Thursday, February 20, 2014

My Top 4 Fun and Educational Toddler-Friendly Destinations in Loudoun!

Loudoun County is a mothers dream.  On top of the fabulous schools and employment options, it is a gorgeous place to live, and full of educational, fun, and high-quality activities for children.

Featured: The Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum, The Loudoun Water Museum, Loudoun County Government Activities, and Great Country Farms. 

1)  Great Country Farms

The "Corn Bin"
Imagine the biggest, coolest backyard in the whole world.  Playgrounds, tube slides, barns, animals, Corn "sand box", giant water tower for hot days... the list goes on!  In addition to the seemingly endless offering of activities, it is working farm that offers pick-your-own everything... Strawberries, asparagus, apples, potatoes... you name it!

There is no end to fun things to do at Great Country Farms.  There are acres and acres of organic produce that you can pick, hay rides, a wonderfully well-stocked general store, a delicious restaurant (can you say "apple cider donuts?").  There is a large field by the restaurant where they regularly have live music.  Down the hill, they have farm animals and even some exotic animals (like an Enu).  There is also a pretend mine where children can sieve for "gems.", a "Corn Bin" which is like a giant sand box, but with corn (its covered... great for hot summer days!) They have about 4 separate playgrounds, a couple of tricycle race tracks, a giant mister for hot days, and one of those giant bounce-on pillows. I could go on and on!! Takeaway? We love this place.

The "Cow Train"
2. Loudoun Heritage Farm Museum

I have lived in Loudoun County for 7 years.  For the first 5.5 years, I drove past a sign for the museum every day on my way home from work, and I was never tempted to go.  A farm museum?! No thanks; couldn't possibly be of interest to a suburban girl like me!  One day, my son and I were exploring Claude Moore Park.  We took a walk by the beautiful lake, and saw some historic buildings in the distance and went exploring.  Beyond the historic buildings, my son spotted some huge tractors, and we were off!  There, we stumbled upon the museum.  It was starting to rain, so I begrudgingly decided to go in.  It quickly became my absolute favorite activity in Loudoun!

My Batman at the original historic cash register
This is a diamond in the ruff of Northern Virginia; and easily one of the best childrens museums in the area.
The museum is packed full of organized, educational, and imaginative exhibits that teach children about historical farm life while they play.   The best part is the full historic general store, which is an original store that was moved into the museum.  It is large, and full of historic products, tons of realistic, chronologically accurate food,  a mail room, scales, and cash register.   My son had to be pulled from the store after playing for over an hour.  It is FABULOUS.

There is an indoor barn where children can collect eggs, dress up like a farmer, milk a cow, and ride/care for pretend horses.  Additionally, there are several high quality child-size tractors with a large open space for playing.
Having a blast with the animals
The main museum is also phenomenal.  It is full of interesting artifacts and information.  In the back of the main museum section, there is another surprise for kids; a replica of a turn-of-the-century kitchen.  It is a hands on exhibit where children can experience what kitchen life was like circa 1920.
The price is a steal; $3 for kids and $5 for adults.  I have taken my family again and again.  It is perfect for rainy/cold days, as there is plenty of space for running around and playing.  The staff is attentive and considerate.   Outside the museum, you will find a historic town with several original buildings, which is also fabulous   There is also a very nice gift shop with educational toys and locally made products.  On Sundays (11:30), Mr "Knick Knack" is there as well!

This is the highest quality childrens museum in the area. I  honestly have no idea why they don't market it as a childrens museum (like on that sign!)  The national childrens museum at the National Harbor is abysmal  and other museums are over an hour away.  You will have a much better time here, and spend less money, while learning about local Loudoun history and farming.  Enjoy!


