Family entertainment

Just your type

First Act Guitar Studio (Evan Richman / Globe Staff / File) An alterna-kid will enjoy a stop at First Act Guitar Studio.
April 11, 2008

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Looking for some parental guidance? Globe writers share strategies for satisfying many kinds of kid — from the hipster to the hiker.

Ah, the alterna-kid. The quirky, unsporty, don't-want-to-be-like-the-other-kids kid. Happily, Boston offers numerous diversions for the pint-sized fringe dweller, starting with the incredibly challenging retail experience. The Gap, as any parent of an alterna-kid will attest, is anathema. The vintage stores dotting Cambridge and Allston - among them Oona's, Urban Renewals, the Garment District, and Great Eastern Trading Company - are the solution, and not just at Halloween time. Tiny ones won't fit into the mostly adult sized clothes, but if your kids are anything like mine they'll swear that the Union Jack blazer in men's extra large is a perfect fit. And they'll love scouring for costume jewelry, funky hats, crazy vests, old scarves, and one-of-a-kind boxes to hold their collection of guitar picks.

Speaking of music, if yours is obsessed, and odds are good he or she is, make a trip downtown to the First Act Guitar Studio on Boylston Street, where your budding rock god can watch a master luthier build custom axes for the likes of System of a Down's Serj Tankian, Maroon 5's Adam Levine, and Aerosmith's Brad Whitford. Beware: First Act sells a line of instruments especially for kids, so bring your wallet or your will power.

In the same vein and just up the road, the Museum of Fine Arts offers a great series of all-ages concerts in Remis Auditorium, and the Summer in the Courtyard shows will start mid-June. We're talking about music for a kid who thinks Hannah Montana should be shipped off to a desert island, and who would rather poach tunes from her older brother's iPod than watch "High School Musical." The Remis spring calendar includes shows by Son Volt and Mark Kozelek, and the summer lineup - bring a picnic dinner and lay down your blanket - kicks off with Jose Gonzalez and Grupo Fantasma.

If the weather turns sour and you're looking for a way to pass a rainy afternoon with alterna-kid, spend an hour or two poring over vintage Spider-Man and Superman comics and an array of manga at the Million Year Picnic in Harvard Square. And if a week of diversion is in order, consider an intensive workshop in performance art during April vacation week at Cloud Place. What alterna-teen wouldn't want to "explore different ways to approach public, private, and digital audiences through reflection on relationships, objects, and movement"?


Cloud Place, 617-262-2949;
First Act Guitar Studio, 617-226-7899;
Garment District, 617-876-5230;
Great Eastern Trading Company, 617-354-5279
Million Year Picnic, 617-492-6763
Museum of Fine Arts Remis Auditorium, 617-369-3306;
Oona's, 617-491-2654

When the kids outnumber the parents in a household, one of the keys to a happy family life is to get outdoors. Fortunately my wife and I are blessed to have three children who get much of their enjoyment in the fresh air. This is largely by design: As far as they know, an Xbox is a cardboard box with a big X on it, and Hannah Montana is a suburb of Billings.

Our kids climb trees. They play soccer. They draw pictures on the driveway with sidewalk chalk. They rollerblade on our cul-de-sac. They ride their bikes, skateboards, and scooters. They toss footballs, baseballs, and Frisbees. It's like 1958 in our yard. Sometimes Wally and the Beav come over to play.

Aidan, who'll turn 9 in a few weeks, is trying to set the world record for pogo-sticking; he's up to 800 bounces without stopping. Liam, his twin brother, throws a spiral that would make Bill Belichick smile. Amelia, who just turned 6, would like to make hula hooping an Olympic sport.

The yard has its limits, though. Sometimes you need to get out of the neighborhood.

One of our greatest pleasures is hiking at Blue Hills Reservation. The trail from Route 138 up to the weather observatory is perfect for little kids. It's neither too long nor too steep, and there are rocks to climb or rest on along the way. The stone observatory near the summit affords a panoramic view of Boston.

Another kid-friendly hike with spectacular views is on the trails of World's End, the paradise in Hingham. And now that the kids are getting older, this summer we plan to hike in one of my favorite childhood places: Purgatory Chasm, the boulder-filled state reservation in Sutton.

Kites can be flown in any open field on a breezy day - we usually head to the town soccer fields - but you can't beat the kaleidoscope of colors and shapes that fill the sky at the annual kite festival in July at Brenton Point State Park in Newport, R.I. Same idea with Frisbees: You can play anywhere, but try the vast openness of a place like Borderland State Park in Easton, which has targets for Frisbee golf throughout the grounds.

Bicycling is fine on your own street, but for a change of scenery we stick them in the car and head to a state park or, better yet, the Cape Cod Canal, which is flat and provides cool relief on a hot summer day. If a quiet, calm beach is what you're seeking, stop just before the Cape. Not only is Onset Beach a smarter choice for the littlest kids, but you can avoid the traffic headaches too.

