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Sandy Point State Park Beach Review

Sandy Point State Park Maryland

Central Marylanders are often faced with a choice during the summer–trek out to Ocean City or the Delaware shore or go to one of the closer in Chesapeake Bay Beaches.  If you don’t have time or money to head all the way over to the Eastern shore, there are definitely a few popular beaches in Anne Arundel and Calvert County.

I’d say that among the most popular Chesapeake destinations are North Beach, Chesapeake Beach, Flag Point and the one everyone knows – Sandy Point State Park.

The park is open year round. As of this writing, it is only closed on Christmas Day.

The street address for the park to put into your navigator is:

1100 E College Pkwy, Annapolis, MD 21409
1-800-830-3974 / 410-974-2149 (Office) General Information
Hours of Operation are 7am to sunset. Fishermen and boaters may have 24 hour access.

There are entrance fees (see below) that are paid either using coins (quarters or dollars) or credit cards (Visa/Mastercard).

See below for park entry costs (Updated for Summer 2019).

[Looking for the perfect solution for your child’s allowance? Have a look at my review of the FamZoo MasterCard Debit card for kids]

Sandy Point, which opened in the 1950’s, is located just to the western side of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge which looms over the beach. In fact, one drawback of the Sandy Point beach is that you may encounter some of the beach traffic you’re hoping to avoid by not going to Ocean City.

To get to Sandy Point, you head down Route 50 towards the bridge but exit (exit 32) shortly before you reach it to get to College Parkway.

Just plan your visit with the potential for traffic in mind and most days you’ll be able to get there without much of a delay.  In case you were wondering, a section of the beach is supervised by lifeguards from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends and holidays, Memorial Day to Labor Day.

[See my hand-picked list of great places to host a birthday party in Baltimore County, Howard County or Anne Arundel County.]

As a state park, there is an admission fee which as of May 24, 2019, Sandy Point State Park entry for Maryland Residents is:

  • $4 per person on weekdays
  • $5 per person on weekends and holidays.
  • Children buckled in a child safety seat (infant and small children in a car seat or booster seat) are free.
    Costs are a few dollars more for non-Maryland residents. Rates may increase for holidays or special events.
  • Military and their dependents as well as disabled people get in for free–you have to present proper ID to get these free passes to Sandy Point.You can also buy a season pass or buy a Golden Age Pass for $10 if you’re older than 61. Here are a few more details: If you plan to go often, you probably want to consider getting a season pass. Golden Age Passes are available for purchase for people age 62+ –with it, you’ll get free admission (and unfortunately, the National Park Service Eagle Passees aren’t accepted).

As mentioned above, those with a Maryland Park Service Disability Pass get in for free.  BTW, when you get a season pass, they give you a magnetic card to get you into the park, as the entry gates typically aren’t staffed.  By the way, aside from those passes, these automatic toll machines accept exact change only in the form of $1 coins and quarters. Alternately, you can use a credit card: MasterCard and VISA are accepted.

Be aware that sometimes, especially on certain holidays, the park can fill to capacity and they simply stop letting people in. That can really be disappointing because there aren’t really any comparable nearby beaches. If that happens to you, I can only suggest taking a ride to downtown Annapolis and taking in the sites, or if you a heart-set on the beach, take about a 1-hour ride down to North Beach and hope for the best.

The beach itself isn’t perfect, but it is a nice way to spend the day with kids. As mentioned earlier, there are life guards on the beach during the summer months from 10am to 6pm.  Snacks and concessions are available for sale at the beach.  They also have showers and restrooms available.

Aside from going in the water or hanging out on the beach there are also opportunities for crabbing and fishing (for licensed fisherman and people age 16 or under).  There are rock jetties you can stand on for fishing or you can rent a 16 foot motor boat/bring your own small craft. Fisherman enjoy 24 hour access to the park during certain times of year.

Jigging and chumming seem to be effective ways of catching striped bass at Sandy Point–especially if you’re there in the early morning hours. If you like hiking there is are several nice trails that take you through marsh land and a planted pine forest.  It is a great way to see wildlife such as birds and turtles.

Pets are allowed in the park only during the off-season times of year. Dogs must be leashed.

[Looking for things to do with kids in Maryland? See my list of ideas.]

Sandy Point might be a place to consider for group outings or parties.  For large parties they have shelters available for rental that can hold up to 300 people.

Note that this is the only place alcohol is allowed in the park, and you MUST get a permit if you intend to serve drinks.  Also, you are NOT allowed to have amplified music at Sandy Point.  Another important consideration for groups is that everyone entering the park must pay separately.  Youth and scouting groups can also reserve a campground area.

Another important thing to note is that Sandy Point is a “trash free” park.  What that really means is that it is up to the visitors to collect their trash and take it with them.

There aren’t any trashcans in the park.  Related point–you can bring your dogs to the park during the off season, but you are expected to clean up after them.

People ask me what I don’t like about Sandy Point.  Well, we’re lucky to have a close-in, convenient option, but well, it isn’t the same as Ocean City.  The sand is different, the bottom of the bay feels different to walk on and there seem to be more creatures that bite and sting (Both flying creatures and lots of jellyfish some years–especially when the water starts getting warmer).

Another issues is that the beach itself can get kind of dirty sometimes. Anyway, I do like it, but sometimes it makes me wish for O.C. — also, on most days, given the choice, I would rather trek out to North Beach which tends to be better maintained for sunbathers and swimmers.

Liked this post? Please check out my other reviews and lists. For example, my list of gift ideas for children and restaurants for kids in Howard County.

Categories
Childrens' Birthday Parties Education gifted and talented kids activities Secondary Features

Gift Ideas for Brainy Kids | Updated 3/31/20

gift ideas for brainy kids
Roominate: Engineering toys for girls

This is a list of 80+ educational birthday gift ideas and Christmas/holiday gifts for brainy kids for 2020.

If you see something missing from this gift list, please feel free to suggest your own gift ideas for smart kids in the comments below.

There are plenty of great birthday gifts and Christmas presents out there to help smart kids of all ages get smarter…and lots of presents that will be a waste of your kid’s time and your money. I hope this list of educational math, engineering, and science gift ideas will help you find better options. Below are my suggestions for the best gifts for smart kids.

Each educational present idea includes a link to the item on Amazon.com, suggested age levels, and dollar signs to indicate the relative expense of each gift.

I have highlighted the costs of the gifts as follows:

  • $ – One $ sign indicates an inexpensive present of less than $30.
  • $$ Two $$ signs indicate a moderately expensive present of $30-100 dollars.
  • $$$- Three $$$ signs indicates gifts costing $100 or more.

Quick Gift Index By Child’s Interest:

All of the present ideas on this list have been handpicked because they are good for kids’ brains, develop smarts, creativity, and are at least to some extent educational and good learning toys.

I have direct experience with many, if not most of the items on this list, others have come highly recommended. If you have any ideas to add to this list of presents for smart kids, please send me your comments below.

You’ll find electronics, geography, physics, math, chemistry, biology, and geology brainy gift ideas below. BTW, if you have a birthday party coming up, here are some suggestions for fun places to have the birthday event!

