December 14, 2016

A Children's Museum in Athens, and Tips for Entertaining Kids on Break

Kiddie Dope

Photo Credit: Joshua L. Jones

Leisure Services events, like this one at the East Athens Community Center Dec. 6, are always a good bet for kids.

It's that time of the year again, which means you're probably planning for a visit from family or friends. And at some point, you'll probably want to get out of the house.

So, now what?

If you're reading this column, you probably already have kids, and you probably already have an idea of places around Athens where you can take them. So most of this column is for you to clip (or otherwise share) for a friend who always comes to you with a desperate plea of "What can I do in this town when my sister's kids come to visit?"

But before I start suggesting ideas, I have to share a plan for something Athens has long needed. This is big, people, and really cool: An Athens children's museum.

Dubbed "Little Athens," it's the brainchild of Leigh Ellen Magness, a local licensed clinical social worker. For years, she has toted her kids to children's museums across the country, picking up ideas here and there, and has always dreamed of a place of our own here in Athens. Recently, the conversation changed from "What if?" to "When?" and she now has a business plan assembled and is filing for official nonprofit status.

It's called "Little Athens" because that's pretty much what she's envisioning: a miniature version of the local businesses we love so much, giving kids a place to do grown-up things in their own space. If you've ever taken your kids to INK (Interactive Neighborhood for Kids) in Gainesville, you might be familiar with the concept, although instead of having more generic businesses (a vet's office, a hair salon, a bank), Little Athens will feature businesses specific to Athens.

As a licensed play therapist, Magness says play is the natural language of kids, so the concept allows kids to do what they do best while also acting out roles typically reserved for grown-ups. (It's also the reason why the small shopping carts at Trader Joe's are always so popular.)

"The benefit of us creating a little Athens is that kids get to do small-scale versions of real-life things they see their parents doing, and parents get to cultivate an appreciation for the community they live in," she says. "I love the idea of a kid pretending to roast beans and serve coffee at a little Jittery Joe's, and then having an understanding of how things work when they visit the real Jittery Joe's. It's also a fun way for parents to introduce their kids to aspects of the community that they appreciate."

Right now, Magness has about 40 volunteers who are helping get this vision off the ground by late 2017 or early 2018, but she's looking for help in areas such as marketing, photography, creating a website and accounting. She is also on the lookout for a space to house this dream, although she is waiting to launch a capital campaign before committing to anything. (And, hint hint, if you're looking to donate any extra space you might have, she's open to that, too.)

Want to get involved? Visit for details.

Even without our own children's museum, we still have a good bit of kid-friendly activities in the Athens area. Here's that list you can pass on to your friends:

For any age: The weather is pretty unpredictable, but if you're blessed with a nice day when you have guests in town, take advantage of the North Oconee River Greenway. Pick it up at Dudley Park and ride bikes or walk along the river; I highly recommend taking it to Sandy Creek Nature Center, which has great interactive (and free) exhibits. Bear Hollow Zoo at Memorial Park is also a great option for kids of any age—you can also go for a walk around the pond, hang out at the playground and take a walk through the woods on the Birchmore Trail.

For preschoolers and elementary-age kids: We have lots of parks with playgrounds, such as Memorial Park, Lay Park, Trail Creek Park, Bishop Park and the park at Reese and Pope streets, and World of Wonder at Southeast Clarke Park is scheduled to reopen Friday, Dec. 16. The recently opened Boulevard Woods Park on Barber Street has a paved circular sidewalk that's great for kids to race around (on foot or in one of the park's cars!) and it's also within walking distance to our two coffee roasters, 1000 Faces Coffee and Jittery Joe's, in case you need to warm up.

For middle- and high-schoolers: We are lucky to have two roller-skating rinks, Fun Galaxy on the Eastside and Athens Skate Inn off Atlanta Highway. Unfortunately, Athens lost both of its bowling alleys this year, so you'll have to head toward Atlanta if that's part of your family holiday tradition. I also highly recommend going to one of our fancy, recently built or upgraded movie theaters, where you can order fries while you watch the movie. You might even be able to get your kids to sit next to you.