How to: Make Allowances Work

By Barbra Alan

At some point, your child may approach you about receiving an allowance. This is something you should be prepared for, because your child will be. She may have all kinds of ideas as to how much she thinks she should get and what kinds of chores she’s willing to do for it. Before striking a deal with your young entrepreneur, there are few things you may want to consider to determine the best arrangement for you and your child.

If your child has requested an allowance but has a track record of being less than helpful around the house, introducing a modest monetary award at the end of each week for chores completed could be a mutually beneficial arrangement. He will learn the value of hard work and you will be able to cross one or two chores off your to-do list. Just be careful to assign your reluctant helper chores that don’t have dire consequences if they aren’t done. For example, you may want to wait until he proves his reliability before putting him in charge of feeding pets or watering plants.

If your child is already helping around the house without the motivation of a financial reward and approaches you about receiving an allowance, you have a bit more to consider: Should you reward her for doing chores that you previously established as basic expectations that must be met in your household? What would it mean if the chores she has been doing all along without a reward suddenly have a price tag attached to them?

To avoid any conflict or confusion, ask yourself this: Are there other chores that she could do that could be rewarded? For example, if you expect your child to make her bed each morning and keep her room clean, the two of you could agree that setting the table for dinner each night and putting her laundry away are the chores for which she will earn an allowance. This way, your house rules remain intact and your child has an opportunity to earn an allowance by making other contributions to the household.

Once you have decided that you would like to give your child an allowance, sit down with him and make the conditions of the agreement clear: your expectations for what chores he will do, how much the allowance will be and when it will be given. Depending on your child’s age and level of maturity, you may want to start small, with one or two chores a week for a modest rate and leave some room to grow in the coming years. Remember to discuss the consequences if chores are not done. You can even draw up a contract that you both sign and display in a central location (like the refrigerator door.) Regardless of how you reach an agreement on allowance, clear communication will be the key to success for you and your child.

Parent Tip

Earning an allowance is a great way for a child to learn accountability, teamwork and financial responsibility.

Barbra Alan is a New Hampshire-based freelance writer with two reluctant helpers of her own at home.

Originally published in the September-October 2014 issue of Kid Stuff

How to: Choose a Ballet School

Here are 5 tips to help you find the right fit for your child
By Deb German

Your young daughter is begging for ballet lessons, but when you investigate local venues for dance training you find widely divergent choices. How do you choose the right ballet school, especially if you do not have a background in dance yourself? And how do you know when she is ready?

First Things First

Young children are still learning to stand on two feet — literally. When your girlie was waddling around the house clutching a sippy cup, her head was — relative to the rest of her body — huge. This trend continues for a while until her body catches up. Formal classical ballet training assumes this milestone has been met — the ability to stand erect and to transfer weight from one leg to the other without much ado; for most kids, that’s around age 7 or 8.

Until then it is better to find a class that lays the foundation for formal instruction — creative movement, for example, or a curriculum that offers training without the use of the barre and with a focus on developing gross motor skills and exploring the unfettered joy of moving with music. Be wary of a school or teacher who is anxious to push your kindergartner or first grader; she needs to stand on her own two feet for a while and develop stability in her torso before she is exposed to a traditional 90-minute class format that includes work both at barre and in centre floor.

A Few Pointers (Pun Intended)

In the United States there is no licensure requirement for ballet or dance pedagogy. Keeping this in mind, here are some basic guidelines for choosing a school:

  • Make sure faculty bios are published on the school website or in the literature. If a school does not disclose details about its staff, then all bets are off. For classes catering to the very young, look at the age and wisdom of the person standing at the front of the classroom. These classes are sometimes pawned off on young, inexperienced staff members who do not grasp the developmental nuances of young children.
  • Look for a dress code. Proper deportment and a neat and tidy appearance, from head to toe, are part of good training and help prepare a young dancer mentally for the discipline of class. Sloppy kids may be symptomatic of sloppy instruction.
  • Ask to observe before you enroll; you can discern much from the demeanor of the instructor and the students. Look for quiet, attentive students and a focused teacher who starts class on time.
  • Be wary of combined levels. Younger children in particular need to be among peers and not thrown in with students of different developmental sensibilities. The differences between a 4-year-old and a 5-year-old are monumental as compared with differences between older children or teens.
  • If you have a young prince who wants to dance, find out whether the school you’re considering welcomes and accommodates boys. Schools in big cities sometimes have the luxury of offering boys-only classes, but that is rare. If there are male instructors on staff, all the better — they likely will have experienced training alone in a sea of girls themselves and as such often understand the unique challenges of taking classes in the gender-imbalanced ballet world.
Great Expectations