If you'd rather kick back and watch other people exercise, take in a baseball game. But forget about Fenway. The tickets are cost-prohibitive for most families, and the fans' language can be worse than prime-time TV. Go minor league. Last summer we had a blast at a Brockton Rox game. We walked up to the box office 10 minutes before the first pitch and bought seats behind home plate for less than what it would cost to go to the movies.


Blue Hills Reservation, 617-698-1802;
Borderland State Park, 508-238-6566;
Brenton Point State Park, 401-849-4562;
Brockton Rox,
Cape Cod Canal, 508-759-6000;
Onset Beach, Onset Avenue, Wareham
Purgatory Chasm State Reservation, 508-234-3733;
World's End, 781-740-6665;

On any given night, some time before dinner, our 3-year-old pulls out a flowered suitcase and begins her standard sartorial routine. Green tulle dress with Tinkerbell on the front? Check. Strap-on pink fairy wings? Check. Magic wand with streamers? Check. Kid-size pumps with pink fur on the toes? Check. Then she clumps around the house, demanding to dance to "princess music," which on any given night could be the score from "Mary Poppins," a CD sampler from the TV show "Yo Gabba Gabba!," or the collected hits of the Jackson 5. If mom says it's princess music, then it is.

That's the advantage of life with a Fantasy Kid: a girl who likes to pretend is easy to please. Especially since her make-believe scenarios, blessedly, aren't limited to princesses and fairies. Ava is almost as likely to jump up and down on all fours saying "ribbit," or run around the kitchen table yelling, "Cowboy to the rescue!" She can happily spend hours trying on grown-up shoes at Marshall's, or going on worm-hunting expeditions in the backyard with her dad. But as she grows, we've been thinking more about cultural excursions.

To feed the fairy tale beast, there's always someone else's make-believe, such as the Makeshift Theatre Companyproduction of "Cinderella," now playing at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline and the Regent Theatre in Arlington. To expand her costume repertoire, there's the Family Discovery Gallery at the Wenham Museum , where young kids can dress up in Colonial garb and pretend to churn butter. We love indulging farmer fantasies at Davis' Farmland in Sterling, where dozens of baby animals are waiting to be fed. And for the kid who loves "Make Way for Ducklings," there's the annual Duckling Day Parade at the Public Garden on May 11, where she can dress as her favorite character from the book (Jack? Lack? Mack? Nack?) and look for Officer Michael at the corner of Beacon and Charles.

The real beauty of imagination, though, is that it can be free. One of our favorite weekend jaunts involves exploring public parks, and our current favorite is the lovely, new-ish playground at the Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park in the North End. In sight of the harbor, in squawking distance of the seagulls, Ava can climb to the top of a play set that looks like a ship, steer the wheel with glee, and enjoy a view fit for a princess.


Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park, 617-635-4505,
Davis' Farmland, 978-422-MOOO (6666),
Duckling Day Parade, 617-723-8144,
Makeshift Theatre Company,
Wenham Museum, 978-468-2377,

I'm sure she'll get over it, but for now our 7-year-old daughter Julia actually enjoys spending time with her parents. She's got a great sense of humor, and there's plenty about her mom and dad that makes her laugh out loud.

But then Julia, like her heroines Eloise and Ramona, is easily amused, especially by adults. Dining out is among her favorite pastimes, and preferably at places catering to grown-ups and large groups. Before "The Lion King" a few years ago, we went to Maggiano's Little Italy in the Back Bay, and Julia was mesmerized by the restaurant's old-school atmo. She commented that the red-leather booths and Sinatra soundtrack were like something from a movie.

We live in the suburbs, but our daughter likes the hurly-burly of the city much better. A Shirley Temple at Jer-Ne or a dessert at Jacob Wirth beats a frappe at Friendly's every time. And then there's the Middle East in Central Square, where she can eat a lamb kabob while watching belly dancers. How cool is that?

Although she's baffled by her old man's ability to make a living with a Bic pen and a notebook, Julia is nonetheless interested in words and writing. We encourage her curiosity by reading newspapers - talk about old-school - and going to readings at bookstores and libraries where she can meet actual writers. (Next on the itinerary is a visit to the Wellesley Booksmith April 25, when author Susan Lubner will read from her new book, "A Horse's Tale: A Colonial Williamsburg Adventure.")

Also worth investigating is 826 Boston, the innovative tutoring, writing, and publishing nonprofit that helps kids ages 6-18 burnish their creative and expository writing skills. Located on Washington Street in Roxbury, 826 Boston is the knock-off of 826 Valencia, the cool collective founded in 2002 by the great Dave Eggers. If your kid digs Roald Dahl more than, say, "Danger Rangers," you may want to check it out.

Finally, like a lot of little girls, Julia enjoys playing dress-up with her friends, and she gets some of her best ideas and inspiration by browsing at the Garment District in Cambridge or, better yet, the racks at Marshall's. (Being something of a clothes horse myself, I'm happy to indulge her.) On the occasional overcast Saturday, she and I sneak off to the Meadow Glen Mall in Medford and spend an hour or two trying on reduced-priced jeans and shoes - she in one dressing room, me in another.


