Optimist Park: Tutus & Picnics

img_5806
Stretching her ballerina toes after class

Awhile back a dear friend of mine and I signed our girls up for a preschool dance class at Optimist Park through the City of Raleigh.  It ended up being the perfect Monday morning activity, which led into extended play time and lunch at the playground.  It was the first activity (other than regular preschool) where the girls were on their own, so it was fun to have a buddy to learn some new skills with (we still talk about plies over here)!

Optimist Park is located in North Raleigh in a subdivision off Six Forks Rd at 5900 Whittier Dr.  It’s an older park with a community center, playground, seasonal and year-round pools, tennis courts, baseball fields, and greenway access for Mine Creek Trail, Snelling Branch Trail and Shelley Lake.

img_5782
A glimpse into the dance class

Dance class was held in the community center in a room that did not have easy access for parents to view their kids “dancing”.  So, to sneak peeks we’d have to poke our heads in and try not to disturb their learning.  Once dance class ended we headed over to the playground for some more play time and a picnic.

Again, Optimist is an older park so the playground has a more classic look with brown and orange painted metal.  The playground area is covered in a sandy surface and has a large jungle gym for the 5-12 age group that our 3 year olds and even 15 month old enjoyed.  There are several slides, a tunnel, and a few climbing ladders.  In the same area are

the springy cars and 4-person teeter totter.  The playground sits adjacent to a creek that has a short fence, which no one really explored even the 15 month old, but do take caution.  Benches are scattered throughout and the picnic tables and swing set are nearby.  This area is pretty shady, even with the few leaves on the trees.  If you follow the paved trail, you’ll come to eight lighted tennis courts that are adjacent to the student parking lot at Sanderson High.

img_5793
From the dance floor to the sandbox

While Optimist Park might not be a destination spot, it sure made for a great post-dance class play time and picnic spot!

Years ago Ashley and I ran the Snelling Branch Trail from Optimist Park and I never posted about it! To get to the greenway access, you’ll want to start in the smaller parking lot off Northclift Dr that is behind the Sanderson High baseball field.  Follow the signs and run behind the baseball field and you’ll come to North Hills Dr, which you’ll cross over.  Continue a little further and you’ll come to the Shelley Lake Trail where you can turn left to go south and see Shelley Lake very quickly or turn right to go north and discover the Mine Creek Trails or northern end of Shelley Lake loop.  We turned right and then made another right onto Mine Creek Trail where we crossed over North Hills Dr again, went under a tunnel for Lynn Rd, and eventually turned around near the intersection of Longstreet and Bent Creek Dr.  There’s a flowing creek along the way and we even passed a random playground.  According to the City of Raleigh website there’s a current project to extend East Fork Mine Creek Trail to Honeycutt Park.  That’ll be a good reason to get back here soon for more current pictures!

Thumbs up: quiet/not crowded, great picnic spots, fun beginner dance class, convenience of having park features close in proximity, greenway access

Thumbs down: older facilities, lack of true dance studio for watching kiddos

Photos from the Greenway exploration in Feb 2012:

Greater Raleigh Drop-in Rainy Day To Do List

With all the recent rainy and snowy weather in Raleigh I wanted to create a list of drop-in activities that I could refer to whenever I’m grasping looking for something to do with little ones in tow.  Here’s a starter list of indoor activities outside the house that are guaranteed to educate and entertain the sweet babes:

