Kid Spoken Here: Making AMC’s huts and lodges more kid-friendly

I write here often about my family’s efforts to spend time together outside and about my desire to raise children who are connected to the wider natural world, who will translate that connection into protecting and caring for wild, natural places. The “Great Kids, Great Outdoors” blog is part of a larger effort by the Appalachian Mountain Club, tied to AMC’s Vision 2020 goals, to make the outdoors more accessible to children and families. AMC’s efforts address some of the same issues that I do with my individual family, but on a much broader scale.

That work has resulted in a new program. “Kid Spoken Here,” launched earlier this month, focuses on the experiences of children and families in AMC’s huts and lodges.

It’s not new for AMC’s program managers to think about how to engage kids, especially young children, in the outdoors. For example, a naturalist talk at Zealand and Lonesome Lake huts teaches kids about the life of beavers by outfitting volunteers with tails, webbed feet, and fur. My 8-year-old son, Virgil, would definitely have his hand up in the air for that. That talk is now included in the “Kid Spoken Here” list for the huts, along with such additions as Nature Jeopardy and Nature Bingo games, nets and bug boxes, and scavenger hunts.

Most new activities are planned for the Highland Center at Crawford Notch. This makes sense: The Highland Center has long been a good starting point for explorations around the White Mountains, especially for families. With the addition of the new mountain playscape, scheduled to open in May, the center will likely draw even more families.

Activities. The list of family-friendly walks and adventures that will be available at the Highland Center from July 1 through September 4 fills a single-spaced page. Some examples: daily morning explorations, short walks that show kids the basics of birding, tracking, wildflowers, pond-life, trees and shrubs, and wild edibles; half-day family adventures that include short hikes to waterfalls and smaller peaks, but also field trips to such attractions as the Cog Railway and Flume Gorge. Also kid-friendly wilderness workshops that introduce children to map and compass skills, teach them to build rudimentary shelters, and send them on GPS treasure hunts. (“Cool!” Virgil says, and wants to sign up immediately.)

Gear and Games. The changes extend inside the Highland Center, as well. The selection of family and children’s gear in the L.L. Bean Gear Room will expand to offer child carrier packs (so parents can tote those too young to hike), kid-sized backpacks, a wider selection of small boot sizes, and children’s personal flotation devices for water-sports programs. The library will include a larger selections of children’s books and magazines — helpful for rainy days — and children’s nature guides and field guides. In the library, but also in other areas around the lodge, families will find children’s tables and chairs, along with crayons and paper, games, and toys.

Food. Families, like armies, travel on their bellies. Knowing that there’s a waffle maker in the dining room would get my young soldiers out of bed. And the make-your-own pizza and BBQ lunches would also motivate them to finish a morning’s hike. Both of these options have been added to meals at the Highland Center, along with other kid-approved food ideas. More changes: additional high chairs in the main dining room, a kids’ menu, kids’ trail lunches, and an ice-cream sundae social on Sunday nights.

The evening meal now also includes the option of a “Kids Club” dinner and a “Party on the Patio Family Social Hour.” Kids eat “kid food” in a big group, overseen by “kid-friendly staff,” while parents get hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar on the patio. This sounds to me like something out of a Club Med or other resort vacation.

Such changes won’t be for everyone. This summer, there may be more children running around, more children laughing, and, no doubt, more children crying at the Highland Center. But if Kids Club and Party on the Patio make it easier for some families to spend part or all of their summer vacation with AMC, I’m all for it.

Next: Accommodating families at AMC huts and lodges

Learn more
- AMC’s Vision 2010 accomplishments, and a look toward Vision 2020
- "Natural Play Scape Planned at Highland Center" (Great Kids, Great Outdoors)
- "AMC Caters to Families" (February 2011, AMC Outdoors)
- Family options at the Highland Center at Crawford Notch

Photo: Family dining at AMC's Highland Center. Photo courtesy AMC.

Great Kids, Great Outdoors” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Kristen Laine.

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