The Delaware Valley's assortment of family-friendly activities has exploded in recent years. See if some of them are right for you.
The average kid complains of being bored 106 times over the summer, according to the British newspaper, The Daily Mail. Most parents would call that number low, especially when you figure in the inevitable rainy days that shut down outdoor fun during the vacation season.
If summer is already looming large in your house and camp is only good for a limited reprieve, it’s time to call in the reinforcements. No matter their age, kids can create, bounce, roll, dance and putt their way to fun. The key, most childhood education experts agree, is to provide real, not virtual experiences, to kids too often tethered to their computer devices. Children love what they can touch, taste and smell. They’d rather dig in the dirt than hear about the life cycle of a plant any day. Even if you can’t get outdoors, you can still offer a real-life experience that will keep your kids occupied and happy. From tapping their inner artists to indoor bouncing adventures and free — that’s right, free! — bowling, this list will keep boredom at bay.
Play with Your Food
Philadelphia-based chef Alisa Tammaro and her army of home chefs make cooking fun with parties and home workshops for budding Emerils and Rachel Rays. Customized group classes whip up one or two food items (think fruit pizza, taco bake, mac-n-cheese) along with a craft (their very own chef’s hat!) and include all the food and supplies. 267-242-8478; theplayfulchef.com
Mad for Science
The slew of science reality shows on cable has helped make science cool. Organize a day of wacky experiments (erupting baking soda volcano anyone?) and fun projects with New Jersey’s Mad Science, a brainy group that targets preschool and elementary school-age children for workshops, parties and classes that reinforce core science concepts. Experiments are age-appropriate — 5-year-olds may make frozen bubbles, with ages 8 to 12 channeling their inner Ben by creating electricity. 609-737-0313; wnj.madscience.org
There’s a reason those outdoor inflatable gizmos are popular with kids. It’s in their genes — children just love to bounce. Plan a day at BounceU in Blackwood, N.J., an indoor smorgasbord of fun stuff for climbing, balancing and bouncing. There’s oversized dodgeball, big slides, a boxing ring, basketball hoops — you get the idea. Pizza and drinks are available to keep the kids fueled and bouncing. Don’t forget the socks! 856-228-2834; www.bounceu.com
The Monster Putt
How cool is glow-in-the-dark indoor monster-themed mini golf? Pretty darn cool. Feasterville’s Monster Mini Golf isn’t like a scary haunted house activity, with monsters jumping out from behind golf carts. Instead, imagine a glowing indoor putt-putt course, with a DJ in the middle playing fun dance music from the ’80s and ’90s (they’ve got mom and dad’s number on that one) and trivia contests, prizes, arcade games and the like. The place also works with grown-ups for corporate events and birthday parties. You can even bring your own food and adult beverages. 215-396-6700; www.monsterminigolf.com/fran-pa-feasterville
All About Art
At All Fired Up, the Collingswood pottery studio, art lovers of all ages can tap into their hidden talent for painting, sponging, stenciling, stamping — even glass fusing — in an inviting studio environment. There are more than 400 options, from the functional (bowls, picture frames and candlesticks) to the frivolous and fun (pirate banks, dragons, turtles and frogs). Even if you don’t fancy yourself artistic, the thrill of the hunt for the perfect piece of pottery and the frippery to adorn it, will keep you smiling. The theme for the planned summer workshops is “Shore to Please,” with classes running every Tuesday and Thursday all summer long. 856-833-1330; www.paintatallfiredup.com
FREE Bowling All Summer Long
Free, zero, zilch, no scratch needed. That’s the ticket every day of summer for kids at Thunderbird Lanes, with locations in the Northeast, Warminster and Willow Grove. It’s the fourth summer the family-owned bowling centers have participated in www.kidsbowlfree.com, according to spokesperson Mary Harrar. “We had 10,000 kids bowl free last summer,” she said. You’ll need to jump on the website and download the coupon, good for two free games per child, per day. All you’ll pay for are shoes. Now, that’s a great deal! 215-464-7171; www.phillybowl.com
Go-Karts and More
Earth-friendly go-karts — powered by electricity, not fossil fuel — are a huge draw at Arnold’s Family Fun Center, across from the Greater Philadelphia Expo in Oaks. It’s a ginormous place — 200,000 sq. ft. of track, bowling, laser tag, arcade games and more. There are five different kinds of go-karts, geared to types age 5 all the way to motorheads of indeterminate age who like to go fast. New this year for mom and dad: the Watertower Nightclub, ideal for boogying after dark. There’s also a bistro serving well-priced American grub. 610-666-0600; www.arnoldsfamilyfuncenter.com
Water Park Fun Year ’Round
It’s always 84 degrees and sunny at Sahara Sam’s, a massive two-acre indoor and outdoor water park in West Berlin. The four-year-old attraction opened with just a dome-covered indoor oasis, but this summer there’s a new outdoor park and Sam’s Lounge, offering adult libations for mom and dad. There’s a 12,000-sq. ft. wave pool, family-sized four-person Mount Kilimanjaro slide and a lazy river tubing ride for chilling. The whole place has a tropical theme, with trees and vines and murals designed to get you in vacation mode.856-767-7580; www.saharasams.com
Get Your Groove On
As a mobile DJ for a dozen years, Betsy Fischer has hosted kids’ dance parties in basements, country clubs and fire halls. Once she started her own family, it seemed like setting up a permanent party location was a groovy idea. In 2008, she opened The Groove Lounge in Voorhees, a party studio and lounge aimed at fun for up to 90 kids, although it wasn’t long before grown-ups started booking the facility for birthday parties and other special events. The place is tricked out with purple animal prints and a disco ball. It’s ideal for interactive fun that can include high-energy dance parties, zumba classes, game show contests and karaoke. 856-504-3913; www.groovelounge.net
And Fun Options for Mom and Dad
You may be planning for the kids, but it’s not always all about them. There’s indoor fun for all ages to be found at Go Vertical, Philly’s only rock climbing gym. Whether you’re new to climbing or just want to beef up your skills, this is the place to do it, with both private instruction and group classes available. 215-928-1800; www.govertical.com
Sure, it’s marketed to kids. But Dave & Buster’s is for gamers of all ages. With its sports bar vibe, pool tables, tasty bar food and endless game options, this place is the man cave you’ve always dreamed about. With locations in Philly and Plymouth Meeting. www.daveandbusters.com
If staying active in any weather is your mantra, connect with Philadelphia Sport and Social Club, which offers both indoor and outdoor game leagues featuring opportunities for action of all kinds. As the city’s largest organizer of co-ed recreational sports leagues and social events, the club has something for everyone. 215-483-9340; www.playphillysports.com
Beth D’Addono enjoys a competitive go-kart race as much as the next person. This article was originally printed in This Summer, a Jewish Exponent magazine.