Make sure you understand the commitment you are making for your little swan and for yourself. If you are okay with allowing her to bail mid-semester when she decides she does not love ballet after all, make sure the school is, too.

And what of the celebrated (or dreaded) recital or holiday performance? Find out ahead of time whether participation is required and make sure you understand the rehearsal schedule to avoid conflicts resulting in absences that affect the rest of the performers. (Importantly, make sure your young dancer understands this, too!) Prepare yourself also for costume fees that may or may not be refundable if Princess Aurora ditches the tiara and decides she’d rather play hockey halfway through the year.

Finally, when she is ready to cross the ballet threshold, step away and give your child room to settle into her gifts. Ask questions about things you don’t understand, but resist challenging the instructor about milestones. You are the expert where your child is concerned, but the teacher is the ballet or dance expert and knows when she is ready to move up a level, begin the rigors of pointe work or participate in a school performance.

Above all, dance happy!

Freelance writer Deb German grew up immersed in the world of classical ballet where she also clocked many hours at the front of the ballet classroom. When she is not hard at work writing copy for a marketing company in Bennington, she is blogging or hanging out in the kitchen with her Handsome Chef Boyfriend.

Originally published in the February-March 2015 issue of Kid Stuff

When (and How) to Treat a Child’s Fever


When (and How) to Treat a Child’s Fever

By Michael Lyons, M.D.

When is a child’s fever something to worry about? When is it NOT okay to watch and wait at home? These questions perplex almost all parents (often in the middle of the night). The following guidelines can help your decision-making during a stressful time.

Simply, a fever is an elevation in body temperature, the body’s natural immune response is a fever. When our bodies are insulted, usually by an infection like a sore throat or the flu, the immune system responds. The fever is not an illness in itself; it actually helps the body get rid of the infection by making it a less favorable place for bacteria or viruses to grow.

Normal body temperature is often defined as 98.6°F. In truth, body temperatures can vary, so a true elevated temperature or fever is usually defined as a body temperature above 100.4°F.


  • A fever itself won’t hurt a child. In fact, elevated body temperature may help him get better.
  • The height of the fever usually does not indicate severity of the illness. For example, a child with scarlet fever may have a temperature of 101°F, while temperature of a child with a severe cold may be 103°F. Over time and with lots of tender, loving care, the child with the cold will get better. The child with scarlet fever, however, will benefit from antibiotics. Rather than the height of the fever, what matters is how sick the child acts and the cause of the fever.
  • An estimated 80 to 90 percent of all fevers in young children is related to common viral infections — the kind of infections that get better without treatment.
  • Fevers of less than 105°F are not harmful and do not cause brain damage.
  • A small percentage of toddlers get seizures from fever. The first seizure needs immediate medical evaluation. Seizures are frightening to witness, but do not cause residual problems. Subsequent, even low-grade fevers will need to be treated early.
  • Mild elevations of up to 100.4°F can be caused by exercise, excessive clothing or hot weather.
  • Teething does not cause a true fever.

Even if the degree of a fever does not equate with severity of an illness, the presence or absence of a fever can tell us a lot. If you are worried enough to call the doctor’s office, then it’s time to know your child’s temperature rather than just feeling his or her forehead.

Always have a thermometer in a designated place in your house, especially if your kids are little. For infants under three months, use a rectal thermometer, for older infants and toddlers, the axillary (under the arm) thermometer is best. As soon as your child is old enough to hold an oral thermometer in her mouth for the required time, you can expect an accurate reading from that method. Ear thermometers are easy, but still are not consistently reliable.

