Tag Archives: Kids

Wow Your Toddler With A Trip To The Farm

If you are looking for something to do with your toddler that doesn’t involve a long drive, is free (or inexpensive—ok cheap!) and big on a wow factor for the little ones, Frying Pan Farm Park is a winner for families.

As a working parent and a member of the Park Authority Board I know that free time with your little ones is precious.  Like most families, my husband and I try to make the most of our weekends with our two-year-old son.  We have made Frying Pan a once a month “go-to” destination for our family since our little guy was just a few months old.

While the Park Authority has many outstanding facilities throughout Fairfax County, I think Frying Pan is one of the top destinations for families with young children.  In my opinion, a visit to Frying Pan is perfect for a toddler’s schedule (as a new mom I quickly learned that the daytime window to get out is limited to the time they wake up in the morning until lunchtime which is generally followed by a nap).  As such, the morning hours are perfect for a visit to the farm because the animals are very active.  You on the other hand may need your cup of coffee to stay awake!

I’ve found that springtime at Frying Pan is very special and the farm is full of surprises to delight little ones.  New baby animals are born nearly every month with February through May having the most deliveries.  On a recent visit we were able to see and photograph lambs, piglets and a calf.  Seeing these animals up close never fails to delight and interest our little boy.  Not only does he get to see these very social animals up close, but he hears the sounds they make.  Children learn more about the sights and (yes, smells) of the farm each time they visit.  Since the animals are cared for and handled by our amazing staff and dedicated “Friends of Frying Pan Farm Park” volunteers regularly, the animals are gentle and friendly to all.  Simply put, getting close to the animals brings the farm to life for the youngsters who visit.

This working farm is home to cows, sheep, pigs, rabbits, goats, a horse, ducks, turkeys and even peacocks!  Your little farmer-in-training can even test out the miniature stationary tractors.  The park is a year-round destination.  During warmer months you can enjoy wagon rides and an old-fashioned carousel.  When it’s really cold outside you can drop-in at the visitor center to learn about the history of the farm.  You even have the chance for a lesson in milking a cow at 4 p.m.  When it’s warm, little ones can watch the farmer milk a real cow in the barn.

If your little farmer is especially energetic after viewing the animals, take him or her to the playground down by the Country Store and carousel.  There are two spaces for play, one for toddlers and another for older children.  There are also benches for grownups to sit back and relax.

We enjoy our frequent visits to Frying Pan.  It has become a special part of our lives and in the life of our son.  I hope that you will make it a special part of your life as well!

Here are some of my Mommy DO’s and DON’Ts for visiting Frying Pan with your toddler or little one:

  • DON’T stress about parking.  There’s plenty of parking that’s close to the action (unless there’s a big special event).  No need to stress about long walks and you don’t have to haul a diaper bag along because the car is never far away.
  • DO bring rain boots for lots of puddle splashing (especially after rain or snow).  Puddles are half the fun!
  • DO bring an extra jacket (sometimes it gets windy on the farm and the temperatures can feel cooler).
  • DO bring a change of clothes.  There are lots of opportunities for kids to get dirty!
  • DO take a picture of your little one on the mini tractors!
  • DO take photos of the animals.  These are a great teaching tool for your kids when you get home.
  • DO bring a snack (there are lots of picnic tables and places to sit, have a snack, and talk about the animals with your children).
  • DO bring hand-sanitizer (as if you don’t have 12 bottles stashed in your bag already!)  It’s always good for cleaning up afterward.  If you forget, there are hand-washing stations throughout the park.
  • DO try the carousel or the wagon rides when they are operating.  They are LOADS of fun!
  • DO visit the country store.  After seeing the chickens you can swing by and pick up some farm fresh eggs and make a tasty omelet for dinner or breakfast the next day!

For more information about Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, visit their website.

By: Kala Quintana, Fairfax County Park Authority Board Member, At-large

Flying Squirrels: Gliders of the Night

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Maybe it’s just a flash of movement. Just past dusk, you notice something out of the corner of your eye as long shadows play dart games with sunlight. Or perhaps the birdseed runs low unusually fast. Sitting on your deck at night, you hear a high-pitched chirp. There may be acorns with meticulously rounded holes cut through the sides scattered along a path.  In any of these cases, your backyard may be home to one of the area’s most abundant, least seen, and most charming wildlife neighbors – the southern flying squirrel.

