Hidden Hometown Gems: For Kids

The Treasure Hunt: Hidden Gems for Kids

Written by Kathleen Stevens Moore

Spring has sprung! It’s time to load up the kids and investigate some of the most noteworthy family outings our Northside has to offer. Activities guaranteed to enlighten, engage and educate your child.

Treasure Hunt

Anne Frank In the World Exhibit
Sandy Springs

This free museum is perfect for 3rd graders and up. The exhibit solidified what my kids had already learned in school, and offered a deeper understanding to Frank’s life and indomitable spirit. Program Director Sandra Craine started us out with a 28-minute film, a fantastic overview of the climate, culture and facts leading up to Frank’s fate. With that knowledge in place, the exhibit began by pushing open a swinging bookcase — a replica of the one which so cleverly concealed the family’s secret annex. The exhibit presents 600 amazing photographs, plus a recreation of Anne Frank’s hidden bedroom: chair, writing desk, wall posters. A room that could belong to any girl the world over. It’s a powerful tool. The museum did a masterful job explaining that discrimination does not discriminate. My kids got the message: it can happen anytime, anywhere to anyone. We talked about what we’d learned the whole drive home. 5920 Roswell Road NE, Suite 209, 770-206-1558, annefrankexhibitsandysprings.org

Fire Station 1 & Fire Museum

If you have a little boy obsessed with firemen, this outing is for him. The petite museum tucked inside the historic Wright Chevrolet building is easy to navigate. Vintage fire-fighting equipment, hats and old photographs tell the story. The star of the show is Roswell’s immaculate 1947 fire truck. It’s picture-perfect. Everything but the Dalmatian. We were shown the station by fireman Johnnie Martin. He let my kids feel, touch and sit in the modern-day trucks.

“We can get someone out of a 7th-story window with this thing,” Martin told us, pointing to the ladder truck.

He explained that the station’s firemen are happy to gear-up and demonstrate equipment to young visitors. The excursion gave my kids an understanding of how far fire-fighting has come, and offered direct contact with the men and women who help keep our community safe. Families are welcome to drop by anytime during daylight hours, seven days a week. Groups are encouraged to set an appointment. Visit the firehouse knowing that if duty calls, your hosts will need to scoot. 1002 Alpharetta St., 770-641-3730, rosewellgov.com

Great Harvest Bread Company
Alpharetta & John’s Creek

In this age of herculean preservatives and hydrogenated oils, Great Harvest is indeed a comfort. Each morning, buckets of golden Montana wheat are milled into flour onsite. Bread baked within hours. Take one of their free tours, allowing your child to see just how it’s done, and understand why. Freshly milled whole wheat makes a difference. It’s a hundred million times healthier than bread baked with bleached white flour, not to mention it tastes better. Our tour was led by Jay Paul. With kid-friendly animation, Paul showed our group how the healthiest bread is the simplest bread. Five ingredients do the trick: whole wheat flour, salt, water, yeast and honey. Both kids and adults were encouraged to smell, touch and taste. As an added bonus, your child will walk away with a goodie bag stuffed with a honey-wheat mini loaf, coupon good for next time, and handful of wheat kernels. The kernels are for planting. Bring back a successfully grown pot of wheat and efforts shall be rewarded: a huge homemade cookie for each little farmer. Tours require 8 or more children. It’s the perfect outing for a gaggle of friends, church group or scout troop. 10305 Medlock Bridge Road, John’s Creek and 4915 Windward Parkway, Alpharetta,  770-622-0222, getfreshbread.com

Adrenaline Climbing  

Nathan Steele sounds like a stage name. But here on the Northside, the man is not only a real person, but the proud co-owner of an indoor rock climbing facility that, well — rocks. These days older kids can hardly peel themselves from technology, but Steele and his staff get the job done. They keep boys and girls engaged with a bevy of programs, camps and climbing teams. Learned skills that will literally stretch your child up and out. A gem of an opportunity for first-timers is the facility’s Family Fun Friday. From 6 to 8 p.m., each participant gets two hours of climb time, pizza and full staff assistance. As a parent you’ve got two options: strap on a harness and get climbing, or sit back, relax and snap pictures on your iPhone. At 8 p.m., the tempo changes. Cosmic Climbing in the house. This deal comes at a slightly higher price point ($20 per participant) but it’s understandable. Somebody’s got to pay for all those strobe lights. Music pumps up, lights go down. The florescent-painted walls glow. It’s like disco night at the bowling alley, minus the cheap beer and bad shoes.