Gift Ideas

My “Gifts for Gifted Kids” Top Toy Picks of the Month

    1. Augmented Reality Anatomy T-Shirt
      Might not quite be great for the squeamish, but this is a really cool idea and a great implementation. Point a smartphone at this t-shirt and get a human anatomy lesson like none-other. Great science gift!
      Cost: $
    2. Sphero Mini
      Programmable robotic ball that helps kids learn to code while playing games. Also check out the larger sized Bolt version of this excellent, fun toy.
      Age: 5+
      Cost: $$
    3. Mini Drone
      This is really fun, and easy to fly. It’s an indoor mini drone for beginners that will teach your child the thinking and basics needed to move on to more advanced drones. And the price is right too!
      Ages: 7+
      Cost: $
    4. FamZoo.com Financial Literacy Debit Card
      Okay, this one is a standout in this list of gifts because this one is a gift that keeps giving, and can really help families by changing the way you give allowance and rewards. It’s a debit card for each kid in your family. You can transfer money to their cards when they earn it or on a regular basis automatically. Kids can even setup an account for charity. Check out my FamZoo review or go directly to FamZoo.
      Age: 5+
      Cost: $ – $$$
    5. Lego Boost Creative Toolbox 840 piece lego kit. Robotics. Need I say more? If your super-smart kid is interested in engineering, coding, and/or legos, than this could be a perfect gift.
      Cost: $$$
    6. LED Backpack – PIX Programmable LED Backpack 
      This gift is definitely pricey, and I haven’t actually had a chance to get my hands on one, but I know plenty of kids who would have a great time customizing their backpack digitally with LEDs that can display millions of colors. Sky’s the limit on what could be displayed: Favorite bands, logos, sayings, perhaps even equations for some of the truly math nerdy children I know. It even does animations. It’s roomy, can hold a laptop.
      Age: 8+
      Cost: $$$
  1. Riddles and Trick Questions for Kids and Family
    This book is fun and really gets everyone thinking with great brain teasers and puzzles. Great low-cost gift that any brainy kid and their family would enjoy. When my girls were 7 & 8 they loved this book. We got alot of mileage from it and others like it such as “Difficult Riddles for Smart Kids.”
    Cost: $
    Ages: 7+
  2. Moody Goat Terrarium Kit
    Inexpensive terrarium kit that glows in the dark. It is also a bit of  a craft. Fun to assemble and a great STEM experience.
    Cost: $
    Ages: 4 – 7
  3. Rocketbook Everlast Fusion
    This is a great birthday or back to school gift for gifted 11 year olds and older kids (High School or even adults who have lots of meetings or anyone who takes lots of notes). Much more than just a notebook: this is an erasable notebook that is supported by an app that is used to take photos of the notes and send them to the cloud for permanent storage and organization. For a lower cost option, look at the original Rocketbook Everlast or Read my full review.
    Cost: $$
  4. The Zoob Builderz STEM Challenge Kit
    This was better than I thought and my whole family really enjoys it. Basically this is a “build-it kit” with lots of parts that fit together, wheels, rubber bands, and string. They give you challenges, such as build a car with a retractable roof, with little guidance, and you have to figure out your own solution to build the car and the roof with the parts provided. This is a great engineering toy for kids because it’s so flexible.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages: The ages for this kit are 6+, but don’t be put off by that if you have an older kid. I’d say up to 9-11 years old (or possibly beyond) would like to have this as a gift.
  5. Aerogarden Hydroponic Garden
    Kids love to grow plants, especially when the results are edible. Aerogarden has some great options for kids or the whole family to learn about plants and enjoy some fresh herbs, salad greens, tomatoes, peppers, or flowers.

    There are several levels/options that are available. Gardeners age 6 and up might enjoy the Herbie pizza activity kit.

    There is also a nice 3-pod solution or 6 pod solution available. You may also be interested in the more advanced ultra kit.

    Cost: $$- $$$

    Suggested Ages: The ages for this kit are 6+. The Herbie kit is specially made for kids, but the other kits are great gifts for kids 10 and up.

General Gift Ideas for Smart Kids

  1. Walkie Talkies
    This is a great gift, that can be relatively practical. There are loads of different walkie talkies on the market. Just know that most of them DO NOT have the reach that they advertise–not even close unless it’s line of sight, mountain-top to mountain-top. Even so, these are relatively inexpensive and great fun, even if it is just local fun. This set is pretty durable.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages: 6-12
    1. Amazon.com’s monthly STEM kit for kids
      This looks like a great idea, but I haven’t tried it out yet. Amazon will send your child a STEM toy each month for $19.99. You can select their age range (3-4, 5-7, 8-13 years old) and the rest will happen automatically.
      Cost: $$
      Suggested Ages: Ages 3-13
    2. Magic School Bus Science Kit Club
      The Magic School Bus Science kit has lots of great science activity that will keep your child busy and engaged and they will love getting a monthly package with great experiments.
      Cost: $$$
      Suggested Ages: 5-12+
    3. Globes
      Globes and maps of the earth are a must have for any smart kid. Here is a decent globe… If a good globe is out of the budget, consider getting a Painless Learning World Map Placemat which is guaranteed to spark interesting mealtime conversations.
      Cost: $$
      Suggested Ages 3-7
    1. Ravensberger Secret codes
      Project kit to learn the basics of cryptography. They learn to crack codes and the secrets of basic secret messaging. A cool activity set, for less than $13. When you follow the Amazon.com link, you’ll see other Ravensberger gifts in the “people also bought” carosel area–many of those are worthwhile gifts as well.
      Cost: $
      Suggested Ages 8-13
    2. Lab Coat
      Who doesn’t look smart wearing a lab coat. And they offer special insignias for doctors, vets, STEM, and Rocket Scientist… Basic coats cost about $16 on Amazon, but you can go up from there. My girls had fun with these, and used them for Halloween costumes more than once.
      Cost: $
      Suggested Ages 6-10
    3. A custom made puzzle
      Take a photo of the boy or girl doing a puzzle, then have a puzzle made on Amazon based on that photo. For a few years, I had a tradition going where I had a photo of my girls doing a puzzle in which they were doing a puzzle, doing a puzzle…kind of fun but it got too difficult to work out the detail in the photos because they canvas is a bit small. Nevertheless, a fun and unusual gift!
      Cost: $
      Suggested Ages: 5-9
    1. Educational Placemats
      Let the super-smart kid in your life squeeze in some extra learning while they eat. It is surprisingly effective and I have to say that some of these mats are true works of art. There are a large variety of these with maps, presidents, periodic table of elements, bugs, planets, weather, types of butterflies, rocks/geology, astronomy, multiplication tables. My kids learned alot from having these placemats around. Still today, even though my daughter is 12 years old now, she still remembers facts she learned when she was a toddler of 3 or 4.
      Cost: $
      Suggested Ages: 1 – 7
    2. Classic Games
      These two classic games allow for some family fun and keep your child thinking: Chinese Checkers and Scrabble. You may also want to check out TwixT.
      Cost: $
      Suggested Ages: 8+

Non-Fiction Books

There is no shortage of great books for advanced kids.Here are some book ideas for kids of various ages. Depending how advanced they are they may benefit from any of these.