  • rainy day playgroundFit4Mom/Stroller Strides of Midtown Raleigh – grab your Bob Stroller (or any stroller, really) and join other mommas for a great workout with your babes; first class is free; check out the Facebook group which is free to join and full of fun playdates
  • Tot Time with City of Raleigh Parks & Rec – free, indoor playtime (ages 5 and under) at various community centers around the city of Raleigh; each center has different toys (i.e., basketball hoops, tunnels, push cars, slides, etc) available for play; my favorite Tot Time is at Laurel Hills Community Center; consult the most recent Leisure Ledger for dates/times at each center
  • Great Harvest Bread Co in North Raleigh – has small play area with toys for kids while you enjoy delicious coffee and breads!
  • City of Raleigh’s Greystone Recreation Center – indoor playground in North Raleigh with rock climbing wall and various rope climbing structures; designed for kids ages 5-12, but I’ve found Ashley began enjoying this park at age 2 1/2; playground times vary, so be sure to check their schedule or sometimes I’ve found it’s easiest to call for their hours: 919-996-4848
  • Storytime at the library – libraries throughout Wake County have several storytimes grouped by ages: baby, toddler, preschool and family; storytime at Cameron Village featuring Mr. Erik is the most interactive library activity we’ve been to; check the list of kids’ events for dates, times and locations
  • Bounce Houses – refer to the list of bounce houses compiled by WRAL’s Go Ask Mom
  • Marbles Kids Museum – hands-on kids museum in downtown Raleigh that offers two floors of interactive, creative play for children; $5 per person over age one; one of the only indoor places in Raleigh open on Sunday mornings
  • Storytime at NC Museum of Natural Sciences – free, downtown museum with an amazing variety of exhibits, events, and hands-on displays for kids of all ages, but the daily storytime and “Meet the Animals” activities are our favorite activities
    • storytime and “Meet the Animals” schedule
    • complete list of events
  • NC Museum of History – free, downtown museum that has fewer hands-on exhibits for toddlers, but still boasts a large permanent collection on the history of NC along with several very interesting rotating exhibits (be sure to check out Watergate); weekly storytime on Thursdays; check full schedule of eventsrainy day playground
  • Rainbow Play on Glenwood Ave – large indoor party room with swing sets mostly designed for kids older than 2, but they do have a small area for early walkers and crawlers; open play time is Mon-Fri from 10am-2pm but call during other times to see if room is available for play; $5/child for ages 2 and up
  • Tumble Gym of Raleigh – open gym time with trampoline, balance beam, bars, and more; $10/hr per child; call for dates/times: 919-977-0357
  • See an IMAX movie at Marbles – other than the latest Hollywood movies, this theater shows several educational documentaries that are appropriate for toddlers
  • Paint your own pottery – paint ceramic pieces (plates, mugs, household items, etc) in a pottery studio; prices usually include all painting supplies, glazing and firing; pieces are available to pick up about a week later; makes for great gifts; our favorite is Klaystation off Durant Rd
  • Kids’ Workshops at Lowe’s and Home Depot – free hands-on workshops to teach kids about tool safety and do-it-yourself projects; Home Depot runs workshops on the first Saturday of each month – check local store for times; Lowe’s runs clinics on select Saturdays – consult schedule
  • The Farmers’ Corner at Historic Oak View County Park – this is a fantastic park that is so much fun for kids and adults, but the Farmers’ Corner in the Farm History Center is where kids can plant and harvest crainy day poolrops while reading books and playing dress-up; main building is open 8:30am-5pm on Mon-Sat and 1-5pm on Sundays but the Farmers’ Corner is sometimes not available due to scheduled programs, so call ahead 919-250-1013; see previous posts on this park
  • City of Raleigh indoor swimming pools – with so many options for year-round swimming in Raleigh, visit one of the indoor pools: Pullen, Millbrook, Optimist, Buffaloe Rd Aquatic Center; be sure to check the hours of operation before heading out
  • Bass Pro Shops in Cary and local pet stores – endless rows of interesting animals and fish to see
  • Train tables at Barnes & Nobles (Triangle Town Center) and Logan Trading Company in Seaboard Station offer great fun for little ones
  • DefyGravity trampoline Park in Raleigh features great fun for all ages, including a special jump session from 9-10am for kids under 7 where they play fun princess/toddler music

Where else in the Triangle do you explore on rainy or snowy days?  Let me know what I’ve missed so I can include your ideas.

Millbrook Pool

This summer we spent several evenings cooling off at our neighborhood pool and eating dinner poolside (what a great excuse for not cooking at home).  On one particular weeknight we walked over and then realized we forgot the pool had closed early because of a swim meet (ay dios mio)!  Needing a quick solution to a 2yr old desperately longing for some pool time, we decided to walk back home and head to Millbrook Pool, the city pool about 5 minutes away.  Even though the weather was looking rather threatening, we decided to chance it anyway.

Millbrook Pool is located at 1905 Spring Forest Rd in North Raleigh and is part of the Millbrook Exchange Park complex that includes a tennis facility, off-leash dog park, playground, community center, and senior center.  Millbrook has a main pool with lap swimming and open swim areas that is covered year-round.  During the summer season they open several garage-style doors to allow folks to easily get to the outdoor swimming areas.  Millbrook also has an outdoor baby pool and splash garden area that are only open during the summer.  The baby pool area is a large rectangle (no zero-depth entry) that is 18 inches deep in the middle.  It is fenced it with both concrete and grassy areas, but they do not allow picnicking in this area.  You can bring inflatable rings, noodles and other pool toys into the baby pool.  There are several picnic tables outside the baby pool that are both covered and uncovered, but it was still a pain with a little one that we couldn’t just eat in the grassy area.  The splash garden area is always a big hit with toddlers, but unfortunately the only entrance to that area is from outside the baby pool area.  It would be much more convenient to have another entrance directly from the baby pool area.

