Doylestown Kids’ Castle

I have mentioned a few times before that there comes a point – frequently during the colder months – where cabin fever hits my kids, they start acting like wee caged beasts, and they desperately need to burn off their excess energy.  With that in mind, this weekend we took them to Doylestown.




The Central Park in Doylestown has a superb playground known as Kids’ Castle that provides lots of opportunities for climbing, balancing, sliding, and swinging in a safe and clean environment.  This was not our first visit to the Kids’ Castle playground but it has been a good while since we were last there.  The playground is a community funded project and, as such, it was encouraging to see that changes and developments have been made since we were last there.  It is great to see such signs of success for a community project.



My boys had a whale of a time clambering inside the many layers of the castle, shouting greetings from the tallest turrets, whizzing down the tube slides.  They also spent some time on the swings, including a tire swing that made them queasy.  What they were most enamoured by on this visit, however, were the pieces of equipment that were new to them.  There was a large piece of play equipment in the shape of a pirate ship, complete with a sea serpent slide, scramble nets, and canons that made a “boom” when whacked.  My three younger boys had soon turned it into the scene of an imaginative game I think loosely on the theme of piratical vikings – if that isn’t a tautology.


They also loved a new addition to the castle, a kind of hydraulic fireman’s pole with a platform.  They could step from the castle onto the platform and it would slowly descend and deliver them to ground level.  The younger three could not get enough of this.  They thought it was brilliant fun.  My oldest son – almost 13 – was confounded by what they could possibly find so entertaining about slowly descending from one level to another.  I had no sooner told him that it was because he was getting older than his almost 41 year old father hopped on the pole and had a go himself.  I guess it isn’t age related after all.



After the older three were tiring, the 6 year old still had energy galore to spare.  He wanted to go and look at the outdoor gym equipment so he and I headed off there to see what the equipment did, what exercises could be done, what if anything he could do there to burn off more energy.  I imagine the gym equipment is a great resource for people who enjoy that type of thing.  There were clear instructions regarding how to use the equipment in different ways.  The youngest and I did some of the exercises but mostly he just ran and jumped and climbed until finally his energy levels dropped to a reasonable level.




Museums as Winter Playgrounds

The weather has been pretty miserable here in recent weeks.  Snow, slush, chill winds, bitter temperatures, and dull, grey skies.  This weather has not been conducive to wandering, exploring, and playing outside.  What that means is that my kids build up into powder kegs of pent up energy which runs the risk of igniting and that means I blow a gasket and have to release my flying monkeys.  It’s not good.

The solution was to find somewhere the kids could go and burn off some energy without it costing a small fortune.  That was when we thought of the Franklin Institute.  We have a family membership there so it made complete sense.  And instead of seeing it as a place where the kids could be intellectually stimulated and learn about science, we could utilise it as an indoor playground and they could expend some of that pent up energy.


We let the kids plot the path around the museum so that they could visit each of their favourite places.  While Mr Pict and our oldest son went to the planetarium (to lie back in seats and therefore have no exercise at all), I took the younger three to the brain section.  They played for ages on the neuron climbing frame.  They invented some sort of space ship drama involving aliens and ray guns.  After a few more brain experiments, we headed to the Heart section where they pedalled to power an opera and ran around inside the giant heart.  They wanted to see the train, so we met up with the other two and the kids all ran around inside the train, treating it like another climbing frame.  More energy burn off.  Woo hoo!  Our plan to treat a museum like an indoor playground was working.



The sports science section had been closed for renovation last time we visited the Franklin Institute so we headed there to check it out plus sports ought to mean more energy burned.  The old sports section was a favourite with my kids but it was a bit tired so we were excited to see what they had done.  I must admit, I was a little disappointed.  The layout means that people are funneled in narrow corridors past the interactive exhibits and adults clog that corridor as they supervise their kids.  Not great.  Some old favourites, such as the surfboard were still there, and some of the new exhibits were great fun, but some of the exhibits were already broken.  There was a display of (I assume and hope) fake urine to demonstrate the importance of correct hydration that my oldest son found thoroughly entertaining.



The mission, however, was a complete success.  The boys found the Franklin Institute to be entertaining without us having any sort of focus to the visit (in fact, I think the 10 year old preferred the lack of direct learning) and they did burn off energy and get some exercise.  Museums can be winter playgrounds.  Maybe not the ones with Ming vases though.


Flea Market and Kids’ Castle

We, as a family, love second-hand stuff.  I am frugal and budget-conscious so obviously the financial element of buying second-hand wares appeals to me.  I am also environmentally aware so I do like to think that in using something old instead of buying something new I am saving something from landfill and thus reducing my carbon footprint.  However, the real delight comes from the thrill of the unknown, the never knowing quite what you might happen across in all that rummaging, the hope of finding a buried treasure (within one’s own context of treasure, of course).  As a teenager, I would buy a lot of my clothes from charity shops not only because I was budget savvy but also because I didn’t want to have the same style as everyone else so buying vintage helped me maintain my non-conformity.  I still feel that way now as it is nice to have odds and sods around the house that, even if they were mass-produced once upon a time, are now that little bit more unusual.