    1. Ken Jennings Books
      Ken Jennings has a great series of books call the Junior Genius Guides. There are currently six books. They are great. Titles include Outer Space, Ancient Egypt, U.S. Presidents, Greek Mythology, Human Body and Maps and Geography. These books are witty, memorable and entertaining.

      Gifted kids who don’t always enjoy non-fiction books will still enjoy these while learning all sorts of useful facts to impress their friends, parents and teachers. Several years later my kids still occasionally quote information from these books. Available as a box set. Also, check out Ken’s other books such as “Because I Said So.” I would recommend this as a gift for gifted 6 year olds.
      Cost: $
      Suggested Ages: 6-10


    2. Almanacs

      Another one of my favorite choices are Kid’s Almanacs. ❇ National Geographic Kids Almanac and National Geographic Kid’s Infopedia are both are great for kids who read starting from 5 or 6 years old. My girls found these very engaging. One of them picked up the almanac periodically to learn a fact or two, the other read it several times cover to cover, and even got her friends reading them too. An inexpensive and worthwhile birthday, Christmas/Holiday gift!You may also want to look for other similar books from National Geographic such as “National Geographic Kids Why?: Over 1,111 Answers to Everything,” I haven’t actually read this one, but it looks very interesting. I think my kids would probably like it alot. You may also want to look at “National Geographic Brain Games” and the “National Geographic Weird But True Collector’s Set.”
      Cost: $
      Suggested Ages: 6-10
    3. Chess Book and Chess Set
      There are some great chess books for kids. It’s never too early for any kid to learn how to play this classic brain game. You might consider pairing this book with a new chess set such as this decent quality wooden chess set. If your child is already a chess fan, and you want to get something fancier, there are giant chess sets that use pieces like these for outdoor chess ($$$).
      Cost: $
      Suggested Ages: 6+
  1. Logic Puzzle books

    Your young genius may also enjoy the Perplexors series of logic puzzle books. They recommend ages 8-10 for this book, but they have several levels. These are fun, interesting and inexpensive. See more logic puzzles below.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Age: 8-10
  2. Analogy Challenges
    This is a great educational gift suggestion. These books come in several levels.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Age: 7-10
  3. Greg Tang Math Books
    For younger kids who are just starting to learn math concepts, there are some great books by Greg Tang. For example, “Math Potatoes: Mind-Stretching Brain Food” and “The Grapes of Math” provide simple, but helpful math riddles for kids to do. These are fun, interesting books and as a former elementary school math teacher, I definitely recommend them–they surely help kids think about math in a different way, and many kids will find them really enjoyable.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages: 5-9
  4. Drawing Books
    There are some very good books that teach drawing skills–very important for the future inventor. I especially like this one, that teaches you how to draw in 3-D / Perspective drawing.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages: 7-13
  5. Make Your Own books
    If your child is a literary genius who would rather write than read, they may like to get started with these short blank books. They make a nice keepsake too. My kids had a great time with them. I will say that it got to be a bit expensive to keep ordering more.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages: 5-8

Best Gifts For Smart Toddlers

Here are a few gift ideas for the youngest children. Given a chance, and some encouragement, kids can learn quite a bit from some of these.

  1. LeapFrog DVD series
    These are great for teaching kids to read, and they really like to watch them. There is a whole series to meet kids where they are at on the road to learning to read (and math too!). BTW, if you’re interested in teaching your kids to read early, consider Hooked on Phonics. BTW, you may also want to have a look at my list of educational kid’s TV shows for other worthwhile entertainment.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages: 1-5+
  2. Pengoloo
    This game is great for memory skill development, color recognition and more. A fun, very good gift for toddlers. It’s really a game that people of any age can enjoy, but of course the best part is seeing your kids enjoying the game, especially when they beat the adults! I recommend this a top game for toddlers.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 3-6+
  3. Educational placemats
    As mentioned above, there are some wonderful educational placemats that make learning while eating fun. For example, this ABC placemat or this one on bugs and insects.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages: 1-8
  4. Periodic Table Building Blocks
    Well made, non-toxic blocks with periodic table of elements on them. You may need a chemist to go with these for maximum educational value, but they’re cool, nerdy, and probably will result in someone learning something about the elements.Cost: $$
    Suggested ages: 2 years+

Gift Ideas for Gifted Older Kids

Microscopes

Microscopes are a staple of brainydom. Try to get a decent one though–in my opinion, there is nothing worthwhile under the $75 range, as far as I know. The very cheap microscopes are just frustrating and fall short. They all have issues with lighting and don’t do well with magnification–that means they’ll be abandoned after a few uses.

  1. Carson BugLoupe 5x Magnifier (HU-55)
    My only exception is for younger kids: there is something called a “bug microscope” which lets kids magnify a bug from the top and bottom as it walks around in a small container, these are only $10-15, and are great fun for some kids.Cost: $
    Suggested Ages: 3-6
  2. Mobile Phone (Android & iPhone) Microscope Attachments
    This clever device is definitely cool and practical and giftworthy. You can attach it your mobile phone camera so you can view objects and take a photo. Gets pretty good reviews. Another example is a quick attach microscope that you can add to your iPhone. It gets good reviews, but I really don’t know if this works that well.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages: 6+

Otherwise, if you’re on a budget, please read the reviews on Amazon and find the best microscope you can for your price range–you AND your smart child will benefit. Here are some of my favorite general science microscopes:

  1. AmScope B100B-MS Microscope
    I know this one is a bit pricey at about $200 but it is a reliable, good scope that can really do some very good magnification – AmScope B100B-MS 40X-2000X Biological Binocular Compound Microscope with Mechanical Stage
    Cost: $$$
    Suggested Ages 5-15+
  1. Celestron 5 megapixel Infinaview
    Another great microscope is the -I LOVE THIS MICROSCOPE! It has a great LCD screen so your kids can see what the magnifications are easily. We have this microscope and I can tell you it is super fun. I got it for my daughter when she was 6. She still uses it sometimes — now she’s 12.

