Okay, parents. Depending on how you look at it, this next week or so is either dreadful or golden. It’s that lull between the end of camps and the start of school. That summer packed with promise is pretty much behind you, and the week or so before you is a wide-open, yawning black hole on your calendar. But let’s be positive. This is your chance to really dig in and enjoy our diverse area full of free museums, beautiful parks, nice waterfront and endless possibilities.
So don’t dread, delight.
To help you along, we asked local parents with a particular interest in children (not that we all aren’t so interested) to outline their favorite activities to do with kids during the quiet summer weeks and beyond.
No camp, no school, no problem.
— Amy Joyce
Who: Tracy Grant, mother to 16-year-old twins Andrew and Christopher, KidsPost editor and author of The Post’s MomSpeak column.
What she recommends: Visit the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum . First off, let me confess that what prompted our most recent trip to this magnificent complex was Andrew’s summer assignment for his art history course. He needed to take notes on 10 works of art. So notecards and twin brother in tow, Andrew headed off to look at art, dutifully. Duty gave way to wonder fairly quickly, however, as he discovered the wild-eyed portrait of abolitionist John Brown by Ole Peter Hansen Balling. Next came the enormous scene of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and his generals (also by Balling) hanging in a vast stairwell. “I want to do this one because it shows Uncle Ulysses,” Andrew said with a grin. This was starting to be real fun. (For the record, no, we’re not related.)
As we wandered through gallery after gallery, the boys discovered that they liked realism more than impressionism. (That’s a very cool conversation to have with teenage sons.) David Beck’s “MVSEVM” engaged us for a good 10 minutes (make sure you check out how the magnifying glasses are aligned in this painstakingly created museum miniature.) Now, let’s be fair, I was at the Smithsonian Art Museum with 16-year-old boys, so of course we headed up to the museum’s light-filled third floor to check out the “Art of Video Games” exhibition, which is open through Sept. 30. But before we got there, Nam June Paik’s mesmerizing neon map of the United States caught our attention. We sat in front of “Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, Hawaii” watching the TV screens change, capturing moments from history and popular culture. “I’m not sure it’s art, but it sure is interesting,” Christopher opined. In a word, priceless.
Know before you go:
Who: Meshelle and Cathal Armstrong, parents of Eve and Eamonn, 13 and 10, respectively, and owner and chef of Restaurant Eve and Eamonn’s, among others.
What they recommend: We take full advantage of free time in August. Here a few options that vary in price that we do as a family. They make great memories and keep everyone busy (so we can turn off “SpongeBob” for the day).
Mariner Sailing School at Belle Haven Local Marina is hidden just south of Alexandria, right off the George Washington Parkway. They have a variety of programs for adults and kids, with Flying Scot, sunfish, canoe and kayak rentals. Kids get a 15-hour class that you can split into sessions. At $180 per person or $330 for two, it may seem like a large cash output, but one of the best things about Mariner Sailing School is that you get a free week of practice sailing, and after that rentals are half-price during the week. It’s a really reasonable deal for sailboat rentals in the area and is always a great time.
If you want to stay cool and get some exercise, go ice skating at the Mount Vernon Recreation Center . Promise the kids a trip to Pop’s , an old-fashioned ice cream parlor (the owners make their own ice cream on the premises) in historic Old Town Alexandria, to cap a good day.
There’s a new Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park if your kids like running through the sprinkler, playing in a treehouse or just spending time at the park. The complex features Chesapeake Bay-themed attractions, a Tiki village playground, a treehouse and the Harbor Sprayground.
Tamarack Stables is nestled in the rolling hills of Virginia’s historic Mason Neck area. It is an easy drive from most Northern Virginia neighborhoods. They offer trail rides from one to four hours. The horses are well trained — just be sure to let them know your riding experience. As a family, we’ve been riding for some time, so we were jumping over logs and cantering up hills and through rivers. It’s certainly not dull.
The stables are adjacent to Pohick Bay Regional Park on the Mason Neck Peninsula. It’s an ecologically fragile land that shelters an abundance of wildlife, including bald eagles! Nature lovers can expect to see blue birds, osprey, heron, deer, beavers and river otters. It’s a water-oriented park for big and little kids. And the kids will love Pirate’s Cove Waterpark, so you could really make a day of this.
Know before you go:
Mariner Sailing School, 6401 George Washington Memorial Pkwy., Alexandria. 703-768-0018. www.saildc.com.
Mount Vernon Recreation Center, 2017 Belle View Blvd., Alexandria. 703-768-3224. www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/rec/mvrec.htm.
Pop’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream, 105 King St., Alexandria. 703-518-5374. www.fishmarketva.com.
Lee District RECenter, 6601 Telegraph Rd., Franconia. 703-922-9841. www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/rec/leerec.htm.
Tamarack Stables, 9905 Old Colchester Rd., Lorton. 703-339-5160. www.ridetamack.com.
Pohick Bay Regional Park, 6501 Pohick Bay Dr., Lorton. 703-339-6104. www.nvrpa.org/park/pohick_bay.
