//Starting Small in Shaker

Starting Small in Shaker

There are plenty of diversions for the under-five crowd, in town and within short distances.

By Jennifer Kuhel

Child with fingerpaint

There’s rarely an easy response to a preschooler’s favorite question: Why?

But when Shaker’s wide-eyed small fry ask the runner-up of daily queries, “Where are we going today?” rest assured, parents and caretakers don’t have to noodle too long for an answer.

Showing a tot a good time isn’t hard to do when your home base is Shaker Heights. Entertainment is never more than a short walk, bike, car, or Rapid ride from your front door. Some of the leading reasons why people want to live in Shaker Heights – the City’s natural beauty, walkability, and proximity – work out pretty well for the little ones, too.

So whether your Johnny or Janey is an adventurer, an artist, a musician, an explorer, a digger, a thinker, a quiet timer, a rough-and-tumble whippersnapper, or any combination of the above, there’s plenty to do in and around Shaker to keep even the most discriminating child engaged. What’s more, you won’t have to break the bank to have an outing that keeps everyone happy. In fact, many things are free.

Energy to Burn? Curiosity to Quell? Walk It Out

Shaker resident Mary D’Souza has been a caretaker of young children – many of whom are preschoolers – in the Fernway neighborhood for 30 years. Any day, any weather, D’Souza walks the sidewalks, with a waist-high child by her side or pushing a double stroller.

“I feel children should know their space. It’s important for them to be able to walk around the block and to know their surroundings,” explains D’Souza. “If they’re pushing the button and watching the traffic light, that’s learning. Every day, they’re learning.”

Lucky for Shaker’s youngest residents, there are more than 200 miles of sidewalk on which to walk and learn. And many of those sidewalks lead to some of Shaker’s most popular walkable destinations for small children.

Take It Outside map

Click on the image to get a PDF of the Take It Outside map, which features the City’s playgrounds and other pre-school friendly locales.

From Mercer to Moreland, there’s a playground within walking distance of every Shaker home. Each Shaker elementary school is equipped with one, and the City also maintains nine public playgrounds.

These are:

  • AROUND THE WORLD PLAYGROUND (adjacent to the Main Library) – Open April to October to toddlers to age 12.

  • CHELTON PARK (Chelton and Hampstead Roads) – Play area for children ages two to 12. Outdoor family movie night is a summer feature.

  • GRIDLEY TRIANGLE (Lomond Boulevard and Gridley Road) – Play area for toddlers to five-year-olds.

  • HORSESHOE LAKE PARK (Park Drive off South Park Drive) – Play area for children ages two to 12.

  • LUDLOW (behind school at Southington and Keswick roads) – Play area for children ages five to 12.

  • MENLO TOT LOT (Menlo Road near Scottsdale Boulevard) – Play area for children ages five to 12.

  • SUSSEX (Shaker Family Connections – Lomond Boulevard and Norwood Road) – Play area for children ages two to 12.

  • THORNTON PARK (3301 Warrensville Center Road) – Play area for children ages two to 12.

  • WINSLOW (Winslow and Ingleside roads) – Play area for children ages five to 12.

Shaker’s libraries and the Shaker Family Center are also easy-to-get-to destinations.

Shaker Heights Public Library, shakerlibrary.org/kids

Main Library, 16500 Van Aken Boulevard, 216-991-2030. Weekly storytimes for preschool-age children, and Shaker Library Play and Learn Station for children birth to five on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. See the website for a calendar of scheduled storytimes.

Bertram Woods Library, 20600 Fayette Road, 216-991-2421. Weekly storytimes for preschool-age children, and occasional Pajama Stories, a bedtime story event for children at night. Call the Library for more details or visit the Shaker Public Library website for a calendar of children’s events.

Shaker Family Center, 19824 Sussex Road, 216-921-2023 familyconnections1.org.

Offers a variety of drop-in programming, including Saturday Open Gym (check website for details). Malvern resident Carisa Tilton calls the Saturday Open Gym at the Family Center “amazing” for her active three-year-old, Owen. “It’s fantastic,” Tilton says, especially when the weather is cold. “It’s just this huge room with trikes and space for him to run around. It’s fantastic. There aren’t many towns that offer an open gym. That’s a real bonus for sure.”

Cruise Shaker On Two (or More) Wheels

Warmer days and shorter nights are the perfect time to channel your youngster’s inner cyclist.

The Shaker Median Bike Trail offers a safe, paved surface for wobbly and confident riders alike. And when little legs tire, have a rest at one of the trail’s shaded, peaceful benches. For a longer ride, venture on the trail through Beachwood, where you can stop for water and a bathroom break or enjoy a packed lunch at the covered shelter east of the park’s Sulgrave Road entrance.

High-energy preschoolers can’t beat the benefits of Horseshoe Lake Park, where they can ride a bike or scooter on the park’s perimeter paved trail and skip rocks and swing at the playground and climb the spider web structure and hike through the woods and hit the restrooms (which are open May through September only, keep in mind). Budding paleontologists can search for the park’s faux-sils on the climbing rock or quietly read a book in the treehouse.

Children playing on the spider web structure at Shaker's Horseshoe Lake Park.

Spider web structure at Horseshoe Lake Park.

“It’s a great place to go and bring a picnic because it’s such a beautiful space,” says Kristin Koenigsberger, a Shaker resident and intervention specialist at the Onaway preschool. She’s also a mom to three children, the youngest of whom is a preschooler.