Once you know your child has a fever, stop focusing on the temperature itself. Focus instead on the child’s behavior. Your child’s doctor or nurse will not be as concerned with the exact temperature as much as other symptoms such as diarrhea, a runny nose or headache. An important indicator is how your child is acting, his level of alertness and appetite. The further the child gets from a semblance of her usual self, the more likely it is she needs a medical evaluation.

Whether or not to treat a fever always comes down to judgment. If you have four children, you have a lot of experience. Trust your judgment. If the child is acting unusually sick, then an evaluation by the health care provider is warranted.

Other suggestions:

  • If your child has a fever under 101°F but, overall, appears to be well, there is no reason to treat the fever.
  • If the fever is making your child feel miserable, giving medication to reduce the fever can help him be more comfortable. Being comfortable at night seems especially important. Fever-reducing medicine might help your child sleep so her body can fight back. A well-rested body is more likely to heal faster.
  • Another reason to treat the fever is to get a sense of how sick the child is. If your parental sense reaches the worry point, treat the fever with an appropriate dose of medication and check the fever every 30 to 60 minutes. A child who acts close to his normal self after the fever has gone down is not likely to have a serious underlying illness.

The common fever-reducing medicines are acetaminophen (Tylenol), and ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil). We recommend beginning with acetaminophen. If you find the ibuprofen works better, that’s okay. When the fever won’t come down to a level that allows your child to sleep comfortably on the appropriate dose of one medicine, then it’s reasonable to use a dose of both medications at bedtime. Do not use aspirin to treat 
a fever.

The bottom line: it is okay to contact your doctor when your informed judgment tells you to do so. Have a safe and happy winter!

Guidelines from Contemporary Pediatrics for when to take your child to a doctor’s office for evaluation:

  1. An infant under 3 months of age has a fever over 100.4°F degrees.
  2. The child is lethargic or irritable or has a fever that has lasted more than three days.
  3. The child consistently complains of sore throat or ear pain.
  4. The child has abdominal pain or pain when urinating.
  5. The child is not drinking fluids or is producing a decreased amount of urine.
  6. The parent is worried about the child’s breathing, level of activity, intake or loss of fluids or whether the child really has a fever.

Michael Lyons, M.D., assistant professor at Dartmouth Medical School, is a Vermont native and has been practicing at White River Family Practice since 1995. He has three children aged 15, 17 and 20.


Originally published in the Nov/Dec/Jan 2014 issue of Kid Stuff.

Outside: Let’s Go Fishing!

Spring is a great time to introduce a child to the art of angling
By Tim Traver

Children and fishing: it’s a natural combination. Sure, fishing can be slimy, muddy, wet and even scary when a child first feels a tug on the line. But, from a kid’s point of view, what could be more fun than mud and slime (other than astonishment)? Fishing conjures memories of youthful forays with family that will stick for a lifetime.

Why teach a kid to fish? Because fishing is a great foil to the modern age of electronic gadgetry — though, to be sure, it has its own very cool gear, too. Fishing promotes values we hope our children will adopt: self-reliance, lifelong learning, patience, confidence and a love of adventure as well as of the chase. The pastime strengthens family bonds and opens doors to the marvels of the world that surround us.

Every fisherman knows fishing connects bugs to the phases of the moon and everything in between. Fishing is not only about catching and keeping fish. There’s a small conservation lesson in releasing a fish that connects to some big concepts and more grown-up conversations about sustainability later on.

Parental Guidance

While parents can be vital catalysts when it comes to teaching a child to fish, honestly, we are not necessary. Sometimes facilitating does get messy — I remember my mother skinning an eel, all the while reading about how to do it in a tattered wild game cookbook she had rescued from the ancestral family farm (you parboil them and the skin pulls off the end like a rubber sleeve) — but, usually, there’s little demanded.

Even my father could manage the role. He was, to put it mildly, a reluctant angler. But he did get us started. Baiting the hook was about all he had to do. We did the rest by catching scup — a banded, iridescent saltwater fish that has some small bones though it makes good eating.