826 Boston, 617-442-5400;
Maggiano's Little Italy, 617-542-3456;
Marshalls at the Meadow Glen Mall, 781-391-1331; marshalls
Middle East, 617-864-3278;
Jacob Wirth, 617-338-8586;
Jer-Ne, 617-574-7100
Wellesley Booksmith, 781-431-1160;

One day, as my daughter doodled something with her crayons, another mother leaned over to my wife and whispered, "I wish [preschooler's name omitted to protect the innocent] would do that." Apparently, this mother would put paper in front of her daughter and receive the sort of response you might expect from a mime at a bird-calling competition.

At moments like those, I think of the late, great comedian Bill Hicks, and his signature bit: "Your children aren't special." Naturally, Carlene and I take great pride when Lila does well. But we don't get carried away. Unless your 5-year-old is racing through Rachmaninoff's third piano concerto, I suggest you also hold onto those Mensa pre-registration fees.

That said, I can tell that Lila loves music and art. Our job then is to provide her with what she might need to explore those areas. I bought her a ukulele for $40 at a local music store. We've taken her to a screening of the Sing-a-long "Mary Poppins" at Arlington's Regent Theatre, and to Broadway to see Mary on the big stage. We've done Dan Zanes until she grew weary of his Woody Guthrie-meets-Raffi routine, and we got tired of the cost of the tickets. (My sister's supposed to slap down $22 for a baby she's going to hold in her lap? No mas.)

We've made the scene for the Boston Ballet production of "The Nutcracker" and for one of the Holiday Pops children's concerts, a chance to dress up and enjoy PB&J at Symphony Hall. We also took her to the Cutler Majestic Theatre for Elvis impersonator Steve Connolly.

Then there are the non-passive events. I credit Carlene for seeking these out because, well, she's the one who seeks them out. I'll tell you about the Arlington Center for the Arts , because that's near our home. But kids-centered classes are available at a variety of centers around Boston.

These classes ranged from two-night workshops ($60 for two) in which my wife and Lila created clay objects and glazed them to a "Young at Art" class, a weeklong summer program ($150) in which, among other things, she worked on a life-size poster of herself. In "Art Explorers" ($150), a class that teaches the basics in texture, line, color, and shape, she was able to draw, make prints, and work on a three-dimensional project. In that course, Lila also created her crowning achievement, a clay sculpture of my head.

I could complain about one of her flourishes - filling the ear of my clay head with excessive wax - but that would be stifling a young child's creativity.


Arlington Center for the Arts, 781-648-6220, classes.php
Big Apple Circus, 617-931-2787,
Boston Ballet, 617-695-6950,
Boston Pops, 888-266-1200,
Elvis impersonator Steve Connolly,
The Regent Theatre, 781-646-4849,

Guy stuff? You know: swords, sharks, fossils, science, cars, superheroes, guy stuff.

And by superheroes I mean the classic ones, not the Marvel and DC kind, but the BC kind: Hercules, Perseus, Theseus. Saturday morning cartoons have nothing on Greek mythology. So check out the Art of the Ancient World galleries at the Museum of Fine Arts.

The MFA also has more than a hundred samurai swords, thousands of sword fittings, and several suits of armor. Some of the latter look spooky enough to be Darth Vader's Halloween costume. Right now, none of the armor is on display (the Greek galleries have greaves and a great bronze shield, though). Still, there's always the Higgins Armory Museum, in Worcester, for armor and various bladed weapons. Take the Pike, you might say, to see some pikes.

Arms and armor are all well and good, but shark teeth will do nicely, too, for cutting-edge guy-stuff kids - especially when the teeth are still attached to a shark. The New England Aquarium has sand tiger sharks and a nurse shark in its Giant Ocean Tank.

It's hard to beat the fossils at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, especially the 42-foot-long Kronosaurus. The stuffed animals and minerals there are pretty amazing in their own right. As a bright 12-year-old guy-stuff kid would be the first to point out, what's a fossil but a cross between an animal and a rock? There are fossils at the Museum of Science, as well. But there's so much other stuff, too. It's heaven for guy-stuff kids.

The Larz Anderson Auto Museum, in Brookline, is closed for renovation until May 2. It reopens with an exhibit called "Passion, Design, Performance: The Art of Italian Style." For most kids, "Italian style" is how they like their spaghetti. But a guy-stuff kid will know that it also means Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and Alfa Romeos. Isn't avanti Italian for "vroom vroom"?

Guy-stuff kids can definitely be of either sex, by the way. How do you think Wendy, on "Bob the Builder," got her start?


Museum of Fine Arts, 617-267-9300;
Higgins Armory Museum, 508-853-6015;
New England Aquarium, 617-973-5200;
Harvard Museum of Natural History, 617-495-3045;
Larz Anderson Auto Museum, 617-522-6547;
Museum of Science, 617-723-2500;

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