I wrote this piece for www.theexaminer.com, as am a featured columnist, so it's specific to Los Angeles but most places offer same as below.
As a parent of 9-year-old twin girls, I spend a great deal of time looking for ways to entertain them that does not involve electronics. I am not alone. Most parents, if not all, share this dilemma. We have long ago given up on trying to express relatable comparisons to the time when we were growing up.
“Well, I would leave the house at 10:00am and come home at dinner. In between, I would ride my bike until the rubber burned, create magic shows for the gullible kids willing to pay $1 dollar to make a pencil disappear, climb trees until my knees bled, hopscotch in the middle of the road and eat fresh strawberries off of Mrs. Pennycakes vines.” Ad nauseum.
In most cities today the kids can’t even open the front door. The script goes like this: “Someone is here, mom!” “Don’t you dare answer it!” “Why? It just some guy with a clipboard.” “Back away slowly, then hide under the kitchen table.”
Amidst this post-Armageddon bomb-shelter mentality, I remain determined to share some great stuff to do with your kids outside. Los Angeles is brimming with fun, free or low-cost activities. Before we get to that, however, you will literally have to unplug, disconnect, or disarm your kids from their "electronic pals." Not an easy task, but power through the drama, because once outside, it all changes. “Look! It’s the sky!”
Let’s start with parks. Grab your bikes, skateboards, balls, Frisbees, or nothing at all and take them to a park. They are everywhere, with real, live trees, green grass, humans, basketball courts, and swings. You can go here (www.laparks.org) and find hundreds of locations. This is a great website because it will also guide you through many activities available to kids, from soccer, to dance, to basketball, baseball, etc. Also many of these parks have pools.
The YMCA is another great destination. Quite a few have been revamped. They practically look like 3 star hotels; outfitted with 4 heated pools, warm towels, clean facilities, lifeguards, and empty spaces in which to play.
Hiking. A must. We are lucky to have so many options. Lots of hiking zones also cater to dogs. Watch your children go crazy. You can find a huge list of hikes atwww.localhikes.com.
Cultural activities abound. Every month someone is celebrating something somewhere in L.A. Downtown we have the African American Museum:http://www.caamuseum.org/ - Chinatown: http://www.chinatownla.com/ - Olvera-Streetwww.olvera-street.com/html/fiestas.html. This is merely the tip of the iceberg.
Museums of interest to any child would include The Science Center and Natural History Museum (at USC), Disney Hall (downtown) L.A. Tar Pits and LACMA (Mid-Wilshire). Huntington Gardens (Pasadena) is a splendor for children, as is their library. Same is true with the main library downtown. In fact, any library will pique their interest. Several have readings by known authors. For more specialized interests the Peterson Automotive Museum (Mid Wilshire across from LACMA) is a great outing and boasts games, treasure hunts, readings and more. http://petersen.org/
The Planetarium offers hours of unique, mesmerizing, educational fun. A meteor shower, moon phases and launching Space X Dragon Capsules simply can't be seen anywhere else. Griffith Park is a must…being the closest thing L.A. has to a central park. Enviable open space, nature and the freedom to explore. And at least once you need to do the nighttime horseback ride with its cowboy prepared campfire and grub. (Okay, maybe actor cowboys but cowboys still) http://www.griffithobs.org/
I am going to throw in a few more adventures of which my own kids never grow tired: Planting trees at Tree People; visiting the Aquarium at the Santa Monica Pier (fish touching a big draw there); bike rides and walks along the ocean; throwing, lassoing, rolling in and smashing kelp at the ocean; visiting the zoo; attending equity theater productions with real people and strolling the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica never gets old.
Regarding television, I watch very little, but what I like and approve are the following:
Modern Family. Who can’t laugh at this great program?
The Cooking Channel. My daughters basically have become gourmet chefs.
National Geographic. There is not a mammal, marsupial, lizard, spider or dinosaur they cannot identify. The channel is great, depending on the show because it leads kids to …ta-da… the library in order to obtain more information on whatever Cheetah or Penguin they were going on about.
Finally, on school nights, this is where your imagination and history come into play. Pull out Life, Monopoly, Cranium, Yahtzee, Checkers, or just have a drawing contest. I always lose. Their most fun game is charades. It involves nothing, but oddly teaches them a lot. And because they are young, and their references are often, well, young people such as Taylor Swift, I always lose. Kids love that.
Here are a few websites I will leave you with you may also find helpful.
www.commonsensemedia.org This website helps guide parents by rating TV shows, movies, video games, books by age and often gender of child. It can be quite helpful.
For fun, might I suggest the soon-to-launch Scream Truck, which is an old fashioned ice cream truck serving high end, organically-produced desserts. For those parents that remember the days we ran outside when we heard the bell, well, expect some nostalgia in truck form on the Westside next week. You can find more details at:http://www.thescreamtruck.com/