    Once you have something on the scope you can snap an image of it with the press of a button. I really love this microscope, but note that it is meant to look “at” things–this wouldn’t be good for looking at cells–more for examining bugs, coins, fabrics, foods, etc…”close up.”  It comes with a rechargeable battery which makes it great to carry around to various places for microscope fun. I know this is a bit pricey, but it is very good. This is a such a great science toy for boys and girls of all ages. I am recommending this for gifted children age 4 and up.
    Cost: $$$
    Suggested Ages 4-17

Climate Science, Astronomy and Telescopes

  1. Telescopes
    A relatively pricey venture for a good, worthwhile telescope. Also, if you live in an urban/suburban area, it may be difficult to get the most from a telescope due to light pollution. Expect to spend more than $100 for a good one. For example, here is a well rated telescope in that price range: Celestron 127EQ PowerSeeker Telescope – any budding astronomer will prize such a fantastic gift.
    Cost: $$$
    Suggested Ages 5-17
  2. Weather Forecasting and Climate Science
    There are a few interesting kits to be had in this category. For example, Weather Station Science Kit seems like a great gift for a kid who’s interested in meteorology.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 8+

Biology Science Gifts

  1. Thames & Kosmos DNA Experiment Kit
    Educational kit that teaches quite a bit about DNA, including building a DNA model.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 10-15
  2. Anatomy
    Skeleton Floor Puzzle, Squishy Human Anatomy and visible man/human body model These are great learning toys. My kids love the squishy human toy. I didn’t figure they would keep using it, but actually they return to it now and then and it makes a cool display toy too. Really “adds some science” to their room.
    Suggested Ages 7-10] Cost: $
  3. Anatomy placemats
    These are also good, but some people might not like having an anatomy lesson at the dinner table–I think it’s a great opportunity for a child to learn about the human body.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 7-12

Building, Engineering and Robotics Gifts

  1. Meccano Robot Kit
    This is really fun and a great introduction to robotics. It does require some assembly but my 9 year old really loves it so that could be worth it and part of the educational value. You program this robot by training it’s limbs and also get it to move and record your voice via an app. The robot recognizes thousands of phrases through it’s voice recognition software.Cost: There are two versions, the MeccaNoid G15 2.0 2nd Edition (Cost: $$) and the four foot tall Meccano MeccaNoid G15 KS Cost: $$$. There is also an expansion kit that looks like even more fun.
    Suggested Ages Boys and girls 8-10+ years.
  2. Remote Control/Motor for paper airplanes-I wish they had this when I was a kid. The PowerUp 3.0 is basically a rechargeable, remote control motor that you can attach to any paper airplane. This means you can experiment and tweak the design, try different papers, etc to see what flies the best and is easiest to control. You need a bluetooth enabled smartphone or tablet in order to control the device. Gets great reviews.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages: 8-10 years
  3. OWI Air Powered Car
    This is an interesting educational toy car that runs on compressed air. Note that there is alot of assembly required and some of it is a little bit complicated, but nevertheless, very worthwhile.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 10*-99 (Ten year-olds will probably need some help with assembly)
  4. Geomag 120 Piece Color Construction Set
    This looks like a very fun magnetic building kit. The pieces are larger than older kids, so they should be a bit safer for smaller kids. I’d still use caution to purchase this for kids under 5 (or if you have kids under 5 in the house). Looks like a fantastic kit.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages 3+
  5. OWI Solar Powered Robot
    Two levels of building so beginners and more advanced kids can be engaged. It has 14 modes.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages: 8-15
  6. Engineering Toy
    Roominate and GoldieBlox are two excellent choices for girls (and boys). I highly recommend both of these engineering toys for kids ages 4-5 (or even 6-7) –my girls definitely enjoyed them. There are several great kits for both of them, so definitely search on Roominate and GoldieBlox on Amazon to see the variety and different price points for these gifts. They will pay dividends.
    Cost: $ – $$
    Suggested Ages 4-7
  7. Lego Mindstorms Robotics Kits
    This is a relatively expensive birthday, Hanukkah or Christmas gift but the payoffs are huge if your child takes to this. You’re brainy child will learn programming, physics and many more things that are going to be very important to the economy in their lifetimes. There are several different kits you can buy, for example the EV3 kit and the Boost kit, Lego Mindstorms kits are the de facto standard robotics kids used in teaching at K-12 schools. I strongly recommend this as a gift. This is the ultimate STEM teaching toy for girls and boys of all ages.
    Cost: $$$
    Suggested Ages 7-16+
  8. KANO Kit 2018 Edition
    If the price for Lego Mindstorms is out of the question, there are various other robotics kits that can be great fun for kids. You might also consider a KANO kit 2018 Edition that teaches kids all about building computers using the Raspberry PI. I’d recommend this kit strongly for those super intelligent kids who’ve shown an interest in technology and engineering. Definitely a great present for the gifted who really want to know how computers work.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages 7-16+
  9. Little Bits Star Wars Droid Inventor Kit
    Your kids might also enjoy Little Bits kits.
    Cost: $$$
    Suggested Ages 8-11+

Chemistry Gifts

Chemistry Sets

Chemistry experiments are all kinds of fun for boys and girls…and a great way for parents to work with their children to learn chemistry.

There are varying levels of these kits:

  1. Magic School Bus kid’s chemistry kit.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 5-7 years
  2. Amazon sells more serious (and more expensive) chemistry sets
    The Thames and Kosmos set is a great set to get started with chemistry. Any curious kid will enjoy these classic experiments.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested ages 10-12+ years
  3. This a great middle of the road chemistry set
    Also from Thames and Kosmos, this is a more in depth chemistry set than the previous one. I would get this one for a more serious science-loving kid.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages: 10-15+
  4. This one is the ultimate set
    This is an even more serious chemistry set for teenagers / older kids who are ready to work through high school preparations for chemistry. This would be an amazing science gift for a kid who has a deep interest.
    Cost: $$$
    Suggested Ages 12-15
  5. Happy Atoms set
    This is another great gift from Thames and Kosmos. It is a magnetic molecular modeling set, and is a rather serious gift for the serious chemistry brainiac. There is also a larger atom modeling set available ($$$)
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages 10-17

Other Chemistry Brainy Gifts

  1. Beaker Mug
    This could be a fun gift for older kids who love Chemistry. It’s a mug that looks like a beaker–it even has a caffeine molecule on it.
  2. Hand Boiler
    Fun, novel gift. This is just a fun, nerdy present. Kills will love watching the liquid boil by the heat of their hands. They can learn about atmospheric pressure and liquids/gas.
    Cost: $
    Suggested ages 9+
  3. MudWatt – Grow your own living fuel cell – Clean energy from mud. This is a living fuel cell that feeds on mud (and other stuff your budding scientist may decide to put into it). This has on multiple awards and definitely has some great STEM lessons. Great smart gift for smart kids.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested ages 8+

Math Gifts

  1. Fractiles 7
    Award winning fun. This is somewhere between a math activity, a creative jaunt and meditation. Kids will enjoy creating fractal patterns with diamond and square magnetic tiles.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages 8+
  2. Prime Climb
    An award winning math game. 2-4 person game uses multiplication and division. Manufacturer recommends it for ages 10+, but it should be okay for younger kids who are good at math.Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages 10+
  3. Equate – The Equations Thinking Game
    Kind of like Scrabble for simple equations.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages 8+
  4. Fun Math Books
    For younger kids who are just starting to learn math concepts, there are some great books by Greg Tang. For example, “Math Potatoes: Mind-Stretching Brain Food” and “The Grapes of Math” provide simple, but helpful math riddles for kids to do. These are fun, interesting books and I definitely recommend them.Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 5-8

