There is an old adage that when Mom is happy, everyone in the family is happy. And, what makes Mom happy? Tired, fulfilled, happy children. Luckily Gwinnett County offers a variety of activities for kids — and families — to spend quality time together, have fun, and let go of a lot of youthful, seemingly unlimited energy. And maybe even learn a little. Below are ten ideas to keep kids — from toddlers to teens — engaged this summer.
1. Keep it Active! Sports are a natural way to keep kids active and satisfied, but they”re not the only option. Consider rock climbing, which develops strength, balance, coordination, flexibility and problem solving — and it”s fun. Take the kids to Adrenaline Climbing in Suwanee where they can learn the fundamentals of rock climbing, and if they are hooked, they can join a climbing team and eventually advance to competitive climbing. Adrenaline offers a variety of climbing options for both individuals and families, parties and groups, including climbing school vacation and summer camps. (adrenalineclimbing.com)
If rock climbing isn”t your child”s thing, head to the rink – the ice skating or roller rink, that is. Gwinnett offers great fun for skaters. For those who like their rinks cold, go to the Ice Forum (iceforum.com), the former practice site of the Atlanta Thrashers. The Duluth-based rink offers private and group ice skating lessons as well as youth hockey. If inline or roller skating is a better fit,# there are even more options. Try Sparkles in Lawrenceville (sparklesgwinnett.com) or Skate County Roller Rink, Skate Along USA in Lilburn (rinktime.com), or Skate Along USA in Buford (skatealongusa.com). All these rinks offer private and group lessons as well as group rates.
2. Lions and Tigers and Bears — Almost! There are more than 600 sociable birds and animals at the Yellow River Game Ranch (yellowrivergameranch.com) all waiting to be petted, fed and photographed — so take the kids. Along the mile-long trail, children will see white-tailed deer, bunnies, buffalo, sheep, kid goats, black bears and maybe new-born animals. This “people-friendly” wildlife sanctuary is less than three miles east of Stone Mountain and houses the largest herd of buffalo east of the Mississippi. The ranch sells food to feed the animals, or you can bring your own. There several activities, like seeing the sheep get shorn during the summer, so check the schedule.
3. History and the Environment — a Look into Yesterday and Today! Gwinnett County has great museums that are perfect for a rainy day. The Buford-based Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center (gwinnettehc.org) is a high-tech cultural center with hands-on science exhibits and quality educational programming. The center focuses on local history as well as environmental issues, such as becoming better stewards of the environment. There are many interactive, learn-by-doing exhibits that will help children learn without even realizing it. The museum has a variety of temporary exhibits, as well as four permanent exhibits: Discover H20, Water Wise, Water Ways, and Blue Planet. The center offers a variety of fun and educational ways for children of all ages to spend the day exploring. Or take one of their many Saturday classes designed for children with topics such as nutrition, backyard wildlife, conservation, and gardening. The nonprofit also holds several summer camps for children ranging from ages 2 to 13.
Want to ride the rails? Check out the the Southeastern Railway Museum (www.srmduluth.org), which occupies a 35-acre site in Duluth. SRM features about 90 items of rolling history, including historic Pullman cars and classic steam locomotives.# Ride in restored cabooses behind restored antique diesel locomotives, and stand next to the massive driving wheels of the locomotive that once pulled passenger trains to Key West on the “railroad that went to sea.”## Tour the business car that helped bring the Olympics to Atlanta, pose on the platform of the private car once used by President Warren G. Harding, and walk the length of the diesel-electric locomotive that ran the point on the last Crescent before AMTRAK assumed control of the famous train.
4. Hungry? Go Back to the Farm! There are nearby farms where you can go and pick your own fruit such as Washington Farms in Watkinsville (washingtonfarms.net), where strawberries and blackberries are ripe for summer picking. The farm offers group presentations about growing fruits. Bring a bucket and a picnic lunch, and have some fun. If you want your child to have a real down-home experience, take a trip out to Rancho Alegre (ranchoalegrefarm.com). The working ranch offers weekly field trips for groups, including play groups. Go and see bee hives, go on a hay ride, and learn how to groom horses.# The ranch also offers summer camps for ages five and up where they will learn how to cook, make cheese, gather eggs and make compost.
If you want to see what farm life used to be like, travel back to the early 1900s at the McDaniel Farm Park (http://bit.ly/mcdanielfarm), a former subsistence farm that gives a glimpse of life on a farm in the 1930s. #The 130-acre Duluth park offers classes and day camps as well as guided tours. Go visit the property”s original barn, well shed, blacksmith shed and tenant farmer house, and enjoy the property”s woods, streams and meadows.