A passionate golfer, my father understood the value of fishing culture. When helping my parents move into assisted living, we found my father’s school papers from second grade. Included was an illustrated story in crayon of a fishing outing he took with his father. It was 1927. They caught scup with hand lines in Buzzard’s Bay. Deep down, I think, he understood fishing as a rite of passage. Passing it along was a type of initiation.

I have followed in his footsteps. When my daughter, Mollie, was 13, I gave her a fly rod, reel and fishing vest with the fervent hope that at least one of my kids would one day share my passion for fly fishing. I think we went fly fishing together maybe twice before she decided it wasn’t for her.

However, my wife snapped a photo of us creeping along a scenic trout stream together in the Big Horn Mountains during that stage of her childhood. The photo still sits on Mollie’s desk today and when the subject of fly fishing comes up, I know that on some deeper level she considers herself an angler.

Boiled down: all parents have to do is help kids catch their first few fish and link the experience to fun and together time. Embrace this iconic parental role with its long history and its redolence in metaphor and your children will bring you fish for years to come.

Safety First

The first lesson in fishing is learning to swim. The earlier, the better. In years past kids began as “Minnows” and advanced to “Sharks” in cold and mandatory summer camp swimming lessons. However it is they learn these days, make sure they can swim like fish before trying to catch one. There are other safety tips, but this one trumps all. Before you say “yes” to tweens and young teens who want to ride their bikes out after school to fish at places like the Mascoma River during the first few months of trout season, make sure their swimming skills are strong enough that they can haul themselves out after they fall in. They will fall in.

Simplicity is Key

The other fundamental principle when it comes to children and fishing (in my book, anyway) is to keep it simple and fun. Patience is a virtue; so is catching fish. Keeping it simple and fun helps insure there isn’t too much of either patience or catching fish required. Don’t discuss the finer points of fly-fishing, for example. That’s not to say children can’t learn to fly fish, but simple and fun is best when it comes to learning to fish.

The simple and fun rule extends to gear. Wayne Barrows — owner of Barrows Point Trading Post on Route 4 in Quechee, Vt. — stocks beginner set-ups in the $25 to $35 range. He recommends a 4- to 6-foot fiberglass rod, a closed face reel, fishing line, swivel, sinkers and hooks (size 8). I think even the bobber is included. Barrows suggests a three-foot distance between bobber and hook with swivel and sinker in between, so kids can swing out a cast. For an 8- to 10-year-old child who’s just starting, a beginner package and some worms dug up in the backyard are all she needs.

Other costs are minimal. Children under age 15 may fish for free in New Hampshire (under 16 in Vermont). I recommend at least one parent acquire a fishing license to fish accompany the child (available at or or purchase at a local convenience store). You (the adult) do not need a license — as long as the child does the fishing and you stick to untangling lines and unhooking fish. An in-state resident fishing license in New Hampshire costs $35. Vermont in-state license fees are $25.

Until the Ice Melts

Since ponds can remain frozen over into May, I suggest you choose April to purchase a beginner set-up and get the kids casting in the backyard. First, remove the hook and tie on a lightweight nut or, even better, use a plastic practice lure with no hooks (search online for “improved fisherman’s knot”) —  something that allows them to retrieve the line without getting hung up in the grass.

For your child’s first outing, the best show around is a free fishing derby — learn-to-fish events for parents and children sponsored by local service organizations and the state Fish and Wildlife Department. They take place across the Upper Valley. All fishing derby dates can be found online at or

For the beginning angler, whether parent or child, fishing derbies can’t be beat because catching a fish, if not guaranteed, is close to a certainty. The state stocks the ponds with fish before the event. Even more important, there are trained volunteers to teach, untangle and encourage. Some lessons — a few knots, necessary gear, casting and how to treat fish that will be released — are far better to learn in-person than read about in a book or online.

Last but not Least

Don’t forget your camera! I also recommend a small cooler with ice. If your child catches a few fish, bring them home for dinner. Fish, high in omega 3s and low in saturated fat, is good for you. There are fish consumption guidelines online that apply especially to pregnant and nursing women and children under 7. The trout and pan fish we most likely will catch tend to be quite low on the mercury spectrum.