These tree squirrels, Glaucomys volans, are active year-round but are typically unseen. Your best chance to spy one is in late fall through the winter when leaves have renounced their places among the branches. They will be high in the treetops dining on silkworm caterpillars, seeds, maple sap, fungi and fruits. It’s an omnivorous diet that includes bird eggs, carrion and sometimes a small mammal. As the temperature drops, so does their range of comestibles, so they focus on nuts. They’re partial to hickory and hazelnuts. Roosting and nesting boxes can easily lure them within viewing range if supplemented with nuts and mealworms.

So what are these curious creatures? They’re alluring rodents. Our native flying squirrel weighs less than 90 grams, about the same as a half box of mac and cheese or a king size candy bar. They’re less than 10 inches long with a tail less than five inches long. They rate very high on the “cute” factor with large black eyes and a face covered with whiskers. Their fur is a mottled grayish-brown on top and white underneath.

And they have this great gimmick. They can fly. Not flap-fly. They glide. They have something called patagium, stretched skin between the fore and rear paws that can expand. They’re like fuzzy parachutes. High speed photography has shown us that flying squirrels can adjust their skin flaps to turn, gain lift and outmaneuver predators of the nighttime forest, barred owls or great horned owls. The tail serves as rudder and brake while the whiskers, or “vibrasse”, contact the landing surface first, allowing for safe touchdown.

On the move from approximately 30 minutes after dusk until just before dawn, flying squirrels industriously cache nuts in multiple locations. eNature says flying squirrels may store 15,000 nuts, including acorns, for a season.

Preferring the high rent district of an abandoned woodpecker hole, these tiny creatures sometimes may have to build their own miniature “drey,” a squirrel nest made of leaves. Other accommodations could include attics or bird houses. They use multiple nest sites, but winter’s desire for warmth trumps solitude, and many squirrels may den together.

A lack of deep cavities in sturdy branches encourages flying squirrels to use manmade nesting boxes, which look like a long narrow birdhouse. The opening is next to the trunk instead of in the front, because flying squirrels avoid the potential exposure of climbing on the front of the box. If you want to draw them to your yard, add a roosting box downstairs on a lower part of a tree, and fill it nightly with a dozen unsalted roasted peanuts or, for a treat, hazelnuts or mealworms. Remember, the entrance hole needs to be next to the trunk to calm their fears.

Flying squirrels and our everyday grey squirrels are far from kissing cousins. They are more like mortal enemies. So if you want to attract flying squirrels, timing is everything. Feeding must coincide with the hours that grey squirrels have tucked themselves away at night. Try peanut butter inside the roosting box or on the metal flashing surrounding the entrance hole. Avoid putting peanut butter on the tree trunk. That will encourage chewing on the tree bark by all types of squirrels and raccoons.

The best way to be a good neighbor to flying squirrels and other wildlife is to keep one of their top predators away — house cats. Flying squirrels regularly return to earth to get water or nuts and seed. They sometimes fall prey to fox, but more often house cats.  Practice backyard habitat basics. Provide a fresh water source, plant native plants for their fruit and nuts and for the helpful insects they attract, leave trees with cavity holes standing when safe, and don’t use insecticides.

Lay out the welcome mat to flying squirrels, and you can usually see guests arrive within a week. By quietly getting closer, you may soon enjoy the thrill of watching them soar in from as far as 100 yards away. These squirrels get used to people quickly and will even stay still long enough for a well-prepared photographer.

An easy way to see flying squirrels and determine if you have them already in your yard is to attend a program on flying squirrels at a park nature center.  Since 2008, flying squirrels have been kindly showing up Hidden Oaks Nature Center on schedule to delight visitors.  Eagle Scouts have built and mounted roosting and nesting boxes, and the plans are available on request. 

Author Suzanne Holland is the assistant manager at Hidden Oaks Nature Center.