There are some staples in Fairfield County when it comes to entertainment for little kids, and Earthplace is one of them. It is clean, easy and reliable as a go-to morning/afternoon killer, no matter what the season. Granted, you could also be done in there in about 20 minutes, but that’s only if you’re the type who need heaps of bells and whistles — which the preschool set does NOT! Here’s how to take it all in at a (their) snail’s pace...
Earthplace is nestled into a residential area of Westport, just off 33 and barely a hair more than five minutes from the Merritt. I have never seen it crowded (though I tend to visit on weekdays). Let me start by saying, the grounds are open from dawn to dusk, year-round, and always FREE. Who knew. On the day you do decide to venture inside, don't rush through the front doors. Your kids will enjoy identifying all the animals on the impressive mosaic wall called the Connecticut Wall of Nature. Let them name every one if they can. Slowww downnnn.
Come through the second doors, and the little desk across the way is where you will pay admission. You may be surprised to learn they charge for anyone over 1, but I can attest that a one-year-old will find this joint amusing enough to justify the $5. If nothing else, it’s a place to let him/her test out those new motor skills when the weather is dismal. If you live within 10 miles of here, seriously consider the $90 family membership.
Once you’ve paid, you have a choice. Animals or play. Today, my troops chose the animal route to start. We meandered back to find all the basics in one room — birds, snakes, rabbits, and lizards. My 1- and 3-year-olds loved this area. I appreciated the large, simple information cards on the front of the habitats, and thought how great this would be for new readers. Beyond this room, don’t miss the next small one, full of tanks with more snakes, plus turtles, bats, ferrets and massive cockroaches (you’ve been warned, ugh. I was kind of envisioning the nightmares I’d be having that night about being stuck in this room … kept that part to myself). As you walk out, to the right is a gorgeous screech owl you may have missed. This was my fav. It hissed at me, while staring a hole through me -- poor thing was so cute I couldn't take it seriously, though. Awesome.
Now, head out the back door to the great outdoors. Here you’ll find several native birds of prey that have landed here due to injury — like many of ‘Species Ambassadors’ you already met on the inside. These birds are fierce. Particularly interesting was the raven — my 3-year-old inquired as to whether it could talk, and the peregrine falcon with one wing (he hoped the bird would get it back). Mommy liked ogling the pair of bald eagles, too. The majesty was lost on my littles, but elementary-aged kids would probably get a kick out of them — especially if you happen to visit on a national holiday.
My youngest hadn’t had lunch yet, so we parked ourselves at one of the many picnic tables in the clearing near the birds of prey. While the baby ate, the bigger guy investigated the reach-in rock collection scattered about the grounds. From here, we could have taken a walk on one of six trails inside the 62-acre property (incidentally the largest open space in town). Don’t fear. They’re short. All six cover just 2.5 miles. The Earthplace preschool programs regularly use the trails for walks, so you can easily hack it. One of them is even paved for stroller/wheelchair use. Along the trails you and the kids can letterbox (sort of like treasure hunting), or learn to identify trees. If you’re not feeling like a walk in the woods, you can head over to the swings and slide next to the parking lot. If it’s after 3pm, or the weekend, the full Earthplace playground is open to use (during weekdays, it’s reserved for the preschool).
After getting some fresh air, we re-entered (through the front doors only, by the way) to take advantage of the museum playroom called ‘Naturespace.’ The kids knew just what to do. They bounced from one hands-on display to the next, until mommy had to give them the five-minute warning. Don’t shy away from the giant microscope — I couldn’t believe how much they loved it, even if they didn’t fully understand it. There are books and puzzles you can do with them as well. If you have really little ones, there’s an area designated just for them, too. Block that entrance with a couple chairs ... voila! … you’ve just purchased a little peace of mind for your tired-parent-self.
Earthplace’s mission is to build passion for nature, and it does a great job of introducing biology to children, using the context of the local environment. We should mention there are several scheduled and drop-in programs for children of all ages, too. Every Thursday and Friday morning, for instance, there is story time with an animal, and animal feedings. There are also special events for families scheduled year-round.
10 Woodside Lane
Westport, CT 06880
9am - 5pm Monday - Saturday
1 - 4pm Sunday
$5.00 per child over 1
$10.00 per adult
$5.00 per senior over 62