Still Exploring, Even in Our Tiny World

So its day, ummmm, 3,000 of social distancing. For us this means trying to entertain/educate a 2 and 6 year old while also doing what we can to make our small businesses survive this inconceivable time.

Ok, so maybe not inconceivable. A global pandemic has always been my top irrational-realistic fear. But for the sake of how it is impacting the economy and our careers just as things were kicking up a notch is nauseating. Everyone is dealing with extra stress now – whether it is career or family or career AND family related. We are not alone even in our isolation.

The point is, we are trying to make the most of the time and space we have. And we are lucky, because we live in an incredible neighborhood that, while tiny, still gives us so much. Public art is worth so much in these moments. So while we avoid our friends and neighbors, we’ve been trying to see if we can spot every mural in the neighborhood – and as more and more keep popping up, I can’t help but feel blessed by the bounty.

I pulled together a scavenger hunt of images to keep us wandering with purpose. I’ll probably do a few more as time drags on. Check out my post on instagram where I’ve tagged the artists -they are all incredible and if you’re looking for time to kill, you could fill a few hours on their feeds as well.

5 Ways to Explore Philly and Maintain Social Distance

So this is a strange new world we are living in! While I am busy worrying about how this may be impacting the long-term social skills of my children, I am also trying to come up with new ways to view our city and explore its amazing historic and cultural depths. So here’s a quick round-up of my first attempts at social-distance exploring.

Go On a Mural Arts Self-Guided Tour

Philadelphia is mural city. According to Mural Arts, we have more than 3,600 official murals, plus any number of rogue artists. So it’s not hard to come up with a quick map to explore some public art, and Mural Arts even has a few suggested one-mile tours that are easy to do as a family.

With murals decorating all parts of the city, the tour is only a suggestion for themed-viewing. To keep our sanity in tact, we’ve gone about it scavenger hunt style. If this social distancing experiment goes on any longer, I will share some of our better scavenger hunts for all the locals.

Find the Old Congregations of Philadelphia

As a diverse colonial city, Philadelphia supported a number of different religious practices from the beginning, and many structures and markers still stand today. Old Philadelphia Congregations is a modern consortium of historic churches and synogogues that provides historic insight into these early places of worship. There are almost 20 in close proximity to one another in Old City, making for a great way to be our own guides to history.

Prayer garden at St Augustine

Explore Open Spaces

Philadelphia is home to amazing parks, not just playgrounds. Both Fairmount Park and Wissahickon Valley Park boast more than 2,000 acres of open parkland, trails, and hiking without leaving the city limits. Even smaller parks like Penn Treaty offer room to run while maintaining a healthy distance from others, but it does come with the temptation of a playground. With small kids, the proximity to such parks is amazing for burning off this pent up energy!

Nothing beats running free in the fresh air with a new best friend

Gain Historic Insights

We have more than 300 historic markers here in Philadelphia, and some of them rather strange! From famous people to products, to moments of incredible significance, you can learn a lot from these markers scattered through out the city. If, like us, you’ve been forced into homeschooling, these serve as a great tool for local social studies.

Unsurprisingly, you’ll find more of these in the Old City and Society Hill sections of town, but they are everywhere. To learn more, visit the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission

Make an Art History Project at Notable Cemeteries

“Walk in the footsteps of people who held this nation together during its formative years” reads a marker at Old Pine Street Presbyterian Cemetery. And indeed, with the numerous certified historic cemeteries dating back to the late 1600s, you can visit the graves of many notable figures, including Ben Franklin at Christ Church.

Taking note of the imagery, quotes, and even the dates can lead to incredibly interesting conversations with your children. I’ve even found that talking about past outbreaks has been a great way to talk about what we are currently experiencing. While this may be novel on a global scale in the modern world, it’s certainly not a new problem we’ve faced.

Dating back to 1768, members of the first Continental Congress often attended Church here to hear the Rev George Duffield, who is commemorated in statue.

