Boston for Babies
(Erin and Nat's guide to family fun in beantown)

Though Nat and I are single folk, free to travel on the whims of the wind without diaper bag or breast pump in reach, we are both children at heart. Prone to taking note of kid-friendly places, we wanted to share some of our favorite spaces and places with you. Garnered in part from my experiences as a childcare provider (and a Boston baby myself), mixed with a bit of observation and research, we have compiled this homegrown guide to Boston for Adam, Rachele, and their baby-yet-to-be-seen. Enjoy the exploration...

-Erin


Places to Play

Boston is full of fun, from the aquarium touch tank to a ride on the swan boats, there are plenty of places to play with your little one. Sometimes the best fun is to be had in the process of getting somewhere, and most of the best fun will happen at home. The following spaces offer a chance to get down and dirty, discover, learn, meet some other folks, and get out when you need to!

Boston Children's Museum. This is one of the best museums in the world for kids. It is also easy to get to and offers something new to do every time you go. Make sure to check out the Japanese House and reading room at napping time. The Smith Family playspace is designed for infants - 3 yr. olds. I'm pretty sure it is also free if you are not visiting the rest of the museum. They have a great resource room, a quiet breastfeeding area, an awesome aquarium, and clean, safe, tactile space for infants to explore, called the "BabyScape".

Children's Discovery Museum in Acton, has a new "Sensations" exhibit for infants with visual, tactile, and otherwise stimulating opportunities for babies. A nice place to go for an afternoon, there are a bunch of farmstands to stop at on the way home, or combine the visit with a trip to Walden or Concord (which has a great toy shop).

Stone Zoo in Stoneham, is farther afield, especially since you live right next to Franklin Park, but I like it because it is smaller and more relaxing.

Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary in Lincoln, is THE BEST, and I can offer you a guided tour before we move. The farm is free to MassAudubon members and offers 242 acres of walking trails, a great gift shop, farmstand, and opportunities to get up close and personal with a variety of farm animals and native wildlife. You can even take a hayride for an extra $2. Membership to the Massachusetts Audubon Society is cheap and gets you into all of the 48 sanctuaries across the state, as well as discounts on programs and classes. The Boston Nature Center, Visual Arts Center, and Bluehills Trailside Museum are all MassAudubon sanctuaries right around the corner.

Codman Community Farms in Lincoln, is also good for a baby animal fix. They raise a variety of animals for meat and eggs, and have a u-pick flower operation as well as a small farmstand. It is a nice place to walk around, all the animals are open to visitors, though there is little in the way of educational opportunities. It tends to be far less crowded than Drumlin, and is open on Mondays, when Drumlin is closed.

Grace Space is an open playgroup for children ages 0-5 every Thursday, 10-11:30am at Bethany First United Methodist Church in Roslindale. We've never been there, but it was local and seemed like an easy thing to check out. For more information, call 617-327-2532


Places for Entertainment

It is rare to find a baby who needs much entertainment beyond some parental attention, something to gum on, and perhaps something to shake. (So there, Teletubbies). Parents of infants, however, may find themselves requiring a break from the diapering, cooing, and napping routine. Matinee performances of concerts, plays, and movies are usually cheaper and often have children in attendance. Museums and historical sights have special programs at specified times throughout the day to add to the experience (the MFA and Peabody-essex Museums have great enrichment activities). Feel free to call us over to babysit while you take a night on the town, but if you want to take the progeny along, here are a few places to try.

Coolidge Corner Theatre, The Box Office Babies series offers bi-weekly movies on Mondays at 1:00 pm for $5 (babies are free). Since all of the other patrons also have children in tow, you don't have to worry if you need to get up and walk, or quiet a fussy napper. Why this over a movie at home, you say? You'll know the answer to that question in a few short months...

Puppet Showplace Theatre, Brookline. The only purely puppet theatre I know of in the area, with lots of great shows and visiting troupes throughout the year.

Regent Theatre, Arlington. Offers a "Family Fun" program every Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m. with jugglers, magicians, puppets, music, and apparently even more. They're also the the best theatre to see children's performers... like Dan Zanes, Steve's Songs, etc. They also show a bunch of Indian films on the weekends, good for a date night.


