Mom in Mum’s World: Toddler Approved Activities in Northeast Georgia

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Never having been in the U.S. with a child before, and with six weeks to fill with the non-stop energy machine known here as Hushpuppy, finding toddler activities in and around the town in Northeast Georgia where we were staying was a high priority for my trip to the U.S. I’m happy to report that we discovered some winners. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, all of these activities are approved as seriously-super-fun by my nearly-two year old.

 

INK, Gainesville

Where do I even begin with INK (Interactive Neighborhood for Kids)? Tucked away in an industrial part of town, I wasn’t expecting much when we walked into INK, and in fact on our first trip there, we spent most of it in the “Under 3” playroom without exploring much further. Oh, how much more there was to see! Across a giant warehouse space, room after room unfolds inviting children to play imaginitavely in a grocery store, a diner, a bank, a hair salon, a vet clinic, a dentist office, and more. There’s also a train section, a dairy “farm” with a cow sculpture that you can actually milk, and Hushpuppy’s favorite, an actual police car. Grandma took Hushpuppy one afternoon and reported back that there was a section I’d never even made it to with an actual airplane. It was so many hours of entertainment and creative play, and it was suitable for young toddlers all the way through school aged children. If I lived in Gainesville, I’d be there once a week. It was magic.photo 3 (10)

 

Babyland General Hospital, Cleveland

photo 1Babyland General Hospital is the “birthplace” of the Cabbage Patch doll. Quite literally, they have a “birth” every hour or so. It’s honestly a pretty silly display, grown women dressed as nurses and taking their role as midwife to a glowing cabbage tree quite seriously (maybe it’s a tree? Cabbages don’t grown on trees… But then, babies don’t grow in cabbages … I’d urge you not to overthink the exercise). The whole place feels a little old fashioned, but in that marvelous way when you find something that’s still devoid of flashing lights and computer monitors, and holding on to a simple charm. They haven’t gotten the memo about the days of gender segregating toys being over (Hushuppy’s favorite section was labelled something like “no girls allowed!”), and the dolls really are a little creepy looking, but it was still a lot of fun to see.

The true story of our visit is that my daughter went to considerable effor to display less than a modicum of interest in the babies. Grandma wanted to buy her one as a souvenir, and I chased her around with one baby after another, saying “do you like the baby?” “Here, feed the baby!” She was still entirely entertained by everything else on display, including a toy kitchen, a little bedroom, and numerous stuffed animals. Dogs yes, babies no. I think we’ll go back on the next trip when she’s a little older.

 

The Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta

photo 1It rained on the day that my dear expat friend came to visit, so we decided to spend our day together indoors at the Georgia Aquarium. Hushpuppy had loved her visit to the Sydney Aquarium, so I had a feeling that this adventure would be a hit, and I was right. It’s a world-class aquarium, and we saw one incredible display after another. The tunnel with a moving sidewalk on the ground and sharks, rays and other fish swimming next to and above you was a highlight, as were the sea otters, and the little tunnel for children to go through and get a special view of the penguins. There’s something about the close up views and bright fish at aquariums that seems particularly appealing to toddlers,  even more so than zoos. The aquarium offered plenty enough entertainment for a full day of fishy fun.

 

The Children’s Museum of Atlanta

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust across the way from the Aquarium is The Children’s’ Museum of Atlanta. A fellow toddler mom came to visit, and we took the kids to the Children’s Museum. Hushpuppy immediately jumped on the John Deere tractor and also got a lot of use out of the truck-to-grocery-store interactive play area. She made a Christmas craft with the help of a friendly staff member and was mesmerized by a train set with plenty of buttons to push. She got her hands dirty in the kinetic sand station and managed to get both of us wet in the toddler fishing pond. The neatest exhibit, in my estimation, was this giant Rube Goldberg machine for ball play with dozens of levers to crank and buttons to push, with the balls going through any number of paths on a conveyor belt. In some ways, the museum reminded me of INK (they even had the same milking cow), and for my money, I’d choose INK any day (INK is also considerably less expensive), but if you’re closer to Atlanta than Gainesville, this was certainly great toddler fun.

