accommodations so that you and your family can maintain social distancing while picking your own berries! (Just remember to bring your masks!)

Set up a water station. Splashing around will always be a fun choice for kids in summer—especially in hot summer weather. So why not set up a refreshing outdoor play station for your kids? Break out the garden hose, set up the sprinkler, or make a DIY water table from some old Rubbermaids (Pinterest is your friend!).

Take a nature walk. Explore local trails with your kids. Even just a 30-minute walk in nature can feel like a mini-vacation in quarantine times! Whether you opt for a long or a short jaunt, be sure to pack water and a snack. You will also want to bring masks for yourself and your kids. You probably won’t need them, but if you end up on a narrow trail with other hikers, it’s good to have them on hand.

Go backyard camping. Set up a tent, build a fire-pit, toast some marshmallows, and get ready for a fun family getaway right in your own back yard! This might not be the exact camping trip you’ve always envisioned, but there are some definite perks to the location… including the luxury of indoor bathrooms nearby!

Backyard Camping

THE GREAT INDOORS

Cook or bake something. Pick one of your kid’s favorite foods and whip it up together. From blueberry muffins to homemade pizza, there are plenty of fun and delicious things you can create—and eat—together!

Get an activity box subscription. Get kits and activities sent right to your doorstep on a regular basis! Subscription boxes are great for rainy (or very hot) days, when spending time outside isn’t really an option. From STEM- to arts-and-craft-themed boxes, these subscriptions will provide ready-made fun and learning for you and your kid(s)! Here are some popular services to choose from

Write a story together. Tired of reading that favorite children's book for the eleven-thousandth time? Sit down with your kid and cook up a new story! Whether you start with a prompt (Google “writing prompts for kids”) or inspiration from your kiddo’s own imagination, there is lots of fun to be had. Let your child take the lead, and you can be the scribe. Once the story is written down, you can even do some illustrations together!

Have movie night (or afternoon). Pop up some popcorn, pile up some pillows, and round up the whole family for a special viewing party. If you need some guidance choosing a flick that will work for the whole family, commonsensemedia.org is a great resource.

Family Movie Night

Build a fort. Whether it’s from blankets and chairs, cardboard boxes, or a giant stack of pillows—fort-building is a fun activity, and can result in a cozy spot for kids to sit and play or read afterwards.

Hold a living room yoga class. If you’ve taken a yoga class or two, then you probably know enough to hold an “intro” class for your kids. If you prefer more formal instruction, there are plenty of classes available online for kids of all ages. Check out some YouTube videos in advance, and find one that you think would be right for your family!

Build a truck ramp. Do you have a recycling bin full of cardboard? With some empty boxes, scissors, and some strong tape (think mailing or duct tape), you and your child can build tracks, ramps, or jumps and hold races for toy vehicles.

Check out a nature cam. Watching animals or marine life frolicking in their own habitat can be a fun, relaxing, and educational way to spend an afternoon. Here are some great animal livestreams to choose from.

Have a dance party. If your household has come down with a case of severe grumpiness, there’s nothing better than an impromptu dance party to lift the mood. Crank up some music and dance like a maniac! Your kids will either join you or laugh along with you. Either way, it’s a win!

Exploring Hawley: Part 3

This next location is not technically in the state forest but if you continue down the trails, you will enter the state forest. The Hawley Historical Society has done a wonderful job with a self-guided tour of what was Hawley center.

The location is on East Hawley road near the intersection of Forget Road. The trail head and parking are on the west side of the road across the street from a red cabin, that was built on the foundation of an old tavern. There are several foundations to see each with a history of what was there and asks some questions for further contemplation. There are nine sites on this rather short hike.

If you want to hike longer, you can either continue down the old roads that are now snowmobile trails or hike out to the Hawley Bog, which is owned by the Nature Conservancy.

