Family Fun With a Twist

A Kansas City, KS staycation features education and entertainment

By Erin Barnes

With three active sons and a free Saturday, I took it upon myself to formulate a plan for a Saturday staycation. Kansas City is rich with history, beauty, parks, museums, cultures and customs. After a little research online, I had my line-up. I knew that everything would appeal to my sons—ages 10, 8 and 6. I was also on a mission to get my husband, Trevor, and children to learn to love bicycling—a recent hobby I myself had taken up.

Hiking, Biking, and Rock Skipping

We woke up early on a Saturday morning, squeezed the boys’ bikes in the trunk of our mini-van, secured the adult bikes on a borrowed bike rack and headed north towards the city.  Knowing all too well that Cole, Adam and Blake would sprint around in a quick pre-tour of the park, I sent Trevor after them while I unloaded the bikes.  We reconvened in the parking lot and listened to the pleas of our children, as they were desperate to explore the river’s rocky embankment.  We walked our bikes close to the water’s edge, where Trevor attempted to teach the boys how to skip rocks.  Their delighted laughter as they practiced was a great start to our morning. Once they got the hang of releasing the rock from their hands at just the right moment, it became a contest to see who could get the most skips. It turned out to be an even tie amongst everyone with one bounce each. 

Competition complete, we grabbed our bikes and after a small debate, decided my husband would walk the gravel trails with our youngest, Blake, while I cycled with the Cole and Adam.  We found Bird-Woman Trail and took off, the three of us stopping occasionally to read the trail markers featuring historical information about the area; this was where the Lewis & Clark Expedition set up camp, at Kaw Point, where the Missouri and Kansas Rivers meet.  With a family of competitive boys, we made a game of the ride and raced each other to the next (usually larger) tree, racing down the trails as quickly as we could before turning back.  The bike ride back was slower, and I encouraged the boys to stop, park their bikes in the trees and explore the woods a bit. 

We ran into my husband and Blake on the ride back and to my complete and utter surprise, they were both on bikes, sans training wheels; you couldn’t have wiped the smile off Blake’s face if you tried!   Trevor was beaming with pride as he caught my eye while Blake described the harrowing tale of bravely learning how to ride his bike without training wheels, Cole and Adam congratulated him enthusiastically and tried to get him to mimic their moves and tricks. They were patient and encouraging, and it was a sweet moment of brotherly love.  After kicking up some gravel and dirt, we were ready for a change of pace and headed back to the car to grab our picnic basket and scout out a good spot to rest and re-fuel.   

We grabbed our picnic basket and strolled along the boardwalk to find a perfect spot for a family picnic. Our chosen spot overlooked both the Kansas and Missouri Rivers, and I unpacked salami, cheese and crackers as the boys laughed about their bicycle escapades.

“What do you think about coming back in July?” I asked Trevor. “The boys will want to see Missouri 340 Race—paddlers travel 340 miles from Kansas City to St. Charles, MO!”

“Perfect. And we could definitely make time for a family biking expedition, too!” smiled Trevor.

History lesson

After lunch, we headed to the nearby Old Quindaro Museum, dedicated to African-American history in the Kansas City area. I had called ahead to schedule a guided tour and I am so glad I did; I had a lump in my throat as the tour guides told us stories of ancestors discriminated against and having rights taken away because of their skin color. We discussed civil rights and the historical significance of the civil war with the boys. It’s a difficult subject, but my husband and I felt it was important for the boys to truly feel the impact of the history. Kansas isn’t just a flat state with lots of prairie grasses; it is a state with rich history and civil rights that we can proud of.

As a photographer, I loved seeing the portraits covering every square inch of the museum’s walls, how my sons studied individual features, the varying clothing, and the condition of their hair. The stories of the people posted on the walls inspired compassion, as Adam commented on how “unfair that was—to be treated that way, just because their skin was a different color.” Blake spoke of how brave those men must have been—and “how smart they were to want to go to college,” his eyebrows raised with righteous indignation and respect. I could not only see the empathy in the eyes of my boys, but the awe in their voices.

Visiting the County Museum

The next day we headed to the Wyandotte County Museum, where we saw Native American artifacts from the Kanza tribe. We covered another great history lesson with our sons as we discussed what life must have been like without modern conveniences, what it was like for tribes to immigrate from place to place and how incredibly resourceful these tribes were. Highlights for the boys were the mid-1800s dugout canoe, the Conley Sisters double-barrel shotgun and the tool chest belonging to James Parr.

Moving to more recent history, Blake decided he wants to be a fireman after gazing longingly at the Museum’s authentic Steam Pumper Fire Engine. After perusing the World War II displays from a bomber plant and a one-room schoolhouse, Cole pointed out how much he likes that the classes in his school are in different rooms. The 4pm closure gave us plenty of time for our fun dinner.

Dino dinner

With minds reeling from a wealth of information and visual stimulation, we headed down the street to the T-Rex Café to sit down and get some food in our bellies. This quickly turned into a contest of who knew the most about which dinosaurs, while my husband and I sat back to contemplate that we are, in fact, no longer smarter than fourth graders. While my sons’ taste buds called for Prehistoric Pepperoni Pizza, my husband and I dug into layers of the Earth Lasagna.

After a long, action-and-academia packed day, we were ready to take our full bellies and opened minds home for some much-needed rest. That night, as Trevor and I said goodnight to our sons, my eyes welled up with tears when Adam and Blake asked if we could “do it again tomorrow” and Cole responded to our “I love yous” with a sincere and genuine “I love you, too.” Cole came into our room later and asked my husband, “Hey Dad, is it cool if we go biking again next week?” Of course my husband said yes. This weekend staycation was definitely a success.

Check out Kansas City, KS attractions for family fun with a twist!