Summer is the best time for newcomers to explore the Upper Valley
By Marcos Stafne, Ph.D.
Being new to the Upper Valley last spring, I was pleasantly surprised at the numerous cultural resources that come alive when the weather warms up. Here are a few family friendly picks that I highly recommend.
Get Your Feet Wet
The Montshire Museum of Science’s David Goudy Science Park is a favorite among area residents. While cooling off in the water activities, kids have a chance to do a little tinkering and explore hydrology. Three miles of trails offer outdoor physical activities and, when you’re ready for a break from the sun, it’s well worth a stop inside to visit the Tinkering Loft exhibition where kids of all ages are invited to design, build, and create. Try venturing out on the Planet Walk; it sends you on a three-mile round trip around the solar system.
If you’re looking for a summer flight of fancy, the Vermont Institute of Natural Science (VINS) in Quechee, Vt., facilitates daily programming featuring our feathered friends. Kids get up-close and personal with extraordinary birds and explore the amazing natural environments on the VINS campus. Be sure to check out The McKnight Trail, perfect for a long summer afternoon walk and accessible for people using wheelchairs and strollers.
Delve into the Past
Craving ice cream? Stop by Billings Farm and Museum to get a good dose of the Upper Valley’s farming past while tasting delicious ice cream produced from its dairy. Walking the grounds during the summer to meet the horses, checking out their robust kitchen garden, and exploring how people farmed in the past is a great family outing — be sure to neigh “hello” to Jim and Joe for me (they’re horses).
If industry and engineering excite your kids, check out the American Precision Museum in Windsor, Vt. Kids get to explore the history of the tools and machines that made the Upper Valley an industrial center and see demonstrations of real machining. Don’t miss the awesome miniature machine shops of John Aschauer at the back of the museum.
Dabble in the Arts
After visiting natural environments, why not try sketching what you see out in the open? On Thursday evenings in the summer, AVA Gallery in Lebanon, N.H., facilitates free plein air (making art outside) activities in nearby Colburn Park. AVA Gallery provides changing exhibitions over the summer and Kira’s Garden is a great place to take in some fresh air while looking at fantastic outdoor sculpture.
Need a little inspiration to bring out your inner artist? Feed your creativity with a walk around Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, N.H. The historic buildings and fascinating sculptures are a delight at any age. Visit on July 31 for a special Explore Your Park day featuring music, art activities and family friendly games.
After each visit, keep the memory alive by asking a question to spark conversation and imprint memories. I like to play a game called “Three Favorite Things.” Ask everyone, “What were your three favorite things about the day?” Then write them down in a small notebook. Collect these experiences over the summer and review them before school starts. Kids are often surprised to later be reminded what they enjoyed at a museum the day they visited. It’s a great way to relive the experience together.
Marcos Stafne, Ph.D., is executive director of the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich. Follow him on Twitter at @marcosstafne