Physics Gifts

  1. Physics experiment kit
    This looks like a very good physics kit with lots of interesting experiments.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages 10+
  2. Bubble tools from Zome Tool…there are all sorts of interesting things you can learn from bubble kits…plus they’re just fun. Some of the zometool kits let the kids build geometric shapes and then the bubbles are framed by those shapes. Here is one example kit for about . The zometools are also great for just creating stuff. Check out the more advanced kits for intelligent 12 year olds and up and here is a more advanced kit for kids ages 6 and up.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages 5-9
  3. Sick Science Fast Physics Kit
    A fun way to learn about inertia and some other physics concepts. Smart kids will enjoy the activities in this kit.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 10+
  4. Chaos Machine
    A fun and interesting way to learn a bit about chaos theory
    Suggested Ages 12+
  5. Chaos Tower
    This kit offers some great Rube Goldberg fun + great physics learning from this kit.
    Cost: $$$
    Suggested Ages 7+
  6. Car Engine Model
    This is a great brainy gift for kids who like building models, and especially if they are interested in cars and engines. This is a “working” model of an internal combustion engine (it runs on an electric motor). It’s meant for older kids, but could be a project a parent and younger kid could work together on.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages 12+
  7. Plasma Ball
    This is somewhere between science and fun. Plasma balls are the staple of any smart mad scientist.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages 8-11+
  8. Spherio Ball
    This is another toy that may be a stretch for educational, but it sure looks fun and could have some educational value in physics. It’s basically a remote controlled ball–kids can build mazes and use ramps to get it to do some really fun tricks.
    Cost: $$$
    Suggested Ages 7+
  9. Kinetic Art Science Kit
    This is a great kit for kids interested in art, science, physics, or/and astronomy.
    Cost $
    Suggested Ages: 8-15 Year Olds

Magnetic games and toys

  1. Magnetic Toys
    Please be careful due to safety issues if you have young children in the house. Here is an example of a safe kit from Magformorers. Here is another one. Gearation Refrigerator Magnets also looks very cool and so does wall coaster.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 4-8
  2. Magentic Levitation base
    This is something an older kid might like. It basically “levitates” lighter metal objects (you provide those). It is pretty cool.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages 5-9
  3. Floating Globe
    This is basically a 6 inch globe that spins for quite a long time. Another cool but simple item kids of all ages would love. Here’s a video to give you the idea of what this miracle of physics actually is.
    Cost: $$$
    Suggested Ages 8-11
  4. Magic Penny Toy – This is a bit unusual. Make sculptures and do activities using British pennies (US Pennies don’t work because of their composition). Teaches kids math, science, creativity…just fun.

Geology Gifts

  1. Geodes
    This brainy gift is great for any budding geologist. You get unopened geodes — kids can break them open themselves.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 4-9+
  2. Rock and Mineral Collection
    Kids who collect rocks will like this. Note that the packaging is not fancy, but the actual rocks you get are very cool and numerous.
    Cost: $
  3. Rock Tumbler
    There are a few of these on the market. The professional one from National Geographic is very well liked and they also offer a lower-end kit, this one is also rated well and somewhat lower cost. With patience, rocks can be polished exposing some real beauty…remember, it takes about a month to polish rocks and glass! This is especially good gift for brainy kids who are patient…
    Cost: $$
    Suggest Ages 6-15
  4. Metal Detector
    Great for beachcombing. There are a a variety of metal detectors kids might like–some of the ones that are meant for kids, just aren’t that good. This is a good compromise, but if it’s too pricey have a look at some of the other choices.
    Cost: $$
    Suggest Ages 6-14
  5. Crystal Growing Kits – These are always fun and interesting. There are several levels to these kits. This one is a bit more on the pricey side, but is more complete.
    Cost: $$
    Suggest Ages 10+

Geography Gifts

  1. Geography jigsaw puzzle.
    Learn about geography by doing puzzles. Other puzzles: World Map with Animals, 100 Piece World Map Puzzle, Magnetic Map of the USA (Ages 4+).
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 4-9+
  2. Geo-Cards
    This a great card game.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 6+
  3. Globe
    Here’s a great globe that kids interested in geography will definitely like. Bonus idea: Inflatable, color-in/label globe.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages 5 – 14
  4. Levitation Globe
    This is not the greatest political globe, but still really cool because it floats magnetically.
    Cost: $$
  5. Maps and Geography
    A great book by Ken Jennings – Jeopardy! superstar Ken Jennings offers his insights about maps in this excellent book.
    Cost: $

Electronics Kits

  1. Snap Circuits – These are good for kids of all ages…Snap circuits makes various kits for several age groups, for instance the Snap Jr. kit is for younger children. If your super-smart kid takes to these kits, they’ll have an advantage for the rest of their lives. Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 6-16+ These are invaluable at any age for the budding engineer
  2. The Raspberry Pi learning computer – This credit card sized, $35 device is an excellent tool for teaching a child how computers and electronics work. Here is an article that explains the device better. This is probably something a parent would want to work on together with their son or daughter–at least a first. Having said that, I am sure there are plenty of genius kids out there who will know what to do with it. There’s plenty of information on the internet about this device and it has really become a standard.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages 7-16+
  3. Makey Makey Kit
    This is sold as “an invention kit for everyone”, and it definitely is fun and cool. No wonder it’s an Amazon best-seller. Turn anything into a keypad for your computer (Mac or PC). For example, you could make a few bananas into a music keyboard.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages 7+
  4. The Kano Kit – This is a very interesting kit for kids 6-12. I’ve heard nothing but great things about it. Also based on the Raspberry Pi, it seems like a great way to get your genius child on the path to computer programming and becoming a “maker”. Definitely consider this gift if it’s in the budget Cost: $$$
    Suggested Ages 6-12+

Computers

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the idea of getting your favorite brilliant kid some sort of computer of their own.

  1. Tablet ComputersTablet computers are a good gift option — consider going with a cheaper Android tablet such as the surprisingly very low cost Amazon Kindle Fire.My girls both have one and they absolutely love it. My wife also has one and she loves hers too. It’s great for reading books, playing educational games (see my list of Amazon Fire Educational Games) and watching videos. Ours have lasted a few years.Many public libraries now offer free, downloadable e-books that will work with the Amazon Fire. Note that the Amazon Fire tablets do not allow you access to the Google Play Store–you have to use the apps that are on the Amazon App Store. There is a special “kids” version of the tablet that costs a bit more and has a few additional software features, plus it comes with a durable case…You may not need that though– the regular Fire does have the “Kids’ Free Time” app on it that lets you set limits for time and which apps they can use.We just have the regular 7″ Kindle Fire and it works great.Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages 5-16+
  2. Google Chromebook
    I am a huge fan of the Google Chromebook because it is so simple and malware/virus free. They are currently priced from about $150, most of the best values in Chromebooks are in the $200-300 range. ) for these. Recently some Chromebooks have been enabled for the Google Android App Store, greatly improving their usefulness. The Toshiba Chromebook 2 is slated to have this enabled later this year.
    Cost: $$$
    Suggested Ages 5-16+

Games and puzzles for smart kids

There are of course the usual suspects such as Chess Sets…but there are some other games for various ages.