Longtime resident of the Upper Valley, Tim Traver is past director of the Upper Valley Land Trust and COVER Home Repair. Author of the salt marsh biography, Sippewissett, he lives with his wife and family in Taftsville, Vt. 

Originally published in the April-May 2015 issue of Kid Stuff

Name that Frog

By Laura Jean Whitcomb

Did you know that there are 10 species of frogs native to New Hampshire? The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department does, and shares information about these species — from American toad to Fowler’s toad — on their website. The Fish and Game’s Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program also produces a series of handy wildlife identification cards that families can use as they are out and about enjoying the local landscape.

“The Wildlife ID cards were originally produced over several years and given as gifts to private supporters who donated to the Nongame Program. We do maintain a supply in stock and the cards are available to anyone for a suggested donation of $1 per card,” says Allison Keating, program planner for Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program. “However, if a teacher is interested in them for educational purposes we can provide a limited supply at no cost.”

The Wildlife ID cards currently available are: Frogs of NH, Snakes of NH, Salamanders of NH, Turtles of NH, Hawks of NH, Owls of NH, Coastal Birds of NH, Marsh/Wetland Birds of NH, Butterflies of NH and Dragonflies of NH. New cards come out annually as well.

Get your set by writing to Allison Keating, Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program, New Hampshire Fish and Game, 11 Hazen Drive, Concord, N.H. 03301. Checks should be made out to the Nongame and Endangered Wildlife Program with a note specifying any preference for the ID cards.

Originally published in the April/May 2014 issue of Kid Stuff.

Local: Mini Golf – Outdoor Fun for All Ages and Abilities

The ball needs to go down a five-yard ramp, through a windmill, over a bridge, then another five yards into a hole. Although it may sound like a computer game, it isn’t — it’s an outdoor game of mini golf. Kids enjoy it as much as its online counterpart and, triple bonus, they are having fun outside in the fresh air, interacting with friends and family.

Mini golf is a novelty version of golf; participants use a ball and putter on a miniature course. Originally, the game was played just like regular golf with a country club atmosphere, lush greens and caddies. But after the stock market crash of 1929, regulation miniature golf was too expensive for most people. So people made their own courses. Obstacle or hazard holes were made with scavenged items — wagon wheels, barrels, pipes — and became the models for today’s courses. In the 1930s, there were approximately 30,000 courses in the country with more than 150 rooftop courses in New York City alone.

The game is still popular today, mainly because it can be enjoyed by any gender at any age. You don’t need to be an athlete to play. And it’s not super expensive: a family of four can play 18 holes for under $20.

Fore U Golf in West Lebanon, N.H., opened their original mini golf in 1996 and two new courses in June 2005. With an ice cream stand, a shortgame practice area, and batting cages, the mini golf course is a busy place — about 22,300 rounds of golf were played on the two courses in 2013, according to Meredith Johnson, owner. “My favorite hole on our courses is on Alpine Adventure. I like the ‘cave hole’ because it is cool on hot summer days and the view from the window looks through the waterfall and over the beautiful gardens in front,” she says. “It doesn’t hurt that with a lucky bounce you can score an ace on this hole!”

Mr. Puttz in Bradford, Vt., offers 18 holes on an expansive course; one hole has a covered bridge large enough to walk through. In the summer, it’s open every day from 10 a.m. to dusk. There’s also homemade Slick’s Ice Cream and a driving range. The Fabulous 50s Car Hop Drive-In in Newport, N.H., (yes, there’s still one left in the area) has an 18-hole course behind the restaurant. You can drive up and eat in your car, or eat inside in the dining area, then play a round after your meal.

No matter where you play, “it is all about making memories,” says Johnson. “Listening to laughter wafting by as we are working in the gardens is one of the most rewarding parts of our job.”


Fabulous 50’s Car Hop Drive-In
308 Sunapee Street
(603) 863-5171

Fore U Golf Center
298 Plainfield Road
(603) 298-9702

Pizza Chef of Quechee
5893 Woodstock Road
(802) 296-6669

Local: Apple Picking at Windy Ridge

Pick Your Own

It’s that time of the year — time to visit a local orchard and eat an apple right off the tree.