Like mother, like sons.  My four boys also love a good rake through second-hand items whether at a jumble sale, a charity shop or car boot sale.  When the children and I were living with my in-laws prior to departing for America, one of the boys’ treats for a day out was to walk into the city centre and have some money to spend in the charity shops there.  They were enormously excited to do so.  There was a big car boot sale held in an old airfield near where my brother-in-law lives in England that my kids also loved to go to.  The scale of this boot sale was massive.  It was so big that my kids could actually draw up a shopping list of things they hoped to find and, for the most part, they would be successful.  I should explain, perhaps, that a car boot sale is an event whereby people bring the things they want to sell to a location and they set up their tables and goods in front of the open boots (trunks) of their cars.  Didn’t want that to be lost in translation.  These boot sales always kick off really early in the morning, before the crack of dawn, and you want to be sure you are there early otherwise the dealers have gone through the place like locusts and harvested all the very best stuff.  Now I have a mob of kids who I cannot prise out of bed in the morning without threats.  I actually need to invent a giant shoe horn that assists me in levering them out of bed.  Even on Christmas morning, with all the anticipation of a visit from Santa having occurred, Mr Pict and I have to wake them up.  It’s ridiculous.  I definitely need that giant shoe horn before they become teenagers.  There have been two exceptions to their bed-limpet ways.  The first was the morning we were getting on the plane to come to America.  A whispered reminder that this was the day they would see Daddy again had them each pinging out of bed like Dracula from his coffin.  The other exception was any time we were going to a car boot sale with their Uncle.  Even on cold, dark winter mornings, they would leap out of bed, get dressed and ready, wrap themselves up in gloves, hats and scarves and off we would set in the car ready to go pillage some stalls and turn one person’s tat into our treasure.

You will now understand, therefore, that we are excited by the arrival of yard sale and flea market season.  We have not yet been to a yard sale.  I think I would find a single family yard sale a bit awkward – a bit like those posh shops you accidentally wander into where the hawk-eyed staff outnumber the customers by six to one – but we will certainly hit up some multi-family, street-wide yard sales.  Saturday, however, was our first Flea Market of the season.

In addition to looking for things we might need or want, the kids and I set ourselves a challenge to (quietly and tactfully) identify the most hideous, most awful item on sale at any car boot sale.  We have found some incredible winners in the past from grotesque dolls to skid-marked underwear to a “pre-loved” item consenting adults really ought to be keeping in private and locked away.  Really.  Thankfully the kids didn’t identify that one.  Judder.  Saturday’s ugliest item was quite tame by comparison, some sort of wooden carving of a troll.  Ugly but not requiring hand-sanitiser.  We also look for a theme each time.  Often the theme ends up being Tigger or Pooh.  There must be a warehouse somewhere just stuffed to the gunnels with Winnie the Pooh themed stuff that people collect just to sell second-hand.  The theme of Saturday’s Flea Market was definitely Beanie Babies.  Every second stall had a collection of Beanie Babies for sale.  This very much appealed to my seven year old who absolutely loves cuddly toys.  One lady was selling her collection for $2 each but told him she would give him a manager’s special of 2 for a dollar.  So he bought four. He also bought a boglin (remember those toys?) and a hat so he could perfect his Michael Jackson dance moves (the Wii has a lot to answer for).  My eleven year old bought a cuddly rockhopper penguin because he loves penguins.  The other boys just bought random things that took their fancy, from superhero figures to a hula hoop.  One stall holder even gave them a free Scalextric set.  Mr Pict bought a large metal shovel (for the snow, not to rid himself of his troublesome wife), a leaf blower and a vintage captain’s chair.  I can attest to the comfort of the latter because I am sitting on it right now.



After all of that raking and bargaining and shopping, we decided to take the boys to burn some energy off somewhere new.  We, therefore, headed to Doylestown where we had heard there was a large castle themed playground.  It was indeed a very cool playground, with a multi-storey central castle with various slides, chutes and tunnels, and surrounding play equipment.  My eleven year old found he was verging on being too tall to properly play inside the castle as he was having to crouch down too far which slowed him down.  His three wee brothers, however, gallivanted around for hours playing a game about knights defeating a dragon.  The design of the playpark meant that Mr Pict, our oldest son and I could sit back in the sun and let them run around to their hearts’ content.  They were careering down various slides, clambering up steps and jumping across “lava” bridges and all with minimal supervision, which was great because I loathe having to hover over them as it feels inhibiting.  It was a scorcher of a day so we could not stay too long but we will definitely return over the summer to play there again.

And, yes, I had a quick run around in the castle too and exited out of the curvy tube slide.  Just for research photo-documenting, of course.