Who: Kaya Henderson, lives with her significant other and his two sons, ages 6 and 16, and is chancellor of the D.C. Public Schools.
What she recommends: The National Arboretum is a great place to visit as the summer winds down. It’s nine miles of plants, flowers, trees, trails and bushes like you’ve never seen before. It’s entertaining for children of all ages because there is so much to see and so much to learn! Bring a blanket, and you can have a picnic and talk about the favorite things that you saw. Like most of the great places in Washington, it’s free to get in. But unlike some other tourist destinations, it’s easy to park at the Arboretum. The National Arboretum is one of our country’s most special treasures, right here in the city — nothing in the District comes close to comparing to how beautiful, inspiring, engaging and educational it is, all in one place.
And here’s another suggestion for everyone in the city: Two days before school starts, on Aug. 25, we have a citywide, really fun annual event to help spruce up our schools called DCPS Beautification Day . We need volunteers at more than 100 schools to help with landscaping, trash pickup, painting, planting flowers, setting up classrooms, creating leveled book rooms and other beautification efforts.
Know before you go:
National Arboretum, 3501 New York Ave. NE. 202-245-2726. www.usna.usda.gov.
DCPS Beautification Day, Aug. 25. 202-724-4881. dcps.dc.gov/DCPS/beautification.
Who: Justin Rude, father of James, 3, and Arlo, who doesn’t skate — or walk — yet, and a staff writer at The Post.
What he recommends: James and I don’t see eye-to-eye on everything — he prefers monster trucks to dinosaurs, baseball to football and likes to peel the cheese off his pizza (!!!). But this summer, ice skating has emerged as an activity that we not only both enjoy, but also enjoy doing together. Equal parts escape from the heat, exercise and bonding activity, our time on the ice is a rough-and-tumble twice-a-week treat. James started classes at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex months ago, and while I love to watch his progress under instruction, it’s our trips onto the ice together during free skates and recesses (kids-and-parents-only ice times) that I cherish.
Three or 4 are great ages to begin skating. Little kids are close enough to the ice that falls are rarely traumatic, and they tend to pick it up much faster — while reveling in the little victories of the learning process — than adult beginners do.
Coming off the ice during a recent skate, James pointed at a television in the lobby that was showing replays of last season’s NHL Stanley Cup playoffs and loudly proclaimed, “Look, look, Papa! I was going fast just like those guys!” That drew a round of chuckles from nearby parents and arena workers. But they weren’t mocking; they were knowing. Once you have your ice legs and can propel yourself around the surface without clutching the boards, it feels like you’re flying — even if you’re 3 years old and spend the majority of your time wiping out and flinging around the rink.
Know before you go:
Kettler Capitals Iceplex, 627 N. Glebe Rd., Suite 800, Arlington. 571-224-0555. www.kettlercapitals.pointstreaksites.com.
Rockville Ice Arena, 50 Southlawn Ct., Rockville. 301-315-5650. www.rockvilleice.pointstreaksites.com.
Who: Sandie Angulo Chen, mother to Elias, 10, Delia, 7, and Jonah, 4, and reviewer of books and movies for children and parents.
What she recommends: When the dry stream bed runs with the blood-crimson leaves of the Japanese maples, I have to remind myself that we’re inside the Beltway. When a doe, lulled by life in a wildlife sanctuary, refuses to move from my daughter’s path until she’s two yards from its twitching white tail, I have to remind myself again that we’re inside the Beltway. And when my 10-year-old son tells me that he’s seen a snake rising from the pond to swallow a frog, or when we lift a stump to find a spotted salamander, I can hardly believe that we’re inside the Beltway. But we are. We’re in the Woodend Nature Sanctuary , a 40-acre property run by the Audubon Naturalist Society in Chevy Chase. The grounds include Woodend Mansion, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but we’ve been inside only for summer camp drop-off. We stay on the trails, or in the milkweed field, pulling and blowing handfuls of silken seeds. My family of five comes here when nature seems too far away or the hot city summer feels too close.
No tigers, though. The Audubon has deer, amphibians and birds a-plenty, but nothing (we hope) with eviscerating claws. For that (and to hear our 4-year-old son roar in gleeful anticipation), we need to go downtown to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History . Here, lionesses attack a buffalo, a tiger leaps claws first from a transom niche and a tiny bat cradles an even tinier fish in its feet, seconds away from a dinnertime that will never come. The museum’s Hall of Mammals, now almost a decade old, still seems fresh and alive, quite a feat considering everything in it is dead. The walk-around dioramas, the spacious layout and the incredible range of animals from around the world make nature seem as real as it ever appeared under a rotunda.
Know before you go:
Woodend Nature Sanctuary, 8940 Jones Mill Rd., Chevy Chase. 301-652-9188. www.audubonnaturalist.com.
National History Museum, 10th Street and Constitution Avenue NW. 202-633-1000. www.mnh.si.edu.