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What's in Northern Virginia for Kids? Enough to Fill a Book

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As a parent who lives in D.C., I usually stick to the many attractions in the District itself when planning activities to keep my kids busy. When I saw that three well-known Mommy Bloggers in the area recently published a book dedicated to attractions in Northern Virginia I was intrigued. Why would successful bloggers turn to the old-fashioned book to get the word out? Have I been missing out on interesting places and denying my kids stimulating experiences by my reluctance to cross the Potomac? Would I finally find out what my NOVA-dwelling friends do for fun?

I asked Micaela Williamson of Super NOVA Mommy fame and Claudine Krup and Amy Suski from DC Metro Mom to tell me a little more about their new book Kid Trips, Northern Virginia Edition and what motivated them to write it.

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Micaela Williamson and sons, Photo by Tiffany Brown, Mamaratzy Photography

Micaela explained that the authors were motivated to write a book because although the internet is a great resource if you know what you're looking for and can search for it by name, if you want to discover new activities and places you might not yet know about, its much easier to pick-up a book than it is to endlessly surf the web. As moms on the go, Michaela and her co-authors liked the idea of a portable resource that parents could either browse through at home or take with them on our travels. Since Kid Trips is available in hard copy and as an ebook, parents can choose which version suits their needs while at home at on the go.

I asked Claudine about what Northern Virginia worth the trip for those of us who don't live there. Claudine made a great case that Northern Virginia has countless attractions that most people don't have an opportunity to discover unless they live in the area or have friends and family that can guide them. Claudine's best local finds have always been through word of mouth. Although she lived in the Northern Virginia for almost 15 years, she was still learning about new attractions while writing Kid Trips through word of mouth. Just recently she found a new museum by speaking with a marine who recently returned from Afghanistan who told her about the National Marine Corps Museum and its significance. He spoke about the exhibits with such passion and intensity that she felt she needed to make a trip.

When Claudine visited many of the destinations in her book, she ran into resident experts who were able to convey the importance of the places that are significant to them. She found that people throughout Northern Virginia take pride in everything from a tour of the Pentagon to a trip to Leesburg Animal Park.

Claudine went on to explain that in Northern Virginia you can still find family run businesses that care about their customers. In her travels she discovered that Northern Virginia is still a bit of a small town. Some might scoff at that notice given the size of the area and the anonymity most people experience, but that doesn't need to be the case. Claudine's enthusiasm is contagious:

Take a trip Old Town Alexandria and you find an informed docent that has lived in the area for 50 years. Enjoy a walk in Burke Lake Park and stumble onto a charming miniature train that takes little ones on a joyous ride. You will find a conductor that is still tickled to be greeting children for every ride of the day. When you start to make meaningful trips that go beyond gas, food and the mall you will find this wonderful place where people slow down just a bit to enjoy their surroundings.

Not knowing much about Northern Virginia, I asked the authors of Kid Trips to share the top attractions and hidden gems of the region with me. With so much to do, they found it difficult to narrow choices down but shared that popular attractions, include beholding the beauty of parks such as Great Falls Park and Prince William Forest, visiting historical homes like Mount Vernon Estate and Gunston Hall, encountering animals at Frying Pan Park Farm, marveling at landmarks such as Iwo Jima and Arlington National Cemetery or going to large museums like the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space.

The authors agree that Northern Virginia has so many hidden gems that it's hard to come up with a "best of" list. Many smaller and not well advertised museums are gems, such as the Loudon Heritage Farm Museum that has amazing hands-on exhibits for young children. The National Inventors Hall of Fame and the DEA Museum have fantastic exhibits that older kids may like. Northern Virginia's many winning parks systems are often overlooked, as are its nature centers, and so many pick-your-own farms.

Kid Trips describes all of these destinations and more. Claudine sums it up by saying: "I am in awe of Northern Virginia. I was actually somewhat sad that it took having children for me to really discover the wonderment that was in my own backyard. There is more to the area then highway gridlock and megamalls."

I was stunned by the amount of information contained in Kid Trips and have been busy making notes in my copy of the book about new must-see places to take my kids. Just when I had begun to think that after six years of parenting I had done everything D.C. has to offer, I find that there is an entirely new world to explore just over the Key Bridge. Even a good friend who has lived in Northern Virginia her entire life discovered many new places to take her children in Kid Trips. Theodore Roosevelt's safari collection at the National Firearms Museum, here we come! Children's Garden at River Farm, we are ready to dig!

Get out and explore Northern Virginia -- there is a lot more there than you expected.

Photos used with permission.