Would love to hear your tips on staying active and engaged in your community during these strange times!

Trip Planning: London Bucket List

Our first big trip of 2020 is London and I couldn’t be more excited! We first went as a couple almost a decade ago, and not it’s time to bring the kids to see if they also fall in love with this city.

So first, a confession. As a former history student, I was especially interested in all things monarchy. Ok, not all, things, more like medieval about the 1800s. And most definitely I have a better understanding of European monarchy than other, so London is kind of a nerd-girl-dream-come-true city. So you can imagine how excited I was when, in my research, I realized I could get my very own child learn to be a knight at the infamous Tower, sight of many a noble beheading!

This may be my dream come true, but may not be my die-hard-LEGGO-loving kids dream. However, in the spirit of high hopes and unrealistic expectations, I’ve pulled together a bucket list of things I will attempt to achieve with two kids (one who is 2 and one who is 6) over the course of the next week:

  • Knight school, obviously
  • Check out the major sights: Big Ben, London Bridge, Westminster, etc. This walking tour is going to be soggy based on current forecasts
  • British Museum and Museum of Natural History (because 6-year olds LOVE dinosaurs)
  • Official Tea Time
  • Changing of the guards
  • A day trip to Paultons – and some exciting adventures in Peppa Pig Land and a Dinosaur Land
  • Shopping in Portobello Road
  • Exploring Shoreditch
  • Date night (sitter pending)

Stay tuned for our stories and a recap to come!

A Long Weekend in Las Vegas, Family Style

We recently used the coveted week off from public schools to take a trip out to sunny Las Vegas. While most people say Vegas isn’t for kids, we really found the opposite to be true! While the Las Vegas strip was built as a playground for adults, the rest of the city and surroundings are actually incredibly family-friendly.

This was our first flight with two-kids, and we made the decision to plan the trip just before our youngest turned 2 and could still qualify as a lap infant. This was…not the best idea. From a budget perspective, definitely great, but from the perspective of sitting in cramped Spirit Air seats with 4 people, 2 of under the age of 6 , the flight felt infinitely longer than it actually was.

Here’s a tip: you know how you pay for seat selections? Turns out, if you are traveling with young kids, this is not something you really need to do with many airlines. Definitely call and confirm their policies before banking on this–and I’ve heard some airlines are making it mandatory to book $$ the seats together–but for the most part, airlines don’t want your 5 year old sitting with a stranger.

We spent the majority of our time in the city in the suburbs, but spent one night on the strip for the perks of convenience + pool. We covered a lot of ground and I think came away with a pretty strong sense of how you can make a trip to Las Vegas work for a family so that both the kids and adults have a good time.

Spend a Day (or Two) on the Strip

Swim: The lights, noise, and general chaos of a stay on the Las Vegas strip cannot be understated. It’s not really an ideal place for a nice family vacation, but it does have its perks. We stayed at the Mandalay Bay and booked two adjoining rooms. My husband and I have a firm rule that we don’t share a room with the kids – no one sleeps well when we do. Normally AirBnB is our go to, but we wanted the convenience of walking to some of the key kid-friendly attractions, plus a few hours at the pool. Mandalay Bay is more kid-friendly than most of the area pools, with the bonus addition of a lazy river. Our little ones LOVED it. We spent a few hours basking in the sun and washing away the airport grime before setting out to see the main attractions.

Choose your own adventure: After we had our fill of the pool, we set out on our adventure for the day. In the name of finding something for everyone.

My husband took our son to check out Marvel Avengers Station at Treasure Island, an incredibly cool interactive permanent exhibit. Most of the features come from MCU Phase 2, and worth the visit for true Avengers fans.

I took our toddler off to see the dolphins at Siegfried and Roy’s Secret Habitat at the Mirage. The dolphins were really delightful to watch, which you can decide to do either above or below the water. The wild cats, on the other hand, are a really depressing sight. I hope they have more space to wander around on than the showcase spaces they have within the Casino. They all looked a little depressed.