5. Take a Dip Gwinnett County operates two indoor and seven outdoor leisure pools, four indoor competition pools, and four instructional pools. In addition, Gwinnett County Parks and Recreation (gwinnettparks.com) offers private, semi-private and group swim lessons for all ages, as well as lifeguard certification programs.
Swim Atlanta (swimatlanta.com) offers private, semi-private, and small-group lessons, and has a# 90-degree teaching pool designed to enable and encourage#learning. Another resource for swimming lessons is Summit Swimming (summitswimming.com), which has a year-round swimming program at the Summit Chase Country Club.
6. Paint a Smile Fine arts are flourishing in Gwinnett County and you can discover if your child is the next Picasso at the Hudgens Center for the Arts (thehudgens.org). There are three different types of summer camps available:# Color Wheel, where campers, ages 5-12, rotate through three sessions each day and receive fine art instruction in drawing and painting, clay and mixed media; Pottery Class, for ages 8-14; and Teen Summer Portfolio Development Intensive for teens ages 14-18 who want to develop a strong art portfolio that will help them apply to art school.# Even if your kids don”t want to take classes, they will still enjoy a visit to the Children”s Art Zone, which features “make & take” art projects, as well as a puppet theatre where they can put on their own shows. Wonders Color Art Studio offers art camps featuring eight art lessons, games, crafts and other fun activities for grades K through 5, as well as individual art lessons.# wondercolorsartstudio.com/summer-camps-2012.
7. Professional Sports Score! The Georgia Force is back and better than ever as a member of the Arena Football League. The season runs March through July, and single-game tickets start at $10 and season tickets are just $59.# Football not your game?# Then try America”s pastime — baseball.# The Gwinnett Braves, the Triple-A Atlanta Braves affiliate, play at#the state-of-the-art Coolray Field.#The team plays 144 regular season games and#individual ticket prices range from $6 to $15. Professional soccer also is a hit in Gwinnett County with the Atlanta Silverbacks playing in Suwanee (atlantasilverbacks.com).
8. Sports Camps! Basketball camp is a slam dunk at The Gwinnett Majic Academy (gwinnettmajic.com),# a youth basketball training program designed for boys and girls grades K through 12. The academy teaches basic to advanced fundamentals and game situations for boys and girls of all skill levels. Classes held this summer at Bogan Park include basketball fundamentals, shooting, and ball handling. The Atlanta Silverbacks (atlantasilverbacks.com) are hosting a number of sports camps for kids of all ages and skill levels. In addition to general soccer camps, there are camps aimed at improving goalie and striker skills, and several multi-sport camps that will have the kids (elementary-age only) playing everything from bocce ball to wiffleball to kickball. They even have a camp that takes place on game day were kids get a 90-minute clinic and then work on their new soccer moves on a Silverback practice field.
Gwinnett County offers fun full-day week camps for kids ages six and up and half-day classes for pre-schoolers. In addition, there are specialty camps for specific activities such as sports, technology, dance and drama. There are nine parks in Gwinnett County offering camps, including cheerleading, lacrosse, tennis, swimming, and more. http://bit.ly/gwinnettcamps
9. Visit a Park! In addition to all of the great Gwinnett County parks, don”t forget about the city parks! Visit the Rogers Bridge Park in Duluth, which is on the Chattahoochee River and has a playground, picnic area and hiking and biking trails for all ages to enjoy.
As part of its Open Space Initiative, which started in 2002, Suwanee acquired more than 300 acres of open space, created four new parks, and extended its multipurpose trail system. Each park has its own personality and unique uses. Two of our favorites are the Big Splash, an interactive fountain that has 43 jets and uses 1,400 gallons of recycled water each minute, and PlayTown Suwanee, a super playground structure that features a magical bus, castle, log cabin, boat, elephant, rocket, climbing wall, bridges, slides, and swing sets. http://bit.ly/suwaneeparks
10. Tag You”re It! There are a number of places to go play laser tag, many of which offer more activities than just laser tag. FunZone Atlanta (funzoneatlanta.com) not only offers laser tag but Whirlyball, which it bills as the world”s only totally mechanized team sport and is# a combination of basketball, hockey and jai-lai played atop electrically-powered machines, resembling bumper cars.# Laser Tag of Buford (lasertagofbuford.com) offers laser tag as well as more than 20 video games. Other places to go play laser tag are: Qzar Atlanta# (qzaratlanta.com) and Street Mobile Laser Tag (street-tag.com).