No matter what your kids say, sleeping late, wearing their pajamas all day and watching TV until their eyes glaze over is not what winter break is all about. Perhaps after indulging them for a day or so, you’ll all be stir-crazy and ready for some outdoor adventure. If you busted the budget over the holiday season, there’s no need to worry, most of the following activities are pocketbook-friendly.
Bundle everyone up, get some fresh air, and make memories during winter break — ones that don’t involve presents, commercialism or mass media.
Explore The Great Outdoors
Massachusetts is lucky enough to be home to the Trustees of Reservations, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to “preserve, for public use and enjoyment, properties of exceptional scenic, historic, and ecological value in Massachusetts.” Caring for more than 100 different properties throughout the state, such as Crane Beach and World’s End, the organization offers myriad activities for families year-round, but some unique ones in winter. Head to Naumkeag in Stockbridge or The Stevens-Coolidge Place in North Andover to take in beautiful large-scale light installations called Winterlights, which features immersive displays that transform the gardens and grounds. For a different kind of adventure, head to Appleton Farms in Ipswich or Bird Park in Walpole for a Reindeer Quest, where a “herd” of wooden reindeer sculptures have been hidden. Challenge your kids to find as many as they can.
Walk A Young-Kids’ Wonderland
Think gardens go to bed in winter? Think again. At Tower Hill Botanic Garden, a 171-acre property in Boylston, there’s always something happening. Its annual winter event, Night Lights, transforms the gardens with light displays. While it can be hard to score Night Lights tickets due to its popularity, its Day Lights program has tons to offer families, and might be even better for younger kids. Check out the library, outfitted like the book “The Mitten”; watch a model train running through an alpine forest of real trees and handmade woodland homes; crawl into the large “bee hive” in the pollinator room; and enjoy scavenger hunts, discovery backpacks, hands-on activities and more. You can also explore trails outside and visit the Winter Garden, among others.
Studies in Nature
The historic 1806 Waltham property Gore Place, formerly the home of one of Massachusetts’ governors, might not sound like a family-oriented destination, but the 50-acre country estate holds lots of appeal, especially for outdoor explorations. Year-round visitors can visit the grounds, gardens and barnyard (home to chickens, sheep and, occasionally, pigs), but it’s definitely more fun for kids if you rent a “Take-A-Walk Backpack,” which includes a self-guided tour, binoculars, a magnifying glass and seasonal activities. Special backpack themes include archaeology, raised garden beds and architecture. Backpacks are just $5 an hour. If there’s snow on the ground, the estate is ideal for tramping around on snowshoes, which you can rent for $10 an hour for adults and $5 for kids (and come in all sizes, from preschooler to adult).
Go Back to The Past
Step back in time in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, which, while already a charming seaside town, becomes even more so with its monthlong Vintage Christmas celebrations in December. The whole town is decked out in seasonal décor, but no spot does it better than the living history Strawbery Banke Museum, which embraces more than 300 years of history with lovely authenticity. Ice-skate on its Puddle Duck Pond and perhaps catch a Currier & Ives-inspired show on the weekends. Interact with costumed interpreters, and don’t miss its guided holiday house tours, which feature five decorated historic homes, including Victorian ornamentation at Goodwin House, a Hanukkah celebration at Shapiro House, Christmastime during WWII at Abbott House and hearth-cooking in the circa-1785 Wheelwright House.