Fun for all: If your kids are on the younger side, like ours, you can finish up your adventure with a trip to the dungeon arcade at Excalibur. It’s a little dated but perfect for the younger set. Plus parents can enjoy the throwback feel from youth while also enjoying an adult beverage.

You’ve earned it: In our adventures, we normally spend the first half of the day entertaining the kids, making sure they get plenty of exercise and fun so that we can take the opportunity to treat ourselves later with an experience that is more for us. While gambling was tempting, what we chose was an amazing dinner back at the MGM. There are plenty of great dining options to choose from, and many of them are surprisingly welcoming to 2 weary adults and 2 overly tired children who (real-talk) spent most of the meal on their devices so we could have an actual conversation.

Take Time to Explore the Real Las Vegas

We were delighted by how much the city of Las Vegas has to offer – from the sights and sound of the Old Strip to playgrounds, to family-friendly venues, there’s plenty to see and do. It’s also a really helpful reminder that Las Vegas is so much more than the “What happens in Vegas…” nonsense that the city gets hyped for. It’s incredibly family-friendly and has a lot of wonderful amenities for both visitors and local residents.

Kid-friendly favorites: We spent a few hours at the ridiculously huge Town Center Mall. Our little girl really loved the train that you can ride all around the mall and our son had a blast at the huge GameWorks arcade. It was incredibly hot, so they both got soaked at the playground and splash pad in the Children’s Park. I’m not normally one to promote a mall as a place to go, but this was a fun way to spend a few hours

Skylines and playgrounds: Even within the city limits you can do some easy hiking and playing – getting in some exercises while seeing some views you don’t normally get to experience on the East Coast. Our kids were really interested in the different vegetation, the occasional animal spotting, and I loved catching sunsets every day as we explored the area.

Obsessed with the sunset views from pretty much everywhere in Vegas

Museums and local excursions: For a truly unique, only-in-Vegas experience, check out the Neon Museum, which is home to relics of the past and an amazing restoration effort for local neon lights. The 3-D Trick Art Museum is great if you’re into “doin’ it for the gram”-type spaces.

Nightlife off the beaten path: If you can’t get a sitter, it’s still worth heading down to the old Las Vegas. While crowded on any given night, a walk through the Freemont Street Experience – which tons of LED lights and even zip lines – is quite a sight. There’s a cool pod park (that’s also worth checking out/playing in during the day), and Lyft even has a changing public art exhibit that highlights the very best of Vegas.

The Lyft Park is super cool for playing at night with the kids

If you do happen to have a sitter, you definitely should grab drinks at the Atomic Liquors – a true dive bar, with great cocktails, historic significance – it’s s the oldest freestanding bar in Las Vegas and also a key space for watching atomic bombs going off in the 50s – hence the name. Unlike most bars that make tourist lists, this one is the real deal.

Myth-busting: Having Kids Means You are Always on a Nap Schedule

Myth

The nap schedule is an unbreakable law. Those who dare challenge it will rue the day. No one will ever have a full day of fun again until your child is at least 7. 

Fact:

Naps ARE important, but they don’t have to stop you from a life of adventure. 

I want to clearly state that my kids are not great sleepers. They have never taken a car nap for more than 45 minutes. I still get (rare) nighttime wakings from my six year old, and in our real life daily life, we adhere pretty tight schedule because, survival.

That said, I’ve found that naps don’t need to keep you from living your best life. The key is keeping your kids hydrated, well nourished, entertained, and with a mode of transportation that gets them off their feet (your arms, a stroller, a carrier, whatever!)

Long days in travel are hard if you do them day after day, but adaptable little ones will recover from a long day or two in a row if you allow them a little extra time to sleep at night. That might mean an early dinner and bedtime or prolonging your next morning out in favor of a little sleeping in (my favorite!).

