Great Falls Discovery Center

The Great Falls Discovery Center is a nicely kept little nature center, near the fish ladder and Unity Park, a decent playground with the only real see saw I've seen recently. I parked on the street, for free, right outside the Center. There is a cute little garden outside and well maintained yards, but this isn't really outdoor space for the kids to play.
The interior boasts many dioramas of local animal life, including several interactive features (buttons to push, a computer program to play with). However, for my 5 year old, the displays were quickly digested (especially because he has seen quite a lot of these kinds of exhibits). The most engaging area for the kids was a small table set up near the gift shop that held tadpole-to-frog models and books on the same subject. There are quite a few activities held there for the preschool set, though I haven't attended any yet.
The whole museum was clean, including the restrooms.
After exploring the Discovery Center we made our way to Unity Park, down the street. What appeared at first glance to be dilapidated turned out to be a pretty nice park! The equipment was a good mix of new and old, a pavilion provided shade for our snack, and the sport fields were in use, creating a nice community feel.

Laurel Loop Trail at the Notch, Amherst, MA

This is one of my very favorite hikes with the kids because it's super short (.75 miles), it's a loop, so there is no whining about turning around, the trail is well kept, it's right near the Eric Carle Museum and Atkins, and if you worry about being isolated, you don't have to worry much here.

If you are hiking with a small toddler who is barely able to walk the full length, I recommend heading to the right hand side (when the Visitor Center is at your back) to start (going counter clockwise). This is the steepest part of the trail, so if you end up going clockwise you will face a steep hill when the children are the most tired.

After a rain, you'll find every color of fungus on this trail. It is lovely in all seasons, and buggy in most seasons - you really need some serious bug spray here, the poisonous stuff. I have found that the bug repellent wipes are really handy, especially for little ones who can't hold their breath and shut their eyes while you are spraying them.

Evergreene Golf, Belchertown, MA

Located on Rt. 9 in Belchertown, Evergreene Golf offers regular and mini golf. The grooming of the course is great. This is a family business, so it is managed with care. The air conditioned building has restrooms, the rental counter, souvenirs and ice cream!! This is always an idea for slightly older kids on summmer evenings.
One caveat : there is no shade (really, none). My first visit there with an infant in a stroller had me fearing heatstroke. We have visited several times and find this is a nice option.

West Hartford Children's Museum

We've visited the West Hartford Children's Museum several times. It takes one hour exactly from our home, and is very close to the highway so it's easy to find. Parking is free, and though the lot has often been crowded I've always found a spot.

This museum really is a kid pleaser. A physics oriented room painted vividly is a big draw. Other features: A large fossil dig area with goggles and dress up vests, a surprising number of live animals (many snakes, lizards, turtles, and a few small mammals), a lego room, a toddler area, and some other fun nooks and crannies. The outdoor space is disappointing here, and I haven't seen much improvement over the course of my visits - though I allow there has been some. A dinosaur themed mini golf area had really gross old water that the kids kept fishing golf balls out of. My friend and I were appalled. Really Gross.

You can choose indoor seating for your snack, next to some exhibits and basic vending, or outdoor seating at picnic tables under a shade tent.

Admission is FREE with your Springfield Quadrangle membership.

D.A.R. State Park, Goshen, MA

Our initial experience at the DAR was disappointing. It was our first camping trip with kids (24 months and 6 months old). We thought that the drive-in aspect would be a boon, but it turned out to be a pain. Our fantasy of letting the toddler run free in the woods was quickly dispelled as we realized that our backyard would have afforded us more privacy, more room, and to some extent more nature, than we found here. The campsites are packed together tightly, though they are well maintained. We could see and hear all of our neighbors, and spent most of the weekend explaining to a two year old how an outdoor space needed to be treated like a room with walls. The rest of the weekend involved keeping him out of the road. Though drivers were mainly respectful and drove slowly, it doesn't really matter how slow a car is going when it hits my kid, you know? The lessons from this trip were not really what we were hoping to communicate to our youngsters about nature.
Well, we found an awesome place to camp the next year, Tully Lake. That's another post altogether.
My recent visit to the DAR was a day trip to visit my brother. We used the camper's beach and had a wonderful time. I swam on this lake during the summers when I attended Camp Howe, the 4H camp in Goshen. It's still gorgeous!
The photos above were all taken at the camper's beach - take a look at their website to find out about the day use/camper use restrictions.

Beachgrounds Park, South Hadley, MA

I first heard about this new park because they had a big opening day festival. I was later reminded of it by an acquaintance, Julie Ross of Belchertown, who took her two children to Beachgrounds in July and was pleased with the park, though not the restrooms.
On Sunday morning we finally made it over there, and the whole family was quite impressed. It seems a feat of urban planning - the small park is eco-friendly in many ways (recycle bins, rubber tire "mulch," recycled plastic "lumber" used for benches and tables), surrounded by a variety of housing types (apartments and a neighborhood of single family homes), aesthetically pleasing, designed with varied age-groups in mind (for instance, baby swings near the toddler play area and regular swings off to the side). The playground structure itself was an unusual one, which is great. All too often I find myself trekking to a new park only to encounter pretty much the same equipment as they have in the park by my house. My 5 year old described it as an obstacle course and "completed" the play structure a number of times. Both older boys loved the spray park, in which the water is activated by a sensor which my middle son enjoyed figuring out and then using. The spray park is laid out in an organic way which seemed to encourage the kids to move & to use the entire spray pad area. The pad includes a sprayer that the kids can move around, and which is cleverly designed to shut off when sprayed toward the outside of the water pad. The water feature is significantly smaller than the one found at Look Park, but there was plenty of room on the day of our visit.
The park also offers the opportunity to head down to the riverbank by the Holyoke Dam. This was an adventure that our family undertook - it is not advertised as part of the park. The trail down to the water was steep and the rocks on the edge interspersed with broken glass and the occasional piece of trash. However, it was nice enough to teach my oldest to skip a stone.
From several articles (here's one) I've seen on this project, it seems that the funding and creating of this space was a triumph of the political process, as used by community/local organization. This sweetens the experience of watching the kids play there.

Cindy's Drive In, Granby, MA

The kids had free soft serve at Cindy's last week, via the Granby Public Library and the Massachusetts Summer Reading Program.

Cindy's is on 202 in Granby, conveniently close to Dufresne Park and the library. The young woman who waited on us was SO sweet, and patient with the kids. She even made me a tiny tiny mini cone for the baby.
The outdoor seating area wasn't particularly scenic, situated on the pavement contiguous with the parking lot and next to a fence. However, the tables and seats were clean. The ground was virtually free of junk, the trash can was wiped down. I really liked all of that. There is indoor seating also, a few stools at a tall counter. The decor is very cute. And of course they are supporting reading and libraries, which is a great practice.

Caveat: NO RESTROOMS. We had to leave for that reason, though the kids were thoroughly enjoying the play area (pictured above).