 

Centennial Olympic Park, Atlanta

While I wouldn’t make a special trip to Centennial Olympic Park with a toddler, if you do visit either the Aquarium or The Children’s Museum (or even the World of Coca Cola), and you find yourself looking for a way to spend a little extra time, Centennial Park is a good stop. It has two playgrounds and plenty of good run around space. One of the playgrounds is specially designed to be accessible to children with special needs, which is quite interesting, as that aspect of it doesn’t make it any less challenging or appealing to children with no special requirements. It’s very well designed, and both times we went to Centennial Park, it was the preferred of the two playgrounds for Hushpuppy.

 

Hippo Hop, Atlanta

hippohopI love meeting up with friends with children, as they understand that you can’t just go to a sit down lunch and expect to have any kind of a catch up. You need a great place for the kids to run around if you have any hope of talking to each other for more than 36 seconds at a stretch. So, when I was meeting up with a friend I hadn’t seen since a year or two after college, I loved her suggestion of Hippo Hop. It’s a play center with several inflatable jumping houses and a number of other toys and activities. Both Hushpuppy and her son (nearly 4) were busy working from one end to the other for nearly four hours. I also liked that the snack bar was both reasonably priced and offered a number of healthy options, which you don’t always see at play centers.

 

Thrasher Park, Norcross

I grew up in Norcross, so when we were meeting up with a friend from high school, it only made sense that we returned to the old stomping grounds. She’s a proud auntie, so knows the area parks well and suggested this one. It’s a gorgeous neighborhood park in downtown Norcross, and the playground takes its theme from the railroad tracks and depot that are next door. Not only was the playground adorable, but Hushpuppy was completely entranced by the trains that went by periodically. “Choo choo!,” she kept saying

It was absolutely freezing the day we played there, so I didn’t get around to taking any pictures, but I really wanted to show you the cute playground, so I’m including this photo from citymomsblog.com. They have a description of this park (and lots of others here).

 

Chestatee Wildlife Preserve, Dahlonega

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFull disclosure, my kid was an raging monster the day we took her to Chestatee Wildlife Preserve, but on one of her better days, this would have been a great outing. The preserve acts as home to a variety of animals, many of which were rescued from being exotic pets or other bad situations. They came to national attention a few years ago when one of their donkeys and zebras got together to have a rare zedonk (truth!). They now have two zedonks, as part of the menagerie, along with bears, monkeys, wolves, birds, and a number of others. It’s very casual, and on the weekday we were there, we were the only visitors around. It’s the sort of place you could easily bring a picnic, hang out for the afternoon, and spend as much time observing the animals as you wanted without feeling pushed by crowds.

The zedonks were grazing in the field and didn't come close when we visited this time, but this is a photo I snapped of Pippi on an earlier trip a few years ago. She's bigger now.

The zedonks were grazing in the field and didn’t come close when we visited this time, but this is a photo I snapped of Pippi on an earlier trip a few years ago. She’s bigger now.

 

Zoo Atlanta

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHushpuppy loves our frequent visits to Taronga Zoo in Sydney, so I was excited when her Uncle and Auntie suggested we take a day trip to Zoo Atlanta. We went early in the morning when it wasn’t busy at all, so we gave Hushpuppy free reign to run around without the stroller. She loved it. I do think that she was at least equally as interested in running up and down ramps and watching the zoo’s train  as she was in the animals, but in terms of wildlife viewing, there were a couple of highlights. The zoo has a marvelous petting zoo with sheep and goats. Hushpuppy wasn’t entirely sure about petting them, but when she discovered that they have little brushes, she loved the idea of brushing the goats. And, the highlight for me was the giant pandas, which we don’t have in Sydney. It was cool weather, which apparently is the pandas’ favorite. We watched them from an uncrowded viewing area where one wandered in circles, making rounds right past Hushpuppy several times. They were delightful.

On the way out, we treated ourselves on a ride on the beautiful carousel and took a stop by nice fenced-in playground. It was a perfect toddler zoo experience.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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