With all the distractions of the city, it seems there’s never really time for much of anything—particularly not for enjoying those very distractions. You and your kids have your hands in this and that, lending your limited and often sparse attention to a cultural event here, or a social gathering there, but when was the last time you forgot about the ticking hands on your watch face and took joy in the simple act of being together?
For the seven weeks, we follow families that do.
Each day, with every meal and chore, these New Yorkers take a step back from it all. From neighborhood outings to museum visits, we connect with parents and their kids about how they keep their busy schedules in check and make time for what matters at the end of the day, when soccer season is over and to-do lists are crossed off: each other.
We also look to Houston, Miami, San Francisco and Chicago to see what they have to offer families who are searching for ways to be a part of each others’ everyday lives.
When it comes to your family, who doesn’t have a moment to spare?
Week One: From the Comfort of Your Front Yard
Week Two: Fashion, and Family: A Lifestyle
Week Three: Art and the City: A Family Affair
Week Five: Around the World in So Many Ways
Week Seven: The Tradition of Coming Together
It’s no secret that active lifestyles are essential to keeping fit, but crowded city sidewalks and busy streets can make it difficult to stay on the move.
In exploring the ways parents are encouraging their kids to get up out of the house, we met Romice François, a mother who knows that it won’t bode well for future generations if children are strangers to Mother Nature. “I don’t want my kids to become couch potatoes or become glued to the computer, so finding something positive to do with their time, like playing sports, is very important.”
This week, we take a deep breath of fresh air and see how close-knit families are enjoying the great outdoors—from extreme sports to everyday hikes and rides.
Ms. François’s children (Carlisl II or “Deuce”, 8; Ryan, 4; and Camryn, 2) are always on the go. “Two working parents, running a household with three kids: play-dates, school, after school and weekend activities,” she explained, “it’s a rat race!” Still, the family makes time to be outdoors together.
Chelsea Piers is often a first choice for her clan. Not only do they have impressive golf, swimming, skating, gymnastics and baseball facilities, but they also offer a range of adventure sports, including rock climbing.
“Anything that keeps the body moving is how we do it,” said Ms. François. “My husband is a baseball and golf fanatic, so my oldest, Deuce, started golf lessons.” And if its good enough for big brother, then Ryan and Camryn are sure to join.
Ms. François said that for her family, it’s “Manhattan for golf and baseball in Brooklyn.” But don’t leave out that third great spot: baseball and sports-minded families should really keep an ear to Randall’s Island. The borough in-between offers over 60 sports fields and complexes—for pretty much everything.
There is also the Wetlands Stewardship Program, which helps introduce children to wetland ecology and other hands-on environmental experiences, and Randall’s Island Park Alliance’s Young Professionals Council is constantly hosting family events of all sorts year-round. No longer to be ignored, Randall’s Island engages everyone.
Photo Credit: Vincent Laforet, Courtesy of Randallsisland.org
For equestrian enthusiasts, each of the City’s boroughs boast stables and offer opportunities to get riding. Prospect Park’s horseback riding program is perfect for families who want to explore the park and learn more about the sport. A 3.5-mile bridle path traverses scenic and varied terrain and lessons (for all levels) can be purchased for individual kids or families as a group. Families looking to ease into the sport should check out the Bronx Equestrian Center’s pony and haywagon rides.
“We keep busy with the sports we currently play but when we want to take it easy, we bowl,” admitted Ms. François. “JIB Lanes is around the corner from my aunt in Queens.”
JIB Lanes has created an entire schedule of family and junior bowling leagues and programming for fall. Catered to accommodate the school year, most of the opportunities are on Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings. Generally, once a month, JIB offers free on-lane instruction, free bowling, prizes and food and beverage specials for its Kids Free Fun Day. The facility is a great way to introduce the sport of bowling, especially to kids who might be interested in competition.
Since Ms. François and her family love to be in and on the water, a great way for them to enjoy it is by kayaking. The family can develop strength, confidence, and teamwork, all the while being together.