3) Loudoun County Government Sponsored Childrens Activites

Easter Bunny Event at Claude Moore Community Center
This isn't technically a destination, but there is no better resource for childrens  activities.  Loudoun County is rich.   This year, it is listed as the richest county, with the median income at $ 119,000.  What does that mean for us?  Fabulous government-sponsored activities! And I mean Top Notch.  The Community and Recreation Centers are state-of-the art and offer an amazing variety of classes, from Tai-Chi to Cooking.  For kiddos, there are a huge variety of high-quality CHEAP classes.  The prices are magnitudes lower than similar classes offered by the business community.   Toddlers can take art, sports, music, and everything in between.  In addition, they offer regular, very fun, special activities like moon-bounce parties, balloon parties, carnivals, ect.  My favorite offering is called "Parents Night Out", which entails dropping your kids off for 3.5 hours to have fun with moonbounces, games, and pizza, while you date your spouse; for $14!


4) Loudoun Water Museum

Hi Fishies!
Lately, Jimmy has been asking lots of questions like "Who is making the rain come down?" and "Where does rain come from?" He has a book on the water cycle, and we've explained it a billion times, but he still wanted to know who, exactly, was making the rain.  Then an idea popped into my head.. of course!  The Loudoun Water plant has a childrens exhibit, best of all, its free!  I visited once before he was born, and remembered a lot of interesting, hands on fun for kids.  So on a rainy afternoon, I packed him into the car and off we went.



First, we said hi to all of the beautiful fishies.  The 2 fish tanks at the museum are filled with 'reclaimed' water; as are the faucets and toilets in the facility.


 For older kids and adults, there is a large exhibit on the first floor that explains the entire process of reclaiming and cleaning Loudouns water supply.  Jimmy enjoyed the model Loudoun Water facility, which shows the potomac river, aquaries, and all of the cleaning and processing facilities.  He also loved the "Whats under the ground" display, which showed cross-sections of all of the different pipes buried in our ground; electric, phone; cable; sewage (it was a nice 'pee pee' yellow color haha, reclaimed water, fresh water, and a few others.  He, of course, liked the 'pee pee' water the best.  Wonderful side note; after that exhibit,  he was practically begging me to go to the potty!

Upstairs, kids can explore a home, stripped to show the water pipes and appliances in the home.  Again, the potty was his favorite.  He followed the pipe from the potty all the way out to the sewer line.

 The largest display, upstairs, follows the water from its first entrance to the facility from a sewer line, all the way to nice, fresh, potable water (ending with a fish tank).  Each step has interactive visual displays, buttons, and demonstrations of the filtration processess, which the kids can spin.  In this picture, he is pushing the 'grit cleanser' button for the 40th time.  It shows how rocks and debris are literally spun out of the water.  I think the staff was getting annoyed, because it sounds like a dirt devil on steroids.

                                                                                 "VROOOOOOOOOM!!!" 


My favorite exhibit teaches kids about how THEY and corporations use water in their daily lives.  There is a game where kids can guesss things like "How many gallons of water does it take to grow beans for one cup of coffee? (35), or how many gallons of water does it take to produce one car? (32,000!).  There is also an educational exhibit on dangerous chemicals (bleach, paint, cleaners, ect.), and exactly what happens when you pour them down the drain.. 

The best part of the day was that when we left, Jimmy asked "mommy, can you play a water song?' (He often requests random songs on the radio.  I said "umm, sure!" and put on Pandora.  I almost crashed when "in the sea" came on.  The lyrics were about waves crashing in the Ocean.  One line was "I dreamed this song for you."  Coincidence? Maybe, but it was a fabulous finishing touch to the outing.  On the way home, we stopped at a local park (Ashburn/"Dinosaur" Park), for some real life water experience. We hiked and threw rocks in the stream.  Jimmy blew my mind by proudly explaining how the stream water would turn into clouds soon to make rain, and how all of the tree roots he was tripping over let the trees 'drink' water.  He wasn't the only proud one :)  Well, until he jumped into the stream up to his knees, in some brand new sneakers.  Sigh.   You can take a 3 year old to a Water Museum, but you can't make him think.  



Loudoun Water is located at 44865 Loudoun Water Way, Ashburn, VA 20146



....I don't believe I will ever be leaving Loudoun County; its too awesome!

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Tags: loudoun county, ashburn, reston, herndon, sterling, toddler friendly activities, indoor activities for kids, children

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