By Laura H. Guion
Photography by Laura Jean Whitcomb

When the leaves start to change and the autumn chill hints of the end to summer, plan a trip to Windy Ridge Orchard in North Haverhill, N.H. If you’re coming from the opposite end of the Upper Valley, don’t let the drive deter you; it’s spectacular because of all the lush scenery, especially when the autumnal leaves are in full force.

This sublime location evolved over many years, beginning in 1968, thanks to the hard work of Richard and Ann Fabrizio. The farm had been Russell Dexter’s working dairy farm for 80 years. But when the Fabrizios took over, they planted a few apple trees — for fun — behind their house. At that time, Richard was employed full-time by the 4-H as the Grafton County agent, and Ann was a teacher. In addition to their professional lives, they have five children.

At the outset of this venture, the family members were the primary harvesters. In the 1970s they built a cider room and a sales room off of their home. In the 1980s a cold room was built for apple storage as another orchard block was planted. In the 1990s Richard retired from his job with the 4-H, followed by Ann, who retired from teaching a few years later. In their retirement, they have put many wonderful special touches on the farm and have created a location that rewards visitors with much more than just picking apples and pumpkins.

The 20-acre property grows 18 different varieties of apples. Mother Nature plays a big role in when they are ripe for picking, but generally apples begin to ripen from the end of August through the middle of October. It is best to check the website to determine the right time to visit.

When you’ve had your apple fix fulfilled, take time to roam through the nature trails. Your walk may take you over swamps or down an old logging trail. Walk the Adventure Trail or Deer path for a desirable walk through the New Hampshire woods. All are open to the public and lead to magnificent views of Bear Mountain, beautiful pastures, or even shelters and teepees that can be explored. If your feet get tired, then you might just want to hop onto a hayride for a trip back to home base.

You can easily spend the entire day at Windy Ridge. The farm has donkeys, goats, pigs and sheep which love to meet the visitors. There is a playground where children can dig in the sand and pretend to be farmers planting their orchards. The store is filled with delicious goodies like unpasteurized cider, pressed right on the farm; seasonal vegetables; honey; maple syrup; mums; gifts; crafts and Yankee Candles. And the Cider House Café offers sandwiches, homemade doughnuts, caramel apples, and warm beverages.

Windy Ridge was created through personal passion; you get the feeling that the family is opening their home to you. Once you’ve been to Windy Ridge, you’ll want to make it an annual trek.

Take a Trip

Hours and directions are online at

Originally published in the September-October 2011 issue of Kid Stuff

The Union Arena Community Center

By Laura Jean Whitcomb

The parking lot is huge. The brick building seems even bigger. The entrance, with its four white columns, feels a bit imposing. But walk through the glass doors of the Union Arena Community Center in Woodstock, Vt., and you’re standing in a cozy waiting area. Concession stand to the left, tables and chairs to the right. A few steps more, and you’ll see, beyond the glass, a four-season, multipurpose venue that can be used as an ice rink, concert venue, circus camp, roller derby track, and much, much more.

“If there is something you like, it can be done here,” says Dan French, general manager. “If it doesn’t happen now, we can add it. The building was designed so it can handle just about anything.”


That’s the beauty of Union Arena. In 1992, a group of volunteers began to raise funds for the construction of the indoor ice rink. “Youth hockey and figure skating were growing in Woodstock,” says French. Building just an ice rink wasn’t really financially viable — but building a community center was. With great attention to detail, the group planned a building that would meet the needs of Woodstock, and beyond, for many years to come.

Need a place to have a concert? The Union Arena has acoustical decking, with two feet of insulation between the ceiling and the roof. “There’s no echo, no tinny sound like in other arenas,” says French. There’s a state-of-the-art Peavey sound system and a seven speaker console suspended from the center of the arena. And the Zamboni door is designed to welcome a tractor trailer, so it is possible to truck in all the necessary concert equipment.

Or how about a location for an annual antique show? There’s 17,000 feet of usable space, and the floor can support any weight. How about a two-week long circus camp in the summer? Union Arena provides a location like no other: with hooks on the ceiling the campers are able to practice bungee jumps and climb silk ropes, “something they can’t do at other locations,” says French.

