Eliot Coleman, 8, assembles a kite at Treehouse Kid & Craft.
All parents can identify with the Three Levels of Summertime Enjoyment. Yes, I'm capitalizing it because it's an official thing. Here's how it works: For the first week or two after school gets out, you're in a bit of a haze, enjoying the adjusted morning routine but not quite sure what to do. If you're lucky, you have some camps to fill the gaps, but the vast majority of parents now begin the juggling between their own commitments and toting a kid around.
After a couple weeks, you enter Phase Two, where everyone settles into the new routine. You might even take a trip. Just when you think you've gotten the hang of it, BAM, you're hit with Phase Three, the final weeks before school starts. There are back-to-school sales starting, and you realize early bedtimes are around the corner.
But something else happens in Phase Three: You realize how much you've not done during your blissful-yet-stressful summer. The clock is ticking, and within a week your schedule will turn into a mad rush of getting shoes and packing snacks. Which is why I declared "no regrets" for the last week before school started. I made a pact with my daughter: We're going to do something each day that we didn't get to do this summer but wanted to.
So here it is, a week of no regrets. Note that any of these activities can be done after school or on weekends, just in case you're having regrets, too!
I'm almost ashamed to admit it, but it's probably been nearly a year since we last went to Bear Hollow Zoo, and I have no explanation for that oversight. I can't tell you how lucky we are to have this gem, and you must go to at least see the new animals and the improvements made around the facility. (There are beavers!) Go around 4 p.m., when it's getting closer to feeding time, and the animals start getting restless. We not only saw both bobcats climbing all over their wooden structure, but we also saw the bears doing a little happy dance at getting some food. Pretty darn cool. (Memorial Park, 293 Gran Ellen Drive)
Along with Bear Hollow, another pocket of learning and playing a few miles north of downtown is one more awesome reason to live here. Sandy Creek Nature Center's interactive exhibit hall reopened last year with a redesigned space filled with fun activities. There are microscopes and a big tree you can explore, and you can power a light bulb with a hand crank. And, of course, there are animal exhibits—turtles, snakes, fish and other critters. Nearby Sandy Creek Park is great for cooling off with a dip in the lake. Bring your beach toys to play in the sand. A great time to check it out is 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7 for the Athens Water Festival. (Sandy Creek Park, 400 Bob Holman Road, $2 per person, ages 4-64—under and over free; Sandy Creek Nature Center, 205 Old Commerce Road)
My daughter's birthday present this year was a bike, which means we've now expanded the scope of our non-motorized travels. At this point we've gone as far as four miles, which means the North Oconee River Greenway is definitely within reach. If that's too far for you, pack a picnic and head to one of our many parks. I'm personally a big fan of Dudley Park, with its wide paved paths and serene grassy areas by the river, but I think we'll make a bigger effort this time and head to the State Botanical Garden. My daughter spent a week at camp there but we never hung out in the garden after it finished. Time to rectify that. (State Botanical Garden of Georgia, 2450 S. Milledge Ave.)
Perhaps it's because crafting is something you need to get to on time, rather than just drop in at your leisure, but my daughter has only been to a couple crafting classes at Treehouse. If you haven't been, it's a sweet store on West Broad Street that sells a curated selection of imaginative toys and some clothes (mostly for little ones; great for gifts), and they have regular classes appealing to kids' creative side. Specifically, the Wednesday Craft Club is a good fit because each week the topics are different yet challenging enough to engage ages 6-10. (Treehouse Kid & Craft, 815 W. Broad St.; $10)
The thing that constantly amazes me in this town is the number of kids who have never been to the campus of the University of Georgia. Perhaps it's because, as a kid, I grew up 45 minutes from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and we were constantly begging our parents to go there because our tiny town was just so gosh darn boring. But seriously, if you have a kid younger than 8 or 9, there's no shame in just wandering around North Campus (check out the magnolia trees), scoping out the view of Sanford Stadium or seeing what's inside the buildings. And now that the drought is behind us, all the fountains are running and looking pretty. Plus, you can find decent, free parking after 5 p.m. in most places.
If you haven't been to one of the Georgia Museum of Art's Family Days—the next one is 10 a.m.-noon Saturday, Aug. 24 and features fun with fashion—don't let that keep you from visiting at any other time. With the museum's recent gallery addition, there are lots of places to explore (and also give the docents a bit of a heart attack). It's also a good lesson in learning to keep your hands to yourself, and using words to describe how you feel about something—exploring colors, shapes and textures all around. I've also found the outside sculpture garden to be a wonderful energy release, once you find little feet just want to run around. (Georgia Museum of Art, 90 Carlton St.)
Due to my high-deductible health insurance, I've been wary of getting my 6-year-old to the roller rink. Call me crazy, but I keep having flashbacks to sliding off a skateboard at age 8 and walking around with a broken arm for two days before we finally got an X-ray. But that said, I've always been a pretty good roller skater (thank you, 1980s) so it makes sense my daughter would be, too... right? Well, in any event, she's been bugging me to do it. Luckily, we have two roller rinks to choose from—the old school Skate-A-Round and the new-school (but with retro video games) Athens Skate Inn. That's our Wednesday evening agenda, so keep your fingers crossed that our next stop won't be with an X-ray tech. (Athens Skate Inn, 295 Commerce Blvd., Bogart; Skate-A-Round USA, 3030 Cherokee Road; admission and times vary)