Getting creative in order to build my street cred with my teenage girls
February in New England brings with it the annual challenge of being the dead of winter while also having a school vacation week. Some families cope by making plans to embrace the season and go skiing for a week. Others flee to thaw out in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. For those who stay put, it can be a challenge to come up with ideas.
This is especially true for families with preteens and teens, who aren’t going to be entertained as easily as when they were younger. To help those parents searching for ideas, we’ve assembled a few possibilities outside of the most obvious choices, such as a day trip to Boston or skiing at a more local mountain. These cover a mix of activities suitable for older kids, most of which are fine for younger ones as well.
New England was one of the founding regions of the country, and it is filled with opportunities to explore that history. This can vary from larger, hours-long places like Plimothe Plantation to perhaps stringing together smaller venues. For example, a Berkshire day trip might begin with the Norman Rockwell Museum, seeing much of the twentieth century chronicled by the famed artist. It might continue on with a visit to The Mount, Edith Wharton’s home, which allows exploration of an early women’s rights pillar and famed author. Perhaps your trip concludes with a stop at Ventfort Hall, a gilded age mansion. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is currently undergoing preservation efforts. But much of the mansion is open, and tours will help pace and inform a visit.
Larger seaports and ski country both have opportunities to put together a similar assembly of nautical, automobile, skiing, and pioneering history to at least cover an afternoon of casual learning that can generate discussion over dinner. These smaller museums are also not nearly as packed and frenetic.
However, our favorite would be exploring historic Mystic, Connecticut’s Seaport Museum. It’s a large museum, with many buildings that will provide hours of exploration. As a living museum, it is more interactive, which can facilitate learning, discussion, and allow curiosity to better engage with the history (who knew human pee was saved all day in order to clean the printing press?!?!). Exploring ships, in addition to the houses and businesses, will capture the imagination of many. In all likelihood, you’ll run out of time before you’ve fully explored this place.
For those with preteen or teen girls, you can add a twist to this. If you all watch the movie Mystic Pizza, starring an early Julia Roberts, you can have lunch at the Mystic Pizza in downtown Mystic that was the basis for the movie. With movie scenes featured on the walls and the movie running on a continuous loop, it can be a fun way to incorporate a movie parents might have seen when you were younger, while enjoying lunch in a unique way.
For those who enjoy a day spent shopping for bargains or trendy clothes, New England has plenty of great shopping malls and areas; it isn’t just restricted to Boston’s famed Newbury Street shops, Faneuil Hall, and Copley Plaza’s shops. The Church Street Marketplace in Burlington, Vermont, is always bustling with fun energy. Providence Place Mall also provides a respite from the cold, with an afternoon’s worth of wandering, browsing, and eating. But if choosing just one, we’ll head north of the outlets in Kittery, Maine, and nominate Portland, Maine’s Old Port. Although you’ll be out in the cold, with wind possibly blowing in from the harbor, you can duck into a variety of high end shops to browse trendy clothes and home décor to make bedrooms or kid caves more interesting. With so many little pubs and restaurants, there’s bound to be a quaint place to meet anyone’s dietary preference. All of the contemporary shops and restaurants are set in a historic part of town, which creates a contrast that adds to the ambiance and fun. Any purchases may create some residual fun for the rest of the vacation as kids wear their new clothes or redecorate their rooms.
February is the last month of deep winter, since March offers the occasional warm day and the start of daylight savings. So, being indoors is often preferred, but it also can lead to some cabin fever. One way to find the balancing act, especially for kids who might want to burn off some steam, is with a visit to an escape room.
Escape rooms have sprung up, with places around the region. These offer a combination of problem-solving, teamwork, and a race against the clock to figure out riddles and decipher clues. The end result is typically a one-hour chance to escape from the room, or else face some grim demise.
These escape rooms are monitored, so if your group gets stuck, there’s typically an opportunity to get a few clues along the way. But few rooms have a really high success rate, making them legitimately challenging. They often will accommodate up to six or eight people, so there is a possibility that you could get paired up with others. However, if you have a couple of families looking for something to do, then this can allow you to have the room to yourself.
Our favorite is Bota Borg, in Malden, Massachusetts. This is a departure from many escape rooms. Whereas normally you’d have an hour to solve the puzzles of an individual room, this place is fundamentally different.
Bota Borg offers a series of rooms, some that demand more intellectual problem-solving and others that are more physical. They have these rooms rated, so that you know what you’re getting yourself into. Another twist at this place is that it’s timed to be fast-paced. The “rooms” are actually two or three rooms linked together. If you can’t progress quickly enough then you get kicked out of the room and have to leave and start over.
This can turn into nearly an all-day event and is a blast - including for many parents!
If your kid is looking to make his or her bedroom more befitting a teen, or if your kid cave needs some sprucing up, turn it into a group project. It can offer an array of activities, and some are secretly redeeming.
If they’re given a budget then it will incorporate math, research, and critical thinking skills to figure out what they may do. In our hyper-consumerism world, it also may lead to some decisions involving keeping, re-purposing, or refurbishing something, such as a dresser with fresh paint and new knobs. If it’s joint space, such as a fun room, it requires the kids to negotiate and compromise.
decide up front if you have any parameters, such as a budget, parental veto rights (“no, the bedroom walls can’t be neon green”), or certain functionality (“we’re not getting a popcorn maker but skipping a couch”). But if you think these through up front, and occasionally steer your kids, this can work out fine.
While these won’t cover the vacation from start to finish, hopefully there are enough ideas here to occupy the kids’ attention and create some family bonding opportunities. Perhaps there are also some off-the-beaten path places that you discover, too? If so, please drop us a note – we’re always up for exploring new places!