  1. Perplexus line of mazes
    For example, there is the Perplexus line of mazes that come in various levels of difficulty. My seven year old loves the Perplexus Rookie and has spent hours working on solving it by getting the ball all the way to the end of the maze. Someone who enjoys puzzles like this might also like these Japanese puzzles.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 7-16+

There are other games I can recommend:

  1. Chess is always great for the developing genius mind. Aside from general Chess Sets for kids who already know how to play, there are some great learn chess kits and books that teach chess for kids as well. Your brainiac might also enjoy Chess Solitaire. Kids of all ages can learn to play chess. Very young kids learn to play chess, but I would say a learning set would be good for a kids who are 5-year-olds and above.
    Cost $$
    Suggested Ages 7-10+
  2. Othello and Scrabble Junior also make pretty decent gifts as well.
    Cost $
    Suggested Ages 5-10+
  3. Cool Circuits by Sciencewiz
    This is a cool looking puzzle game. Complete the circuit to light up the board. 2013 Puzzle of the Year. The game is marked as 8+, but I think some seven-year-olds could enjoy it too.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 8+
  4. Melissa and Doug Suspend
    This balance game is even cooler than it looks. I know you don’t usually think of Melissa and Doug gifts for older kids, but you can make an exception here.
    Cost: $
    Ages 8+
  5. Pengoloo – This is a great memory game for people of all ages, but works fine for toddlers and up. Helps with memory and color recognition. Nice wooden pieces.
    Cost: $
    Suggested ages 4+
  6. Quardillions – Great strategy puzzle meant for one player.
    Cost: $
    Ages 7+
  7. LONPOS 3 Dimensional 505 Brain Intelligence Game – 505 challenging, fun 2d and 3d puzzles in a compact form.
    Cost: $
    Ages 5+

Logic Puzzles

  1. Marble Maze – One of my favorites. Learn about gravity and logic with this addictive and challenging gravity game. I strongly recommend this-my 6 and 7 year old both really love this and it is truly educational. I frequently give this gift for children’s birthdays. Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 6+
  2. Quoridor is another good one. It’s meant for kids who are six and up…and definitely something a brainy kid would enjoy.
    Suggested Ages 6-10+
  3. ThinkFun Tilt This interesting logic game is loads of fun and a bit challenging.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 8-15+
  4. <Laser Maze – This is a logic game that uses a real laser. It’s got some things in common with the marble maze above. This is a fun single player game. The same manufacturer makes a two player laser game (ThinkFun Laser Chess).
    Cost: $
    Suggested ages 8+

Drones

  1. Remote controlled airplanes and helicopters can be very educational and lots of fun. There are many levels of price to these…
    For example, the Parrot AR drones are stable and easy to fly but the cheaper remote controlled drones, helicopters and planes can be just as great. Adult supervision is probably required, especially for younger kids. Try to find one with a video camera built in.
    Cost: $$$
    Suggested Ages 6-16+

3D Printers

The 3D printer is the ultimate gift. Probably best for your older brainiac or with help from an able adult.

  1. MakerBob Replicator Mini+
    The MakerBot is a popular 3D printer that has lots of support from the community. You can print some amazingly cool things. Kids who learn a little 3D design software can create whatever they can imagine (and that fits on the small format printer). Expect to spend $750-$2500+ for entry level models (which can do quite a bit).
    Cost: $$$$
    Suggested Ages: 7-16+ (younger children will need the help of an adult, at least to get started with this)
  2. Da Vinci Nano 3D Printer White 3D Printer
    The da Vinci mini is an affordable 3D printer. It uses non-toxic PLA filaments to print on a 5″x 5″ stage. This would be a good introductory 3D printer, it’s relatively cheap, and it’s compact enough to put right next to your computer.
    Cost: $$$
    Suggested Ages: 8+ (with adult help) or 14+

Creatures, Fungi and Plants

Live insects:

  1. Butterfly gardens and Lady Bug Land or if you’re a little more daring, you could go for a pet hissing cockroach. We have never given our kids a hissing cockroach, but both of our daughters loved the butterflies and lady bugs.
    Cost: $$
    Suggested Ages 3-10+
  2. Ant farms from Uncle Milton or other manufacturers…there are some great ones out now that use gel instead of sand…and have lights built into them. Very educational and fun! Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 3-10+
  1. Rolly Polly Farms – This is a great idea. Comes with a voucher for rolly pollies.
    Cost: $
    Suggest Ages: 5+
  2. Live praying mantis – Chinese praying mantis. Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 8-12+

Other Animals and Plants, etc:

  1. Frog hatchery – Your child will receive a tadpole in the mail and watch it grow into an adult frog. Beware this is really a long term commitment–frogs can live many years. The frogs in this kit are aquatic which makes them a bit easier to take care of.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 5-10+
  2. Sea Monkeys or Triops This are cool, easy to care for pets. My kids loved having sea monkeys. Consider getting a wrist watch aquarium to transport a few of them to show friends. Fun, educational and interesting. Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 5-10
  3. Worm Farm – This is a little different. Your favorite intelligent kid can observe earth worms in action and learn about their important place in our ecosystem by helping things decompose/compost. If worms are a bit much for you, you could just get this composting observation system…it’s a simple way to watch how things get broken down in nature. I’d say even younger kids, maybe even three and four year-olds can get something out of this, and if it is maintained, the worms can last for years. We’ve had ours going on six years. Sounds strange to some people, but worms are kind of amazing! Cost: $
    Suggested ages 5+

  4. Grow Mushrooms: A grow your own Oyster Mushrooms kit and a grow your own shitake mushroom kit. This is cool and unusual. Some of the kits use organic bases for the mushrooms…great news for your dinner table. It’s definitely fun and interesting for kids to see how mushrooms grow–a sort of different experience from some of the seed/plant kits you can get. I recommend this as a gift for kids of any age, but probably for most kids, the ones who are older than six or seven years old will get the most out of it.
    Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 7-10+
  5. Grow plants: Amazon offers a Hydrodome where you hydroponically grow lettuce . There are also other kits which allow you to grow carnivorous plants, or cacti. Cost: $
    Suggested Ages 3-9

Do you have a suggestion for this list? Feedback on one of the items? Please email me to let me know. I only want to feature gift ideas that are safe, educational, interesting, unusual, and fun!

Don’t forget to visit my ideas for birthday party places.

eroncohen.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

Categories
Save Money Secondary Features Technology

Easy Ways to Save Money Part 3 – Get Rid of Your Cable Television

Roku box channel screen
Roku boxes let you choose various channels from the internet
including  unusual channels like the Autism Channel and NASA
Television.  You can’t get these on cable TV at all.

I wanted to write some posts that outline a few ways that I have saved more than a few dollars lately.  Even if you’re not really on a budget, these ideas should make sense, after all a penny saved is a penny earned, but for most families with kids, every penny helps.  This one is about cutting out cable TV in favor of getting your television entertainment through internet-based channels.  I have written others about changing your home’s electricity provider and changing your mobile phone provider.

Save Money By Getting Rid of Cable Television and Going with Streaming Video Instead

More and more households are coming around to the idea of getting rid of their cable television provider and sticking with an internet only service. (See here for Nielsen’s survey on this)

I used to have cable TV until recently–I was sick of paying $120+ dollars per month for service that I mostly didn’t use.  I had a “triple play” from Verizon FIOS which included  phone, TV and internet.

