The Arnold Arboretum with a Toddler: 5 Things to Do, 5 Things to Bring, and 5 Things to Know

Fun with kids at the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain

If you’re like me, by the end of the week, you may just have an assortment of stale bread ends hanging around. That, and, at least in the spring, an unreasonable desire to ditch your work shoes and play in the sunshine. Last Friday my two year old and I went on a mommy and daughter date with a friend and her daughter. The girls are still talking about it five days later. Here are five simple ways to occupy a toddler (or two) and connect with nature in one of the city’s most beautiful and peaceful green spaces.  

Five Things to Do:

1. Feed the ducks. On the other side of Bussey Hill are several small ponds, which Harvard fills with fish, a few geese and a few ducks. You can walk over the hill from Bussey Gate on a steep, gravelly path if your stroller and you are up for it, or walk around Bussey Hill to get there.

2. Scavenger Hunt. For older toddlers, make a list of things to find while you’re in the Arboretum. My daughter loves picking up sticks, stones, twigs, and acorns and exploring their textures. Depending on your time, the season, the age of your child, and his or her interest level, you might include any or some of the following:

  • a pine cone or pine needles (easy to find along Conifer Path)
  • dandelions
  • acorns
  • buttercups
  • smooth stones and twigs. (Kids love playing the dirt with sticks!)
  • fallen brightly colored leaves
  • a bonsai tree, located here
  • the tree of the month

3. Bubble blowing and/or kite flying (depending on the wind). Our kite, Sparky the dog, has yet to make his debut, but if it’s a still day, bubbles are delightful.

4. Tree hugging. Each of the 4,000 kinds of trees, shrubs and vines are labeled with a bronze tag. Bring paper and crayons to do rubbings of the labels or trees (or leaves if they’ve fallen).

5. Watch the tractors! Two hundred and eighty-one acres is a lot of ground to maintain, so it’s likely you and your kiddo will come across a tractor, truck, or other maintenance vehicle. 

Five things to bring:

  1. Sun and bug defense: The Arboretum has plenty of shade, but some paths are pretty exposed. Bring water to stay hydrated, and hats to keep your heads protected.
  2. Toys: A ball or two and some bubbles are all you’ll need.
  3. A blanket for taking breaks.
  4. Supplies for making rubbings: crayons, paper, etc.
  5. A bag for treasures (to return before you leave of course).

Five things to know:

  1. Bathrooms: There are restrooms on the ground floor of the visitor’s center (by the Arborway Gate). 
  2. Parking: Ample parking is available by the Arborway Gate. My favorite place to park, though, is by Bussey Gate, because there’s plenty of room, and it’s not such a busy street.
  3. Food: Picnics are prohibited in the Arboretum except on Lilac Sunday (Mother’s Day). If you do bring snack for your child with you, remember to take any refuse back out with you.
  4. Pacing: The Arnold Arboretum is a big space, best explored over a number of visits.  Use the Map of the Landscape to decide what you want to see.
  5. But…give yourself permission to meander, travel down a secret path, deviate from the plan, or just look up for a few, beautiful minutes. You’ll know it’s worth it when your kid tells you in the car, “look mommy! The trees are growing. It’s springtime.”

The Arnold Arboretum, 125 Arborway, Boston, MA 02130

Open from sunrise to sunset every day of the year. The Visitor Center in the Hunnewell Building is open April through October from 11am–6pm, November through March from noon–4pm, and is closed Wednesdays. Hunnewell Building restrooms are open weekdays from 9am until closing. (Closed holidays.)

There is no admission charge, but donations are appreciated.


Photos by Shauna Pellauer