“It’s hard to get the energy out of a child,” Steele said, laughing. “But we have a pretty high success rate.” 460 Brogdon Road No. 100, 770-271-1390 adrenalineclimbing.com

Sawnee Mountain Preserve & Chattahoochee Nature Center
Cumming | Roswell

Sure, everybody knows about these two outdoor treasures. One has been around since Madonna, the other sits on a big fat mountain. Hard to miss. What may go unnoticed, however, are the hidden gems nestled within their spring programming. How about tree climbing? Swing from the branches at Sawnee Mountain Preserve on March 1 and 15, and April 5 and 19. Boys and girls ages 8 and up are invited to the party. Parents can either join in the aerial acrobats or wave from the ground while chugging back Tums. Your tot is too little to climb a tree? Not a problem. Head for the Pee-Wee Naturalist Spring Series at the Chattahoochee Nature Center. Offered Tuesday mornings March 11, April 8 and May 13, your child will have a blast investigating animals, energy and wetlands. Classes include art projects, animal encounters and trail hikes. Or sign your family up for their Night Hike on Saturday, March 29. With a new moon on tap, the sky should be blacker than black. Listen for owls under a canopy of stars as you’re led over boardwalks and darkened paths. This special event includes a visit with one of CNC’s nocturnal animals and roasting marshmallows around a glowing campfire. 4075 Spot Road, 770-781-2217, 
sawneemountain.org; 9135 Willeo Road, 770-992-2055, chattnaturecenter.org

Artistic Adventures

Owner/artist Jayme Teague believes in small class size and individual attention. The old painted house where she runs her art school is hunkered down in eclectic funkiness, as far from strip mall blah as one can get. Join Teague this spring for one of her ongoing Family Fling Days, Saturday and sometimes Sunday classes that will teach you and your child to throw pottery. You know — on a wheel. Your child’s own hands will mold, build and glaze the clay. Dr. Seuss would call it fun with mud. Teague is patient and energetic. She loves introducing newbies to the art of hand-thrown ceramics. Personally, I’m thinking of signing up for a glass fusion class. This March and April, instructor Kathy Faass will be teaching families how to create glass sun catchers, wind chimes and garden stakes. Remember, nothing says springtime like a garden stake. And since they’re glass, even Sharpie marker wipes right off. Score! If your chives go belly up, re-assign the garden stake to basil. Or mint. That stuff is nigh indestructible. 1581 James Burgess Road, 404-642-6564, 

Phoebe Loughrey

Warmer days mean it’s time to head to the greener pastures of equestrian-laced Milton. Sunday-in-the-Saddle, held on March 26, April 4 and 27 from 3 – 5 p.m. at Phoebe Loughrey Stables, is not to be missed. This special opportunity is not only free, but perfect for children unaccustomed to horses. No experience necessary. Kids can simply pet the horses, or snap on a helmet and ride. In addition to being an accomplished rider and trainer, Loughrey is also a fellow mom, which means safety is job No. 1. Only the gentlest horses and ponies are used. Loughrey knows how to make youngsters feel comfortable and keep things controlled in the ring. And what a ring! Her show barn is located along one of the prettiest roads in an already picturesque community. Loughrey’s velveteen property is pristinely manicured, her horses meticulously kept. Her only request is that riders arrive wearing pants and soled shoes.  A word of warning: your child may arrive the casual visitor, but depart forever changed by the graceful touch of a horse. 14737 Wood Road, 908-705-0645, plstables.com

Aurora Children’s Playhouse

“Creating the next generation of theater goers is what we’re all about,” said Al Stilo, the director of marketing and sales at Aurora Children’s Playhouse. After attending a show myself, I can honestly say mission accomplished. When the lights came up, my kids had one question: When are we coming back? Fortunately, this charming historic theater has several performances lined up for spring. In March, catch “The Princess and the Pea,” “Y’all” and “Pirate Goodie & the Magic Chest.” On April 5, the theater will showcase “Cinderella.” Clocking in at a kid-friendly 45 minutes, and costing only $7 per ticket, the shows are a steal. Purchase a $50 Playhouse Tix pass good for 10 admissions any time, and watch that cost drop to five bucks. The 250-seat Main Stage feels classy and elegant, a perfect hit of culture for a Saturday morning. Storytellers, puppeteers, magicians and musical theater are all part of Aurora’s répertoire. 128 East Pike St., 678-226-6222, auroratheatre.com

Have a blast exploring these Northside hidden gems. Expect lots of smiles and loads of fun. Spring forward and jump in!