One of the City's best-kept secrets is the Jamaica Bay Kayak Trail where there are numerous launch sites for paddlers of any ilk. Permits are required for a few of the launches such as Riis Landing and Rockaway Point, but Plumb Beach, Floyd Bennett Field Seaplane Ramp, Mill Basin, Canarsie Pier and the North Channel Bridge are open to all. If you don't have the equipment and/or experience, New York Kayak Company, the city's oldest operation of its kind, offers excellent family packages and rentals. With NYKC, families can boat around Red Hook, the Intrepid, Lady Liberty, the Morris Canal and other historic sites.
“Swimming not only is great exercise, but it’s important to know how. We’ll probably use one of the city’s Ys,” said Ms. François.
YMCAs across New York have teamed up with the non-profit America on the Move to encourage families to be more physically fit and learn about the benefits of an active lifestyle. In addition to the YMCA locations around the region, New York City Parks offers free aquatics programs, year-round, for all ages and levels, as well as competitive swim opportunities after school.
When the weather is bad, but you and your teens are looking to exercise, Soul Cycle is a great way to remain active. SoulCycle recently introduced SoulTeen for ages 12 and above (over 4'10"), which delivers the same pulsating workout for kids as it does for the 45-minute adult classes. The indoor cycling program uses weights and core exercises for strength training and fat burn; paired with tremendous dance music and high-energy instruction, it is a fun and exhilarating way to work out as a family.
Miami Beach is tranquil and relaxing—with the obvious exception of its infamous nightlife—but families shouldn’t rule out the Art Deco city’s ability to deliver daytime thrills. Hirooka Surf and Sport offers family-friendly packages for those curious about such sea sports as Kiteboarding and Paddlesurfing. With two locations (Miami Beach and the downtown area), the company has a “learn with a trainer” program that will take parents and their kids out onto the water to learn the basics of kite and wind surfing. “The wind is consistent September through May for kiteboarding, and the summer months are ideal for Paddle Boarding,” the company states, which means this beach is open year-round. Of course, if you’d rather bike, play tennis or water ski, Miami has dozens of public and private options that will appease any family looking to be active together.
Chicago offers a multitude of outdoor activities for families. And Lake Shore Drive is definitely a go-to spot for the athletic sort. From the golf course and baseball diamonds to tennis courts and an outdoor track—and a playground to boot—there is something for everyone. A great way to enjoy these amenities, as well as explore and discover the rest of the Windy City, all the while keeping fit, is by bicycle. Visitors can rent by the hour or day, or even in three-day and five-day packages.
Don’t fret if you aren’t familiar with the city, Bike Chicago offers tours for out-of-towners. Two especially family-friendly options are the company’s Lincoln Park Adventure and The Friendly Neighborhoods Tour, which introduce you and your kids to all sorts of off-the-beaten-path landmarks.
“New York City provides the diverse, fast pace of city life while (also) providing access to all the sports suburbanites enjoy,” Ms. François told us, and was one of the reasons her active family remained happy, despite the obvious constraints. Add San Francisco to the list. With the Pacific Ocean beckoning, the Bay Area is home to some of the best sailing in the country. Forget the paddle boarding, go extreme aboard Oracle racing team’s USA 76, a carbon-racing yacht and veteran of the renowned Americas Cup. Enjoy panoramic views while learning the ropes from the experienced crew. It’s fantastic for all ages and the team members work to involve every participant—at least as much as they are willing. The pier also offers private charters, whale watches and bike rentals for those who would rather stay (a little) drier. But sometimes a little water is just what we need to grow.
Sitting pretty along the shoreline of the Mexican Gulf, Galvaston, Texas, a short gallop outside of Houston, is the perfect place to cast out into—and its big lure is fishing. Several companies offer chartered or shared salt and fresh water adventures that are great for active families looking to relax, but also stay engaged while kicking back.
Ms. François, for one, is an big fan of trying new things, especially with her family, saying that these experiences “help [her children] socially, and broaden their horizons.” Families who aren’t particularly rod-and-reel savvy can learn techniques from veteran guides, and hopefully even catch sight of the various species of the Gulf, such as Speckled Trout, Redfish, Tarpons, Bull Reds, Flounder and the occasional shark. There will be plenty of fish tales to go on about after this retreat.