All kids are different, but with my two polar-opposite children, I’ve found that kids are also incredibly adaptable. In fact, my go to for a bad sleep rut is often to travel. It shakes things up and when we get back home we have the opportunity to reset in our safe space.

So go forth and travel, nap time be damned!! (For a day or two ). 

Sneaking Culture into Our Family Outings

Growing up in a small rural homogenous town in Virginia, opportunities for cultural experiences were pretty limited, although my mom did her best to get me out of town to experience everything from theater to museums, to urban life. In fact, I left my small town life largely for this exact reason–I fell deeply in love with Met on our trip to New York, and was in awe at the musical performances on Broadway. I was exposed to history and archaeology on trips to Washington, D.C.. and had my world changed when we went to Europe when I was only 12.

I am beyond grateful that my mom made such a big effort for me. Her efforts to expose me to more is probably what makes me the odd bird in my family (who still all live in that same small town), and it is what creating this website is all about for me with my own children. For although we live in a culturally rich and diverse urban community, it still requires a little bit of effort to make sure the kids actually get to experience.

Meeting my kids where they are in this moment in their lives, at the ages of 2 and 6, exposure is more of an effort of making it a seamless integration into our “play.”

Catch a Live Theater Experience in a Park

We are pretty lucky to have a thriving arts and theater scene in Philadelphia that is committed to making art accessible. A few great places to catch this in action is Shakespeare in the Park at Clark Park each summer; various musical and dance performances hosted at the Woodlands, and pop-up performances across the city by BalletX.

View this post on Instagram

Aerial view of the show, courtesy of Adam Goldman!!

A post shared by Shakespeare in Clark Park (@shakespeareinclarkpark) on

Bask in the Public Art All Around

Philadelphia is the city of Murals. With an incredible Mural Arts program, approximately 60-70 new murals enter our landscape every year. With young kids we take advantage of the public art scene every time we go out, using it as a point of conversation or just admiration.

Philadelphia parks often include public murals,
bringing art into their play experiences with ease

Participate in the Free Little Library Project

There is something so beautiful and simple about this project that I can’t believe there isn’t a free little library on every street corner. Free books for all! I’m such a book nerd and have always appreciated the magic of a good story.

Try New Foods

Contrary to popular belief, kids will eat more than chicken tenders and fries (although they obviously love those too). Sometimes I joke that our children won’t be able to live just anywhere when they grow up because the food in Philadelphia is out of this world. In our neighborhood alone we have some of the best Lebanese, Korean, Japanese, Filipino, Indian, Mexican, and Italian food I have ever had. Experiencing new foods with my littles is one of my great joys.

Delicious ramen with our little chopstick pro

Visit a Real Museum, Not Just Children’s Museums

Let me start this by saying that I love the Please Touch Museum, our local children’s museum so much. But it’s not the only game in town. In fact, most museums are incorporating kid-friendly activities and opportunities to touch and interact with the exhibits. So go to the kid museums, of course, but also go to art museums and history museums. Challenge them and challenge yourself as well.

Meet Our Family

I started Small Fish, Big See when it hit me that these moments with our kids are fleeting. Our family is busy, all the time, with work, and it dawned on me that as we are constantly working to create the life we want for ourselves and for our kids, they were living in the here and now right now.

We have two small fish: a boy and girl, who are opposite as day and night. Our boy is an introvert who does not adapt well to change. A large part of the inspiration behind starting this is intentionally creating opportunities to expose him to new situations and places, to help him learn to feel safe in the midst of an adventure.

These moments are little opportunities every day to introduce our kids to the world as we see it and for them to see us as individuals beyond mom and dad. To that end, when we plan a day or a trip, we like to find things we enjoy, but it is not all about the kids.

The majority of what this site will cover is Philadelphia, our home turf and where we do most of our exploration. An historic city filled with public art, nature, and an incredible population of makers and doers, their world education starts here.

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all” – Helen Keller