We’re in the middle of a long, hot summer.  If you’re tired of your toddler catching God-knows-what and being trampled by bullies at the Dulles Town Center’s play area, here are some indoor family-friendly activities in Loudoun County.

1) Visit the Loudoun Farm Museum in Sterling

I absolutely love this museum, so it’s at the top of my list.  It’s small, approachable, and has something for all ages.

The hands-on area is perfect for preschoolers.  Kids can play farmer, milk a pretend cow, and race kid-sized horses.  There are farmer costumes and jockey hats for playing dress-up.   A transplanted authentic country store has a cash register, mail slots, and food items designed for children to explore and play.  

The museum’s other half is designed for older children and adults.  Engaging kiosks describe Loudoun’s agricultural history over the past four centuries, with a special section discussing African American contributions.   

Budget ninety minutes for preschooler visits.  Adults only need a half hour or so to read the exhibits.  There’s a great (real) store in front where you can buy farm-related merchandise.  One warning: kids ages 6-12 may be bored, since they might feel too old for the preschooler activities and be too young to enjoy history.

Check the museum’s website for event info. We’ve enjoyed the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party program and held my son’s third birthday party at the museum.  There’s a small, separate party barn where you can bring your own cake, etc.  Prices are very reasonable.  http://www.loudounfarmmuseum.org/

2) Go to a Pet Store

If the weather is nice, it’s great to visit an animal park (www.leesburganimalpark.com) or farm (www.greatcountryfarms.com), but when it’s raining or just too hot, a pet store is a cooler, drier option.

My family can easily kill an hour in PetSmart.  There are a surprising number of animals to captivate preschoolers:  lizards, frogs, fish, birds, and rescue dogs and cats.   They also like to watch the dogs being washed in the glassed-in grooming area at the back of the store.  www.petsmart.com

3) Go to the Library

Loudoun libraries have story times throughout the week, as well as summer reading programs and special events like movie nights and puppet shows.  You can also go the traditional route and just check out books.  http://www.lcpl.lib.va.us/  

4) Visit the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum

OK, this isn’t technically in Loudoun, but it’s close enough. 

I think of the Air and Space Museum as a nice walk next to a lot of planes.  That is to say, it’s huge and I think the exhibits are a bit dry, but it’s a good place to let your kids and out-of-town visitors run around.  If you like planes – lots of planes – this is definitely the place for you.

If you arrive after 4:00 p.m. you’ll avoid the $12 parking fee.  Since the museum is open until 5:30 p.m., that should be ample time to park and visit absolutely free.  http://www.nasm.si.edu/udvarhazy/  

5) Go to the Movies

Movies are the classic summer indoor activity.  The new Brambleton movie theater recently opened, and they’re offering free kids’ movies (second-run titles like Over the Hedge and Ant Bully) during the week.  Kids popcorn and drinks is $1 and candy is $2.  We went to see Happy Feet last week and were impressed by the new theater:  great film quality and nice facility with leather seats. 

Get there early since it fills up fast and it’s a fifteen-minute process to walk from your car, get snacks, and make it to your seat.  http://www.consolidatedmovies.com/kids_movie.asp?theatre_id=34  

6) Go to a Bookstore

If you don’t care to associate with the proletariat at the library, most bookstores sponsor story times.  Borders has story times during the week; check out the event schedule at the link below. http://www.bordersstores.com/events/events.jsp?view=1&storeID=349 

7)      Visit a Community Center

There is plenty to do at public community centers.  Swim in the indoor pools, climb a rock wall, work out, take a class, or throw a basketball around.  After spending the last ten years working out at work or in a gym, I’d forgotten how much community centers have to offer.  Your tax dollars support them, so you might as well enjoy them! The Claude Moore Recreation Center just opened this year, and it’s especially nice.  Check out the rock climbing wall and indoor pool playset.  http://www.co.loudoun.va.us/prcs/claudemoorerec/index.htm  

8 )  Go Bowling

An oldy but a goody!  Many lanes offer family times when your kids won’t have to leave smelling like cigarettes and stale beer.  Most places can raise bumpers in the gutters so any child old enough to walk and push a ball can play.

Village Lanes Bowling Center, Leesburg.  703-777-1865.

9) Lunch at Costco

It’s cheap, it’s fast, it’s practical, and the kids will think it’s a treat.  Do a little shopping first, pick up some samples, and then head to the cafeteria area for hot dogs and pizza.

Got more ideas?  Please share!

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