You may have noticed a few people driving around the city sporting white oval stickers with black letters "BK" in the center on their bumpers. These are the proud, civic-minded residents of Brookland in northeast Washington, DC. Brookland has the feel of a small suburban town and is home to a tight knit community. The neighborhood tends to be more affordable for home buyers because Brookland does not have as many stores, restaurants, or other conveniences within walking distance as do other neighborhoods in northeast Washington like Capitol Hill. Nevertheless, there are plenty of free or low cost entertainment options nearby for families with young children.
The Brookland Kids listserv on Yahoo! has a very active group of parent contributors. So when I was looking for something to do with my son in NE, I checked here first. This is how I gained a little insiders perspective on Turkey Thicket Recreation Center, the playground at North Michigan Park, the Washington Youth Garden and picnic areas at the National Arboretum, and the Franciscan Monastery. The BK listserv also contains posts about local yard sales, farmers markets, and playgroups. If you are new or moving to the area, check it out!
Turkey Thicket Recreation Center is located at 1000 North Michigan Avenue, NE, a short walk from the Brookland-CUA Metro station. The playground and athletic fields are spacious and sun-drenched, perfect for games of tag, kicking around a soccer ball, or meeting for a group picnic. A shady bench under a large tree near the playground is a nice spot for Mom and Dad to catch a break while their children play. There are also several tennis courts and a basketball court for families to practice a sport and stay fit together. The aquatic facility inside the recreation center is another draw for families with a kiddie pool for youngsters learning to swim. I've heard the water here tends to run a little warmer than at some other indoor DPR pools where they keep it cool for swim meets so competitors don't tire as quickly. Affordable swimming classes for children and adults are offered at this location as are summer camps. Register through the DPR website.
Improvements were made to the playground at North Michigan Park Recreation Center, 1333 Emerson Street, NE, in 2008. The park, a sometime meeting place for Brookland playgroups, now features two play structures and rubberized ground covering instead of wood chips. One structure is suitable for children ages 2-5; the other is for ages 6-12. New Moms may get back into shape pushing baby in a bucket swing, then strolling on the paved walkway surrounding the play area. Twelve laps around the walkway is equivalent to one mile! Recreation facilities also include basketball and volleyball courts, a softball field, horseshoe pit, picnic area and lots of restrooms. If your child is more the cerebral than athletic type, exercise his or her mind playing a strategic game of chess on one of two checker/chess tables. The closest Metro station is Fort Totten on the red line.
A picnic area and tree groves at the National Arboretum, 3501 New York Avenue, NE, also provide meeting points for local playgroups. Relax and enjoy a brown bag lunch or snack at a picnic table, then lie in lush green grass staring up tree tops or chase butterflies with your little ones. The Washington Youth Garden adjacent to the National Grove of State Trees picnic area (near the M Street Parking Lot) showcases the green thumbs of District pre-school children, ages 3-5. The Youth Garden "sows the seeds of interest in gardening, horticulture, and environmental issues during the school year with carefully designed lessons and activities that are delivered in the classrooms of several schools in the area." Students with a special dedication to the program are invited to plant their own garden plots in the Spring, so the garden is at its peak in late Summer. Admission and parking are free, and plants are always in bloom. Events, including gardening demonstrations and workshops, are available to the public. Some require a fee, others are free; registration is required for all.
An image on the home page of the Brookland Kids listserv shows a toddler pushing a walker on the grounds of the Franciscan Monastery, a 15 minute walk from the Brooklan-CUA Metro station. Many visitors to the monastery come for quiet reflection as they stroll along the Cloister Walk or through the beautiful gardens, listen to the chirping of birds, and admire the statuary, mosaics, stained glass, paintings of the Byzantine-style church inspired by the Hagia Sofia in Constantinople (Istanbul). The monastery has been affectionately referred to as the Vatican Disneyland by Catholic visitors who make a pilgrimage to see 100 year-old recreations of holy sites in Jerusalem and Europe, such as the Nativity Grotto in Bethlehem and the Roman Catacombs, and religious relics. Children are encouraged to roam respectfully, and flowering plants and the architecture of the church and monastery provide wonderful backdrops for family photos. The decorations during the holidays are especially festive, and you may bring your family pets (yes, even the hamster) on St. Francis's Feast Day for the blessing of the animals. Admission, parking and tours are free, and everyone is welcome.