Today's Dear Boston Mamas question comes from Melinda via e-mail:
Hi Boston Mamas! I'm thinking ahead for my boy/girl twins' birthday party in May. They'll be 3, and I'd love to take them and friends to a farm. I've been looking on the internet, and I'm having trouble sorting through the good, bad, and ugly. Drumlin Farms comes up, but it doesn't look like they do much. The place that looks terrific is Lil'Folk Farm in Holliston, but I've never heard of it before (I swear, this is not a plug). Have you heard of it? Do you have suggestions? I'd love a place that will allow the kids to actively engage with animals, better yet if they have someone on hand to do a little teaching/coordination.
Thanks for writing in and what a great question! I'm all about teaching kids -- especially our little city dwellers -- about animals beyond the confines of the printed page or on the web! And one of the things I love about Boston is that you don't need to travel too far to connect with critters. (And sometimes you don't need to travel at all!) Here are some thoughts related to farms and other options. I canvassed on Twitter and Facebook about your query and received a number of leads, which I'll credit properly below.
First, to address your direct queries. I actually have attended a birthday party at Drumlin Farm (when Laurel was 3 I believe) and it was really cute. It wasn't interactive in the way that you are envisioning (it was more of an observe-the-animals type of arrangement) but the kids really enjoyed it and there was a hay ride too.
Just the other week I met some folks from the Mass Audubon Society at a panel I was speaking on. I reached out to them when I received your inquiry and here's what Mia from Mass Audubon said: "All of the Mass Audubon birthday parties have educational components but most are around habitats rather than specific animals. Even when they are about animals, kids don't usually get to hold the animals -- as these are generally wild animals. When people have birthday parties at Drumlin they can either do a party where they get just a walk around the farm, or they get a program with a teacher naturalist where they can milk a cow or visit with a chicken. Certainly they'd get to pat the cow while milking, but the contact they'd be getting would not be the same as at a petting zoo... There are several other Mass Audubon sites that also offer birthday parties. Most of them offer several nature themes that parents can choose from, and involve outdoor exploration of the habitats around the sanctuaries."
As for Lil'folk Farm, I hadn't heard of it before (though Holliston certainly holds a place in my heart since that's where Jon and I got married!) but it looks like a good option. The pony/riding parties (which look really fun!) will be too old for your kids, but the barnyard bash option allows the kids to hold and brush the animals. Also, via Facebook, Charlene recommended Natick Community Organic Farm, which has hands-on education programs and hosts birthday parties.
Visiting Animal Education Programs
If you are open to having critters come to you, check out this post I wrote on the New England Aquarium's home parties. We attended one of these parties last year and it was amazing. Super educational and interactive; the kids loved it!
Also in the vein of traveling educational animal birthday parties, @miguelina and @akenn recommended Curious Creatures (@akenn noted, "I always liked Curious Creatures. They come to schools, libraries, birthday parties, etc."), and @FranciscanHFC shared, "We've hosted the Creature Teachers and have been very happy with them."
Nature/Animal Educational Centers
Via Facebook, Rebecca recommended the South Shore Natural Science Center in Norwell, which has a variety of animal oriented birthday party themes. @BostonCentral also recommended the South Shore Natural Science Center, as well as Animal Adventures in Bolton (which also offers traveling programs), the Museum of Science Live Animal Presentations, and Joppa Flats Education Center in Newburyport (part of the Mass Audubon system).
And finally, via Facebook, my friend Patti shared via her animal loving friend Tania that, the New England Wildlife Center in South Weymouth "is a good place to start. They do tours and have kids programs. They're a wildlife hospital but do have educational programs." Tania also recommended the EcoTarium in Worcester as "a great place for kids. Lots of fun things to do, science, animals, nature" and they do offer animal inspired birthday parties. And Tania also recommended the Harvard Museum of Natural History, though I took a look at the website and I didn't see birthday party information listed (just information for larger scale event rentals).
I hope this information is helpful Melinda -- have fun planning your birthday party!
Image credit: EcoTarium
Have a question for Christine? Drop her a line! And of course feel free to comment in if you have recommendations beyond those made above.