The more you think about it, you’re standing in a mini-Boston Garden. From a functional point of view (electrical system, location of the mechanicals and easy maintenance), Union Arena can have all the same events that the Boston Garden did, but just with a smaller seat capacity. The Boston Bruins have played the Garden and, well, they’ve played at Union Arena, too.

In less than 24 hours, the building can transform from an ice rink to an event center. Community events have ranged from a tag sale (a really big one) to agriculture shows to school graduations. Athletic activities include six months of winter ice and six weeks of summer ice for adult and youth ice hockey, figure skating and public skating; spring and fall indoor sports including field hockey, soccer, baseball and lacrosse; and senior, preschool and handicapped exercise programs in all seasons.

Still Improving

The fundraising didn’t happen all at once, but over time. “The arena was designed for additions,” says French, who has been with the project since the early 1990s, manager between 2004 and 2006, and back as general manager since 2011. “When the initial fundraising wasn’t met in 2003, the architect, Harold Mayhew, took out things like a skate sharpener and a sound system. People wrote checks later and we were able to add them in.” One example: there was an ice rink, but no seating, so a family wrote a $50,000 check for bleachers. Even today, the arena’s business model is self-supportive; the community venue does not receive any financial support from the town or school.

Which is even more surprising, once you see the family-friendly prices. A family of four (two adults and two children under age 14) could skate for an afternoon at the arena for $20. It’s even less if you’re a member: $12. Membership is $85 for a family and $35 for an individual, or you could opt for a variety of passes: public skate season pass, a public skate frequent skater pass, or an open stick season pass for pick-up hockey games.

With 2013 marking Union Arena’s tenth anniversary — or arenaversary — there’s been a few more free public events (see sidebar) and a request for donations to ensure the arena’s future success. “We’d like to go green,” says French, “and focus on energy efficiency.” Donations to the Anniversary Fund will also keep user costs down, so that family of four will still be able to skate the day away.

Learn more at

Did You Know?

Union Arena brings 50,000 people to the Upper Valley each year — and more than $1 million in economic benefits.

Originally published in the November/December/January 2013 issue of Kid Stuff.

Mountain Meadow Funplex (formerly Competition Complex)

Play Hard, Have Fun

By Laura Jean Whitcomb

Joe Roberts II had an idea for an indoor activity center 15 years ago. The Grafton, N.H., resident envisioned a place where families could spend the day playing games and sports. Roberts, already a businessman with several companies, asked his marketing department for a demographic analysis of the area. Their answer? Not enough people to make the idea financially viable.

So Roberts moved on to another idea, which was turning an old manufacturing building into a storage facility. In 2008, when he was faced with the decision of laying off employees at his construction company, he decided to move ahead with his original vision. Construction started in February 2009 and the Competition Complex in Canaan, N.H., opened in June.

“Kids spend too much time twittering, too much time on computers,” he says. “I wanted to create a ‘stealth’ exercise program.”

Kids can quickly work up a sweat without realizing it. There are two batting cages (one for baseball, one for softball), two basketball hoops (one set at NBA regulation height), a dodge ball arena and an 18-foot indoor rock climbing wall. Those less athletically inclined could indulge in a round of ping pong or 18 holes of mini-golf. For the toddler set, there’s a playground surrounded by a padded floor. Parents can get right into the thick of it, or supervise from a chair on the deck — built to resemble a patio overlooking a backyard.

The kids won’t notice that there is no rain, no sunburns and no black flies at the Competition Complex. They also won’t notice that it’s a safe environment — there is always someone by the rock climbing wall to help with the safety belays and always a second person on the floor. They will notice that the activities change frequently. A dance machine was later replaced by an Xbox. Large foam building blocks were added to the playground area. The ping pong table was moved from the back to the middle, and a second ping pong table was added.

“It’s based on my short attention span,” says Roberts. “After five minutes I’m usually looking around for something else to do.” He has plans for a mechanical bull, indoor horseshoe pits, an exercise program and additional climbing walls. “Or how about virtual golf machines and a private lounge out back? Or an activity field with an exercise program based on a military boot camp — things to crawl over, things to crawl under, a rope to climb up. All these things will help kids with their social development. You don’t get that hanging around a computer.”