Places to Learn

While Gymboree has become a catch word indicative of all that is wrong with the crazed, cultish, "culture of the babe", there are some other options out there. Baby classes are great for expanding your child's social network, as well as offering new perspectives and ideas for learning at home. Music and tumbling classes can be especially inspiring.

Music Together offers local classes for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. The younger classes focus on rhythm and simple instruments. Each class includes a cd of the most common songs used in class and are actually fun to listen to...I still sing a bunch of the songs myself, and the last class I took was in 1998!

Community Music Center of Boston offers on-site music and movement classes for infants, and music and art classes for older children.

YMCA swim classes. The Charles River Branch in Needham offers infant swimming classes for babies 6-18 months (called the "shrimps"). There's a lot of controversy over infant swimming, but as long as you're an aware parent (and I bet you will be), the benefits for motor skill and general physical development tend to out-weigh the risks of you baby swallowing the pool.

Laughing Dog Yoga, in Wellesley, offers Mom and Baby and Baby-focused yoga classes. They seem to have a well rounded palate for moms and kids. Blissful Monkey in JP has similar classes, as well as a Kindermusic class.

T. Berry Brazelton doesn't offer too many classes, but see him speak if you get a chance. His Touchpoints book is a must-have if you're interested in infant development and infant/parent relationships.


Places to Eat

We're of the mind that if you pay for service, you should be able to bring your children to eat wherever you want to. Taking toddlers out to eat is exhausting, however - just ask Nat about his brunch with two-year old Halle and 4 year-old Trixie, or Erin about a particularly violent episode involving crystal and knives at the Weston Country Club with 14-month old twins. Savor infancy and all the dining opportunities it presents. As the decibel levels and wiggle factors increase, here are some dining opportunities:

Full Moon Restaurant, in Cambridge. Nat and I love this place for brunch, and we don't even have kids. They have tasty, creative "adult" food and beverage choices, while offering lots of toys and a play space for children. They have "pajama movie nights" where the kids are entertained by a movie in their pjs (often falling asleep on the cozy furniture) and the parents have a chance to socialize.

The Border Cafe, in Cambridge - It's cheap, it's big and loud, and there are veggie options...a great place to bring babies where other diners will coo and not mind any throwing of rice.

Mom's Lunch Boston holds lunches 3 times a week at Bertuccis in Needham, Brookline, Newton, and Boston for new moms. Have lunch with other mothers (and fathers) on a drop-in basis and participate in talks and discussions around a variety of issues concerning parenting.

Novel, at the Boston Public Library offers a buffet lunch and afternoon tea in a low-key, yet upscale setting. A great place to stop after a stroll around the public gardens and a visit to the swans.

Addis Red Sea, in the South End, serves great Ethiopian food, and since you're already sitting low, it is perfect for baby eye-contact.


Places to Shop

The "real" guide to baby friendly Boston for (the Lila Guide) has an enormous section detailing every clothing, toy, bedding, stroller, and otherwise baby-related store in the area. There's definitely a culture of consumption around infancy these days, perhaps due to the fact that babies seem to be the IT accessory. Casting all of the cutesy and corporate aside, here are some tried and tested suggestions for places to find quality products that will last well into the next kid. Not all of them are local, but hey, the internet seems like a place, too.

Toys

Henry Bear's Park, in Brookline and Arlington.
The Green Planet, in Newton Highlands
Concord Toy Shoppe, Concord Center
The Construction Site, Waltham
Stella Bella Toys, Inman Square
Homespun, the store at The Waldorf School in Lexington
Curious George, in Harvard Square
heirloomwoodentoys.com

Clothing, Shoes, etc.

Women's Educational and Industrial Union, in Boston has beautiful collections and supports good work.
Baby Belle, in West Roxbury
Oilily, on Newbury
Stride Rite, all over the area
bobuxusa.com
diapersafari.com
ecobaby.com
organicgiftshop.com

Gently Worn Clothing

The Children's Orchard, in Brookline, Chestnut Hill, and Newton
Frida Bee, In Cambridge and Arlington


Places for Support

I hesitated to include this section - you have so many great support networks in place already. I was amazed at how many mom's groups there are in the area, as well as chat rooms and forums and lecture series and on and on. It seems that Boston is a great village in which to raise a child.