The indoor pool at Millbrook typically has 6 lanes dedicated to lap swimming with a depth from 4ft to 5 1/2ft.  The open swim area is a depth from 3 1/2ft to 4ft.  Again, there are several rules for swimming in the open swim area.  We were whistled at several times for various things – trying to borrow a noodle and using the kick board in the open swim area.  Needless to say we spent most of our time in the baby pool, but Ashley had recently discovered kick boards at our neighborhood pool and just had to get her exercise in.  Being about 39 weeks preggo, I enjoyed watching them swim together from the side of the pool!

Check out the City of Raleigh website for the pool’s hours of operation and fees.

Thumbs up: large baby pool area, indoor swimming option for non-summer months

Thumbs down: not being able to eat in the baby pool area, no direct entrance to splash ground area from baby pool, picnic areas had LOTS of flies

Buffaloe Rd Aquatic Center

img_3259A few months ago we headed to the Buffaloe Road Aquatic Center for a birthday party of one of Ashley’s friends.  I’ve been wanting to take Ashley here all winter and couldn’t wait to take her and celebrate with friends.  Having not been in an indoor pool much this winter, I knew Ashley would act like a maniac and she did not disappoint!

The aquatic center is located near the back of the Buffaloe Road Athletic Park at 5908 Buffaloe Rd in northeast Raleigh.  There was plenty of parking on this cold January day with several oversized spots for large buses.  After arriving in the lobby area, we went to the new changing rooms, which had plenty of space for getting littles one changed.  The family bathrooms (two of them!) were also very spacious with showers and oversized benches, perfect for keeping bags and clothes from getting wet.  Lockers are located outside the changing room areas on the pool deck.

The pool contains several different areas with something for everyone: zero-depth entry tot area with slide, water buckets and sprayers; open play area with water basketball; lazy river with water vortex; three-story water slide (height req = 42 in); lap swimming/water volleyball area.  For a 22 month old, Ashley’s favorite places to play were on the tot slide, walking along the bench in the open play area, and playing with the water basketball (even though she was way too short to make the basket).  Being a maniac on outdoor playground slides, she easily transitioned her “no fear” mentality to the water tot slide and even screamed to try the big slide.  The big slide does not allow children to ride with parents and all riders must be at least 42 inches high.  Feeling the need to experience the big slide, I rode it and was surprised at how fast I went.  I realized how it justified the height requirement and was secretly glad Ashley couldn’t ride it yet.

After some water play time, all the kids gathered in the party room area to celebrate Kennedy’s 3rd birthday.  The private party area has several tables, chairs, and a sink for use.  As you can see in the pictures, all the kids had a great time scarfing down the cupcakes.

Thumbs up: unique water play areas, tot area, lazy river

Thumbs down: trying to reason with your 22 month old why she can’t go down the big slide 🙁

Pullen Aquatic Center

This post originally appeared on Southwestraleigh.com where you can learn more about how to live, work, and play in the Creative District.

Looking for a place in the Creative District to swim laps, practice your diving skills, or splash with the kiddies in the wintertime?

Visit the indoor facilities at Pullen Aquatic Center. The center is located at 410 Ashe Ave, just North of the newly renovated Pullen Park.

There is a large 50 meter x 25 meter Olympic-size swimming pool, a warm-water teaching pool, overhead balcony for spectators, nearby bleachers, diving boards, and large locker room areas.  The large swimming pool area has about a dozen lap lanes set up with varying availability.  In addition to lap swimming, you can also sign up for water exercises, the swim league, swimming lessons, and more.

The warm-water teaching pool is perfect for taking the kiddies in during the cold winter months.  The shallow area has a gentle incline that eventually reaches to 4ft deep on the far side.  We visited on a popular Friday morning when the warm-water pool opens at 9am for public use.  Rafts aren’t allowed in the pools, but they do have life vests available.

Even though the locker room area and pool deck are showing their age, this is still a great place to play in the wintertime.  Whether swimming for exercise or play, you’ll enjoy your time at Pullen Aquatic Center.  Be sure to check the prices and hours before making your next visit.

Thumbs up: warm-water pool, number of lap lanes available, convenient pool hours

Thumbs down: aging of the locker room area and pool deck