And, so far, the Competition Complex idea has been financially viable. “I’m building a model,” he says. “Once it proves out I’ll run out a buy a few more buildings.”

The Roberts family provides plenty of ideas. He has three children living in New Hampshire — one son, Joey, is the general manager — and five granddaughters and four grandsons. Roberts loves his family time, and wants the same for others. “We hope that people come to the Competition Complex to have fun and play hard. Activities are based on four Fs: fun, family, fatigue…and I forgot the fourth one.”

It might be food; Roberts has plans for a “deli on steroids” with sandwiches, burgers and hot dogs.

Competition complex is located on Route 4 in Canaan. It is open Wednesday and Thursday from 12 to 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Sunday 12 to 6 p.m. Learn more at

Originally published in the winter 2010 issue of Kid Stuff

Local: Experience Nature with VINS

By Laura Jean Whitcomb

In 1970, Dr. David Laughlin, a dentist in Woodstock, Vt., and a group of volunteers spearheaded efforts to study pollution in the Ottauquechee River. “Their efforts led to the first litigation over water quality in the state of Vermont and, ultimately, the court-ordered clean up of the river,” says John V. Dolan, president of the Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS) in Quechee, Vt. That was only the start. In October 1972, David and his wife, Sally; June McNight; and Rick Farrar founded the Vermont Institute of Natural Science to “provide science-based nature education as a way to change attitudes and maintain a healthy environment.”

And for 40 years, VINS has been doing just that. From the avian infirmary (opened in the late 1980s) to the new home for the Nature Center (opened in 2004), VINS has offered thousands of people the chance to learn about their natural world and the opportunity to be inspired to actively care for it.

Because you can get overwhelmed with all there is to explore on the 47-acre Nature Center site, here’s a guide for a few things your family can do at VINS. “Between the programs, walking the trails and viewing the raptor enclosures, you can spend about one to three hours enjoying what VINS has to offer,” says Mary Donaldson-Graham, director of marketing.

Six things to do at VINS

See the Raptors: Some birds are sleeping. Some are awake — and almost interactive. (It seemed like the bald eagle was listening to our conversation, and perked up whenever my daughter spoke.) Some are hard to find; it was almost a “Where’s Waldo” scenario looking for the small, brown screech owl in one enclosure. But here at VINS, you’ll see the largest collection of birds of prey — bald eagles, hawks, owls and falcons — in the Northeast. There’s information about each bird on signage, and benches to sit and watch the birds. Take advantage of the opportunity to see a golden eagle, a raptor that is not native to this area and rarely seen in the wild.

Peek into the Animal Hospital: Nothing was happening during our visit, but there’s a one-way mirror into the rehabilitation department at VINS. If you’re lucky, you might see staff members giving a golden eagle a pedicure or splinting a heron’s leg. You can also see videos of first aid for birds at

Explore the Nature Nook: Dare to put your hand behind the curtain? If you’re not brave enough to touch a bird’s skull, you can read a nature question and open a door to find the answer. Continue into the room and you’ll find frogs (native to Vermont), snakes, fish and turtles.

Creep around the Crawl Space: This new exhibit is a place where kids can put on a puppet theater, using animals to act out what they learned on their trip to VINS. Parents, there are chairs, so you can take a break for a minute. From the comfort of your chair, you can look at porcupine quills through a microscope or touch some natural artifacts, like the foot of a blue jay.

Go for a Hike: Wear some sneakers and go for a walk on one of the many nature trails at VINS. You can visit a vernal pool on your way to the ¼-mile Laughlin Trail, or walk along the Ottauquechee River on the ½-mile Lingelbach Trail.

Watch Birds in Flight: The birds are pretty spectacular in their enclosures, but it is a real treat to see them out in the open. VINS’ feathered ambassadors sit on the glove of a trainer, and fly overhead so kids of all ages can learn about the mechanics of flight, seasonal migration and the extraordinary abilities of raptors. Make sure you have a camera.

The VINS Nature Center is open daily, May to October, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Live bird programs are held at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Get directions online at