First of all, I never once used their phone service.  I was very happy with Vonage and didn’t see the need to switch.  In fact, the only reason I had Verizon FIOS’ phone service was because it was part of a bundle deal, and if you didn’t get the bundle, you’d wind up paying more than you would if you got it. (You can read more about how to save money on phone service in Part 2 of this series)

Secondly, I hardly ever watched Verizon’s Television offerings.  I had hundreds of channels but couldn’t find anything to watch.   So that leaves the internet.

I rely heavily on good internet service, not just for surfing the web, but also because we do watch alot of streaming video entertainment.  So the idea here is get rid of cable TV and then “roll your own” television entertainment instead.

If you are not in a contract with your cable/FIOS provider, then you should be able to cut the service down to internet only.  We found that Verizon’s best price for internet was about $75/month–alot cheaper than the $120 we were paying, but still kind of alot.

Luckily, we also have Comcast cable in our neighborhood, and they’ve been trying to build up their customer base.  They had an offer for relatively fast internet (25down/5 up) for $24/month with taxes for a year (and then it goes up to 34 the next year).  So that’s what I decided to go with.

Note that you do have other possible options besides cable if you have “alot of bars” for cellular service in your neighborhood you may be able to get a cellular modem from Verizon, AT&T, Clear or FreedomPOP (the later two being the best deals price-wise–again it also depends who’s service has strong signals in your neighborhood). As 5G starts to roll out, this will become more common.

We have a Roku Ultra Box, which is a device that costs between $50-100 and allows you to connect your television to the internet.  This device allowed us to watch television series and movies that are available on services such as  Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus.

If you have a Wii or an X-box, then you will also have the ability to use these services and view their offerings on your television. (See my blog post on Kid’s TV shows that are available on these three services)

We especially like Netflix because it has the largest selection of streaming videos that you can watch on demand.  This includes all sorts of television series, comedians, films and educational videos.   They also have a DVD service that mails you DVD movies that aren’t available on streaming video.   Visit the Netflix website to see their offering and to get a free trial.  Netflix streaming costs about $9/month.

Hulu is good because it has many more recent TV series that you can watch, but it also has commercials.  At this writing (July 2019) Hulu costs $5.99/month.  You can visit their website to have a look at their offerings.

Amazon Prime is similar to Netflix with a couple of differences.  First they have fewer available free viewing choices when compared to Netflix, but they also offer newer movies and tv shows that you can pay-per-view.

These choices usually don’t appear on Netflix for a few months, so it is a nice option, but it can cost $1.99 per TV episode, which can add up fast.  The other difference is that when you get Amazon Prime, you get free two day shipping on many Amazon.com items and you get a free kindle book rental per month.  So the free movies and tv shows on Amazon could be considered a perk if you use it enough to justify the free shipping.  Amazon Prime costs $99.99 per year.

You could also get  a digital HD antenna to pick up “over the air” channels.  Many people have had cable for so long, they don’t even realize this is an option…and in fact, it is a pretty good one.

The antennas cost about $30-60 and they are able to pick up many traditional TV stations, plus some other stations that you probably didn’t know you could get for free over the air.  This may be a good idea because it does make up for one thing you might miss-if you ever need to watch live news on TV or an event like the Superbowl, it might not be possible without one.  Although my Roku box does offer the “Roku News Channel” and in fact Fox News, it’s not usually “live” news.

It is clear that the costs of cable TV aren’t going to go down soon unless more people start dumping cable.  More than a form of protest, you will save money and probably wind up fairly satisfied with what you get.

Categories
Recommendations Review Reviews Secondary Features

Review of North Beach Maryland – Great Summer Beach Day Trip

North Beach Maryland Review
Review of North Beach, Maryland

If you are like many parents these days, a getaway to Ocean City or some of the other Maryland, Virginia and Delaware beaches is just a bit too much of a commitment in time and money.  So then there are the Chesapeake Bay beaches to consider, and although none of them are quite the same as, say Ocean City, there are two or three that come to my mind that might be decent day-trip substitutes.  They are all in Calvert County and they are: North Beach, Chesapeake Beach and Flag Ponds Beach.  These are way better than Sandy Point State Park near the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and aren’t that much further.  (I couldn’t help but laugh and agree with a recent review of Sandy Point on Google — it said something like: “If you’re looking for a dirty beach and jellyfish, this place is for you.”)

Today I am going to talk about North Beach.  Its about 30 minutes from Annapolis and not far from Howard, Prince George’s and pretty much anywhere in Anne Arundel County.

When you arrive, you find that there is a free parking lot right near the public beach, but you do have to pay admission and wear an armband to show you’ve paid.

Current beach admission fees (as of May 2017) for out of county visitors are:

Adults 12-54:  $17.00
Children 3-11:  $9.00
Children 2 and under:  Free
Seniors 55 and up:  $9.00
Active Military: $9.00

Season passes are $120 for adults and $100 for children.

It’s cheaper for in-county visitors:

Adults 12-54:  $7.00
Children 3-11:  $4.00
Children 2 and under:  Free
Seniors 55 and up:  $4.00
Active Military: $4.00

It  was $10 to rent an umbrella and $5 to rent a chair.
Fishing Fees Two poles maximum per person
North Beach/Calvert County Residents: Free. (Must show proof of Calvert County residency.)
Out of County Visitors: 1st Pole & 2nd Pole  Inquire at Welcome Center
Paddle or Pedal Fees Single Kayak:  Hourly $15.00/Daily $45.00
Double Kayak: Hourly $20.00/Daily $60.00
Stand Up Paddleboard:  Hourly $20.00/Daily $60.00
Bicycles: Hourly $10.00/Daily $30.00

[Looking for birthday party ideas in Anne Arundel County?]

There are many regulations to be aware of.  No large coolers (actually only pretty small coolers are allowed – 9 quart limit), no tents, no pets, no loud music, no alcohol, no fires, no g-strings, don’t feed the animals, no thongs, no fireworks.  Although I thought they might be kind of restrictive, I also thought that it did make the beach nicer for everyone. You have to pass a guard on the way down to the beach and they definitely stop you if they see you have a cooler or tent.  See the image with most of the other rules and regulations below.

Beach Rules and Regulations at North Beach Maryland

The area of the beach we were on was surrounded by breakers and was never more than 2 or 3 feet deep even if you walked out pretty far.  There were very small, gentle waves.  This meant that it was a perfect place for kids to play and not have to be worried about getting bowled over by a huge wave or going in too deep.

The sand was clean.  There wasn’t alot of trash around.  Some people might be turned off by the feel of the bottom when they’re in the water.  You could either consider it slimy or silky or somewhere in between.  It surely feels different than at an Atlantic beach.  Its kind of a muddy clay. It didn’t bother me, but it is kind of surprising the first time you experience that.  Otherwise, other than some seaweed in the water,  it was a very clean, nice experience.

There were some restaurants and shops around, as well as a fishing pier.  Again, there are some fees involved if you want to fish (see North Beach admission rates above).

If you are looking for a place to spend a summer beach day (or night) then I would recommend visiting North Beach, MD.  You may also want to read my blog posting on Summer Camp Ideas for Kids In Maryland. You may also want to read my post about educational birthday gift ideas or my review of the FamZoo debit card for kids.

