Hotspots for child’s play in the Berkshires do exist — you just ask around
The week we moved from the Boston area to the Berkshires, I took my son to story hour at Great Barrington’s Mason Library, bracing myself for a horde of Dr. Seuss–loving toddlers and frantic parents. At our old library in a densely populated neighborhood, we had to arrive 30 minutes before story hour just to have a chance at a seat. But in Great Barrington, we found a wonderful kids’ area, an enthusiastic 70-something volunteer ready to read—and no other children or parents at all.
Can you say, “mixed blessing,” boys and girls? I loved the beautiful facility, and the fact that we could be ten minutes late and still get in, but the event didn’t prove to be the social outlet I had hoped it might, either for me or for my son. Where, I wondered, was the Berkshire equivalent of the playground near our old city condo? No matter what time of day you wandered over, there’d always be three or four kids bopping around, and parents eager—maybe even desperate—to talk to anyone who could speak in full sentences.
Answering that question is one challenge of living in the Berkshires, especially for those who have relocated here from an urban area. While many of the region’s renowned cultural offerings have great programs for kids, finding spontaneous social fun—the kind that requires little planning, doesn’t cost a fortune, and offers easy escape hatches in the event of a meltdown—is harder. “There is a lot to do if you like hiking and gardening and chilling out with the kids in the backyard,” says Sara Paul, a Hinsdale mother of two who previously lived in New York City. “Finding a place to go to where there are activities and other parents to talk to” is harder, she has realized.
As far as finding casual places to interact with other parents and kids, Community Health Programs (communityhealthprograms.org) offers a slew of options. The South County program’s Family Support Network runs free drop-in weekly playgroups for kids, from infancy to age five, in Otis, Becket, New Marlborough, Great Barrington, Sheffield, West Stockbridge, and Lenox. There are no sign-ups and no charge—a real blessing for anyone who has ever had elaborate plans derailed by a missed nap. The CHP playgroup schedule, posted on the website, changes in summer but is still active throughout the county—just make sure you’re looking at the summer schedule and not the school-year one. The Friday morning “Skip and Dip” is always a lively event, held first in the gym and then in the pool at Berkshire South Regional Community Center in Great Barrington (berkshiresouth.org). The center’s website is another great resource for families with kids.
As the weather warms up, some village playgrounds in the Berkshires are mysteriously empty while others are destination points for parents and their little ones. Check out Stockbridge playground, right behind Town Hall near the intersection of Routes 7 and 102, which has nice options for a range of ages and is oftentimes well-populated. It also has some shady spots that are good for a picnic, and you’re walking distance to several tasty lunch venues. Some friends also recommend the playground at the Lenox Community Center at 65 Walker Street for similar reasons.
A North County friend says that when she wants a place to entertain her young kids and find some other adults on a nice day, she heads to Whitney’s Farm (whitneysfarm.com) in Cheshire, where little ones can pet the animals. Pinegrove Park, right in the center of Dalton, is also a popular choice among families north of the Mass Pike. It offers two playground structures, one for kids under six and one for ages seven to 13, as well as a concession stand and athletic facilities.
For not-so-beautiful days, the Riverbend Café on Route 7 near Price Chopper in Great Barrington has a small play area for kids with books and toys—not to mention delicious sandwiches. The Scoop in Lenox (scooplenox.com) also tends to be a good place for casual encounters with other families. One friend says she takes her kids there partly for the ice cream and partly because she’s sure she’ll bump into someone she knows.
And that is one pleasure of the Berkshires. You rarely see madding crowds of people here, but after a little while you’re certain to recognize most of the faces you do see.
Alison Lobron, director of the Berkshire Writing Workshop at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, has a 22-month-old son and moved to Great Barrington a year ago. If you have a favorite spot where you like to take your little one, email it to us or post on Berkshire Magazine’s Facebook page.