Jewish Family & Children's Services Center for Early Relationship Support. New mom groups are free and ongoing and are led mostly by volunteers trained and supervised by social work staff. JF&CS has three on-staff lactation consultants. Known throughout the area, consultants serve the metro-Boston area. Appointments are in your home or at the JF&CS office; fees range from $60 to $100. (617)227-6641

Mothercare. My co-worker Pat works as a postpartum doula with Mothercare. For $28 an hour (4 hour minimum) they provide cooking, housework, infant care, meal preparation, and anything else that can help you out. She's a sweetie, too. (888)-MYDOULA

Warm Lines Parent Resources New Babies, New Parents Group, (the people that co-sponsor the movies). They'll have a new group meeting in the late spring, it is free and offers 8 weeks of meetings for new families. A lot of people I know have enjoyed "new mothers" clubs and such, but this one looks more diverse and more accepting of daddies.

A comprehensive Parent Resource directory for the Boston area.

gocitykids.com, the Boston site has a lot of information and resources as well.

And you know all about Isis


General Helpful Hints

After caring for dozens over the last seventeen years, here are the results of my personal product trials (and believe me, I've seen it all...)

The Diaper bag - Bigger is not better. The best diaper bag is easily portable, often was not designed for the purpose (small backpacks and sling bags work great), and need only contain these essentials for a day out: 3 diapers, wipes, a wipeable changing pad, plastic bags for disposing or storing soiled diapers, clean cloths for messes and spit up, a full change of clothes and extra onesie, a sun hat or sweater (depending on the season), a few favorite toys, membership cards to library and museums, small lotion or sunscreen tubes. Keep one stocked bag in the car and one to carry.

The Carrier - Comfortability is key.Whether sling or backpack, the most important thing is that it feels like you have nothing on. Some swear by Baby Bjorn, others by slings and wraps, you may have to try out a few different models before you find one that stands up to a long walk or hike, so keep the tags. Carriers are the best option for infants because they free your hands, allow for eye contact, and make feeding much easier. If you plan to hike or camp, the Kelty carriers are awesome and very comfortable for all involved. Infant carriers/carseats are great for allowing uninterrupted sleep, and make visits easier, but they're tough to lug around.

The stroller - I love Maclarens ; they're super easy to stash and pack, adjust to both the baby's size and to your height (saving you from back strain), are sleek, pretty, and super sturdy. They're also easy to maneuver through stores and museums that allow them. Infant carrier/carseat/stroller combos can be awkward to use and the strollers are often very low to the ground. Jogging strollers are great for rough terrain, Baby Jogger models are the easiest to disassemble for storage in the car, though Burley has a conversion kit for their bike trailers.


Easy toys

Dried beans in any plastic container become a great rattle.

Mobiles - hang strings of beads, paper cutouts, or toys above the crib or anywhere else the baby spends time gives them a way to test their focusing abilities and helps to sooth as well.

A large bowl of beans or rice is great for tactile play before and after the "everything goes in my mouth" phase.

Thick ribbon - satin and ribbed ribbons are great stimulation, sew different ribbons to a piece of flannel or pillowcase. ( there's a company that makes "Tags" blankets based on the observation that babies are always fingering the tags on their baby blankets).

Pots or bowls and wooden spoons are classics for rhythm making.

Beads (strung on hemp or otherwise indestructible string) double as noisemakers.

Masking tape is an amazing thing...roll it into a loop and put it on the baby's hand.

Aluminum foil is also fascinating.

A cup or yogurt container and a shallow pan of water provide endless hours of entertainment .

Vegetables - once they're teething and eating, some large, hard whole veggies and fruits like carrots, zucchini, and apples are fun to play with.

Nuts, leaves, flowers, mud - natural materials get them in touch with the seasons and with different textures, scents, and colors.