The bog is beautiful with tons of bird life but it will be more interesting as we get further along into spring and summer. You will then be able to see more of the rare plant life blooming etc. This trail becomes a series of narrow boardwalk, so I would suggest bringing a mask to wear, in case you encounter other hikers. I have generally found when I have been there that I am the only vehicle so I have been alone on the trail. It is also not that dog friendly, if you do have a dog with you, the dog should be on a short leash and try to keep the dog on the boardwalk.

Hawley Bog

Exploring the Hawley State Forest

Looking for a fun, educational way to get some exercise--while practicing social distancing?

It is easy to accomplish all of this in the Kenneth M. Dubuque state Forest, or as most people call it, the Hawley State Forest--and it is easy to keep social distance in its 7,882 acres with over 35 miles of trails. Hawley was once a bustling town, but now only has a little over 300 people. It is a great place to explore our New England woods and see relics of Old New England.

For this walk, bike, ski, or snowmobile ride, park beside the East Hawley Fire Station on Plainfield Road (East Hawley Road) near the intersection of Ashfield Road (see map). You can see the church from there. (Did you know that to be an incorporated town in early Massachusetts, you had to have a church?) If you walk in the trail you will soon come to the charcoal kiln. This is a fabulous stone structure as you can see in the photos. It is a great place to take children to learn about how charcoal was made. Why was it so important to have a charcoal kiln? What was charcoal used for? Massachusetts has 80% more forests now than it was a century ago. By 1876, much of the timber had already been cut.

If you want to keep hiking, continue up Kiln Road. You will cross at the base of a small beaver pond. (Beavers were were highly sought after by early trappers for their pelts and were nearly all killed by 1876. They started returning to Massachusetts in the 1920s and were also reintroduced. This is a whole other study you can do with your children.) When you get to the intersection of with Penobscot Road, turn left and shortly on the right you will find and old foundation. BE CAREFUL OF THE OLD WELL near the northeast corner of the foundation between two maples. What is the big structure in the middle of the foundation? It is the base of the old central chimney.

Most early New England houses had a big chimney with a big fireplace for cooking, a beehive oven, and two additional fireplaces in the “fancy parlor” and the regular parlor. Sometimes they contained a smoking chamber too. Fancy houses often had fireplaces in the upstairs bedrooms. This how they heated the house. The fire going all day would heat that central core of stone or brick, which would help the house retain some heat over night. I have read that the average indoor temperature in winter was 45 °F. How long would you estimate since a house had been in this spot from the size of the trees growing in the basement?

If you want to keep going, you can head to another old foundation near the corner of South Road and Middle Road on the Periwinkle Trail. It is about another mile farther. (I did an entire loop on my cross country skis, catching the last of the snow which is about 6 miles.) Why is it called the Periwinkle Trail? This is easy to answer in the spring; Myrtle or periwinkle plus day lilies and old lilacs are plants that tend to be long lived and if you see them in the woods there is a good chance there is a foundation nearby. Be very careful near old lilacs because there were commonly planted near wells. How does this foundation differ from the other? Which of the two foundations do you think is better sited and why? Other than the foundation pictured here there is more cool historic stuff up this trail but it is not a good ski trail, so I did not go there.

I then continued down South Road so I could go around the block, down Middle Road, which has a lovely large beaver meadow beside it as you approach Hunt Road. It is one of many in the Hawley State Forest. There are also several old dams. The one pictured here is near the corner of Hunt Rd and Penobscot Rd. I hope to go to the other side of the Hawley State Forest near Hallockville Pond off of West Hawley Road for my next post on water power. Hawley has a very high altitude, hence lots of snow, but I doubt I’ll be on skis again this season. I took these photos on March 26th.

If you're interested in further reading on life in early New England, I recommend Diary of an Early American Boy by Eric Sloane. It's great reading for readers in middle school and up!

Yours Truly,

Carla Ness of Delap Real Estate and her dog, Jack. (photo taken earlier in the season)