Looking Sideways – Fun activities boost summer finale

Mark Leutke

The next 800 words are for moms and dads of school-age children. They have nearly a month left before school starts, and my guess is they have already completed the 56 activities they planned to keep their children busy over summer break. Right now, they are bored, restless, and probably inside streaming “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.” The parents are already going nuts.

Looking Sideways is here to help. We’ve assembled three experienced moms to provide some ideas about how to keep the kiddoes engaged in fun and healthy activities until August 16. Suggestions range from day-long road trips to short local adventures. Many of them are free.

Our panel includes Melissa Tusing (mom of two, teacher for 17 years at Southview, and new assistant principal at McCord Junior High), Mallory Kurtz (former teacher and now stay-at-home mom of three under the age of 9), and Katie Muczynski (current teacher and mom of two). We’ve packaged their ideas into three categories depending on the kids’ interests, attention span, and level of boredom.

Quick diversions: These moms agree that sometimes a few hours of diversion are all it takes to keep the family engaged and happy. Their list of activities that fill two hours or less include Katie’s mid-morning trip to Northview to watch the marching band and majorettes during Band Camp in the first two weeks of August; “mountain climb” to the top of the sledding hill at Sylvan Prairie Park for a picnic (and see if the kids can spot their house from there); or hike the River Trail from Harroun Park to Monroe Street (park behind Root Learning) and look for crawfish in the river, then play on swings at Burnham Park.

Winner in this category is from Mallory, who suggests a drive to the Sunflower Maze just over the state line in Michigan. It gives kids the chance to explore trails running through an acre of adult-height sunflowers, then engage with small animals from nearby Gust Brothers farm. Visitors can also buy a glass vase and fill it with their own wildflower arrangement. There is a small entry fee, but children under two are free. “The maze is a charming place to visit with the family. We love making our own unique flower arrangements and finding all the hidden spots, like an old tractor and a wooden swing, in the maze,” Mallory said.

Half day adventures: Those who have a few more hours can take in one of three nearby attractions that are less than 30 minutes away. Mallory suggests the 577 Foundation in Perrysburg, which offers a beautiful garden walk down to the Maumee River, kid-friendly activities, a koi pond, beehive, and geodesic biodome.

The Firefighter Museum, 919 W. Sylvania Ave., in a former West Toledo firehouse, has old and newer fire trucks to explore plus exhibits showing how blazes were fought in the early days. It’s open Saturday noon to 4 pm, and groups of six or more can schedule a visit during the week at Toledofirefightersmuseum@gmail.com.

All of these moms mentioned the Metroparks for short adventures, including the Treehouse Village near Swanton and the “Secret Forest” with its multi-level play area at Toledo Botanical Garden. But Melissa’s family elevated it to an art form with their “Metropark Mayhem” challenge to visit every Metropark that had a playground, then vote for their favorite.

“Our family’s pick was Oak Openings,” she said. “The playground next to Mallard Lake is perfect. The lake is just the right size to get a walk in before or after our girls play. Next in the running is Secor Park. It is close to Sylvania, and the park has the best slides in a barrier-free playground that’s fun no matter what the kids’ ages.”

Day trips: If your family can handle a day trip, consider these. Lego Land is a relatively easy two-hour drive via Ann Arbor to suburban Detroit. It features an indoor play area and interactive activities built around a Lego theme. Probably best for kids under 12.

Calder’s Farm is a working dairy farm about 15 miles north of Monroe, Mich. near the town of Carleton. Kids can see the cows, feed goats and sample ice cream at the end. And Rolling Hills Water Park, an hour away in Ypsilanti, Mich., features water slides, a lazy river, wave pool and zero entrance pool. “Pack a lunch and plan to stay for the day,” said Mallory.

A common theme emerged as I talked to each of the moms. I am wrong to say summer activities are the result of frustrated parents dealing with bored kids. I’ll let Katie explain what it’s really about. “I jam pack summer days with my kids to take advantage of this time together. I use summer to create memories and traditions that will hopefully be carried on throughout the years. Going back into the school/work routine is never easy, but knowing that we took every summer day to our advantage makes it a little bit better.”

Longtime Sylvania resident Mark Luetke has served on city council, the board of education, and numerous foundation and community boards.

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