Categories
Columbia Maryland Recommendations Review Reviews Secondary Features

Review of Kids First Swim School

Kids First Swim School Columbia Md
Review of Kid’s First Swim School

My girls have been taking swimming lessons at Kids First Swim School since they were a few months old.

Summary: I have good and bad things to say about our experiences with them over the years.  I would tell people to look for other alternatives if they have one available (see below for some ideas in Columbia MD).  If you’re wondering about the cost of lessons, as of February 27, 2013, 6 weeks worth of half hour lessons are $100.  Considering that you don’t have to pay for a monthly membership like in other venues, this is somewhat competitive.

The Facilities
First thing I would say is that the idea is great.  The Kids First Swim Schools that I have been to are in strip malls.  Its kind of unexpected to find a swimming pool next to a grocery store and a Good Will Thrift store, but it works…mostly.  The pool at the Columbia location is medium sized.  It goes up to 5 feet deep and is usually kept pretty warm.  They are quick to point out that they use salt to generate their chlorine, which I guess is great.  They say this makes it more “natural”.  The pool area is usually kept pretty clean although they do leave some things to be desired.

The dressing rooms are horrible.  Problem one: they tend to be occupied.  There are only three of them.  Can you imagine what its like when several classes end at once (which is the norm)?  You have a bunch of cold wet kids and unhappy parents waiting for the next one to become available.  Of course, if your kids are still young, you can take them into the bathroom and change them, but in practice you will find at least a few parents changing their kids while hiding them behind towels.  People have other things to do besides waiting to change their kids–and changing even one child is never a two-minute thing.  I think they could easily build a few more dressing rooms if they wanted to.  They really should–this is one of the biggest complaints about the place.  I feel that they could easily fix this by putting additional changing rooms in their open space areas or near their front door.  They don’t have to be very big, they just need to be available.

For some reason, computers haven’t made it to Kid’s First yet. It is quaint. As a customer, you wouldn’t care, except setting up your next swimming session can be a real pain for them and for you.  They have books of paper with the kids’ records on them.  So when you go to setup a session, they have to dig through the books to find your kid (which sometimes doesn’t go well) and then look at their paper schedules to figure out what times meet your needs and fit your kid’s level.  It can be time consuming and often a little bit silly.  Add to that the fact that you don’t always know whether your kid is going to be promoted to the next level when you go to sign up.  This is because they give “Report cards” on the last day of class.

Keep in mind that the next session will start the following week, so your choices are sign up earlier and hope you got your kid’s level right or wait and risk not having the time slot you want available.  I have two kids on two different levels so this can be even more comical.  Having said this, we’ve had pretty good luck and the staff tries to be accommodating, even starting new time slots just for one of my kids so they could go at the same time as the other.

The “Time Zone”
I used to complain about this foible, but I have to say, it has saved me from being late several times: They keep the clocks at Kid’s First Swim School set five minutes or so behind.  So if your class is at 6:30pm, its really at 6:35pm.

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen new parents go busting into to pool area rushing their kid along because they thought they were late, but instead were early.  Its almost funny.

The Teaching
As far as the teachers, there are a few great ones.  The problem is that the turn over is very high.  Its not unusual for my daughters to have two or three different teachers over the course of 6 weeks…that is a problem because the teachers don’t get to know what the kids can do.  And in the case of one of my daughters, it can be a bit upsetting because she only feels comfortable with certain teachers.

At one recent lesson, my five year old had to tell the teacher that she was teaching them on the wrong level (too easy) because the new teacher forgot what level they were on. There are definitely obvious levels of experience too.  We’ve found that even if you pay for private lessons, you may get two or more different teachers over six weeks.  That is likely to make you angry.

Class sizes can vary quite a bit.  We have had many classes with just one or two kids in them…and others with at least five kids. Keep in mind that with one teacher alot of the time only one kid can swim.  So you can guess that the size of the class dramatically affects the amount of attention each child gets….And with bigger classes your kid is sure to spend at least half the time in the water waiting for her/his turn.  You can purchase semi-private and private lessons to control this, but obviously the cost of this is much higher.

In spite of the above, all in all, I can definitely say that my kids have improved in swimming as a result of the lessons.

Family Swim Nights
Family Swim Nights take place on Saturdays and Sunday evenings from 6-8pm.  It’s a great chance to practice with your kids and talk to other parents about their experiences.  Recently they have restricted the use of boards and noodles so you will want to bring your own.

I would definitely say that a side effect of going to the family swim nights is extra improvements due to watching other kids and playing with them.  Kids definitely learn well from other kids.

Birthday Parties
This is a pretty good place to have a birthday party.  There is plenty of room and since 25 kids are allowed in the pool, you can really have a nice party for about $225 (check with them for current pricing).  The party areas aren’t anything fancy, but are roomy.

Depending on what time of day, your group will either swim before or after the party.  They have two party areas at the   Columbia location, so its very possible that another party can be going on at the same time as yours.  The other group isn’t allowed in the pool at the same time as yours though…still, it’s not an ideal situation.

Don’t forget to tell parents that they likely need to come prepared to get in the pool with their young kids on your invitation.

By the way, check out these posts if you’re looking for birthday party places or gift ideas.

The Cost
Of the activities we do with our kids, swimming lessons are probably one of the most expensive.  I can’t even imagine what the insurance for a pool for kids must cost, so I guess they need to charge alot to make up for that.

Right now (2013), we pay about $90/six week session.  So that works out to be about $15 for a half-hour lesson.  You can purchase many sessions at a time for discounts.  They also offer private lessons and semi-private lessons.  These are more expensive, but I am not sure what they cost right now.

On Saturday and Sunday evenings, you can take advantage of some practice time, that costs $5/per person.  Birthday parties for 25 kids with one hour in the pool and one hour having a party costs about $200.

Alternatives To Kids First Swim School
There are of course many alternatives to Kids First Swim School.  If you’re in Columbia, Maryland two obvious competitors are the community indoor pools (in Columbia, that’s the Columbia Association) and Lifetime Fitness.  Both offer competitively priced lessons and honestly, the facilities tend to be nicer in general, especially at Lifetime Fitness.

I recently became a member of Lifetime.  Swimming lessons at Lifetime fitness are $50/month and its a much nicer experience.  There are more changing rooms  just for families and they even have  showers–and class size is capped at 4 kids (You have to be a member to get lessons there–memberships are about $150/month for a family–so again, this is why I am saying that Kid’s First is competitively priced if you’re just looking for swimming lessons.).  Here is my full review of Lifetime Fitness.

Another very good alternative in Columbia is the Columbia Association.  I have heard only good things about the lessons and I know the facilities are very nice too.  I am not sure what the lessons cost there, but the membership for a family that already lives in Columbia is about $75/month. The YMCA in Ellicott City also has a good reputation.

Kid’s First Swim School Located at 7351 Assateague Drive, Columbia, MD . https://kidsfirstswimschools.com/locations/columbia/ Reviewed by Eron Cohen. Rated: 3/ 5 (Okay)
Looking for other activities to do with your kids?