Stronger, two-wheel-riding preschoolers can try a short beginner’s trail ride around The Lower Shaker Lake, where parking is available at the entrance near the intersection of Coventry Road and South Park Boulevard. Much of the trail surrounding the lake is either paved asphalt or sidewalk, but part of the trail on the park’s Brook Road side is a dirt path that follows the lake. For young ones, the path is the perfect distance to sample the thrill of going off-road.

One of summer’s most popular bike-to spots is Thornton Park, 3301 Warrensville Center Road, where youngsters can work up a sweat on the way to enjoying the cooling waters of the Tot Pool, designed just for the preschool crowd.

Visit the City’s Bikes and Hikes page to learn more.

Getting There is (More than Half) the Fun

Most children in Shaker have a Rapid stop within walking distance of their homes. And if they can’t always see the trains ferrying passengers to and from downtown and points west, they can’t resist the ding-ding! or the toot! of a train passing through an intersection.

Carisa Tilton and her husband, Chip, have planned family outings just to take advantage of the Rapid, which is only a block and a half from their home. “We wanted to go on the Rapid just to do the Rapid thing. We’ve taken the train and had breakfast at Yours Truly at Shaker Square, which is the best place for little kids, especially since they have the train table,” she says. The Tiltons have made a few trips to Shaker Square for breakfast; when the kids are older, Carissa looks forward to taking the family downtown via Rapid for baseball games.

Shaker residents can ride, walk, or drive with little ones to a Green or Blue Line Rapid stop and hop aboard. For young children, a simple change in transportation often can make just another trip to one of Shaker’s destinations an extraordinary one. Kids under six ride the Rapid free with a paying adult (up to three children per adult). Download the RTA app for e-ticketing.

Consider taking the Rapid to one of Shaker’s libraries. Or to Horseshoe Lake. Or to the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes, 2600 South Park Boulevard. Or for a sweet treat at Lucy’s Sweet Surrender, 20314 Chagrin Boulevard. Or to the Van Aken District at the end of the Blue Line.

Older preschoolers may have the stamina to ride beyond Shaker Heights and head downtown to take in the indoor dancing water fountain at Tower City or, during the summer months, the outdoor splash pad in Public Square. A red line transfer and a stop away from downtown are the West Side Market and Mitchell’s Ice Cream factory, 1867 West 25th Street. Children can enjoy a cone, sundae, or smoothie and get a close look at the process of making one of everyone’s favorite local frozen confections.

Too Close to Ask, “Are We There Yet?”

Onaway resident Jen Deshpande remembers when she and her husband, Aneet, moved to Shaker Heights from Chicago with their eldest two children, Ajay and Nina, then just preschoolers.

“We wanted something close to the city so that we could use and access all the things in the city,” she says. Eight years and one child later, Deshpande still takes advantage of Shaker’s proximity to University Circle for all of her kids, but especially for her youngest, Hannah, who is two. The family enjoys trips to the Museum of Natural History, The Cleveland Museum of Art, and Cleveland Botanical Garden. “If we lived farther out, I wouldn’t be taking our kids to the art museum at ten o’clock on a Saturday morning. Everything is so close that we do it more often.”

Head north on Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive and follow East 88th Street up the hill. At the top you’ll find the anchor of the Cleveland Cultural Gardens: Rockefeller Park Greenhouse, 750 East 88th Street. The greenhouse is open daily from 10-4 (holidays included) and is perfect for young ones, especially when temperatures take a dive. Spend 15 minutes or an hour walking the greenhouse paths to see cacti and other warm-weather plants. Parking and admission are free.

Just up Mayfield Road from University Circle, give preschoolers one of the best Eastside views of Cleveland and introduce a bit of U.S. history at the Lake View Cemetery Garfield Memorial, 12316 Euclid Avenue. Take the curved staircase to the castle-like memorial’s overlook and enjoy the quiet view of Lake Erie and downtown. Brave youngsters won’t want to miss out on walking down to the crypt, where President James A. Garfield and his wife are laid side-by-side in their caskets.

Straddling the border of Shaker Heights and Cleveland is Larchmere, a popular destination year-round for adults, but for kids, too. Loganberry Books, 13015 Larchmere Boulevard, offers a terrific selection of contemporary children’s books as well as used, well-maintained classics. It’s not uncommon to find youngsters browsing the shelves for their favorites while grown-ups reminiscence over some of the beloved titles from their own childhoods. On-street and side street parking is available just outside the store.

Each Thanksgiving, the Larchmere Holiday Stroll attracts adults with its eclectic mix of retailers and antique dealers, and youngsters with the promise of hot cocoa, face painting, balloons, and horse and buggy rides. In June, Larchmere Porchfest is the perfect way to enjoy the summer weather with children while listening and dancing to the music of 30 local musicians and bands.

Go Big or Go Home? In Shaker, Both!

Child blowing bubblesKristin Koenigsberger, intervention specialist at the Onaway preschool, says when it comes to preschoolers, keep it simple. “Just get outside.”

Her suggestions: Give your child a very small plot (a twelve-inch square is plenty) to dig and plant something small, or plan a scavenger hunt with items found outside the house. “Sometimes we overlook the possibilities in our own backyards because we’re so busy going somewhere else,” Koenigsberger says.

Of course, there are times when it’s good to go somewhere else. And at those times, parents and caretakers should keep in mind that quality trumps quantity. “You want a good hour, half-hour, or five minutes, as opposed to three hours at the Art Museum where everyone leaves crying and no one wants to go back.”

Her advice? Buy memberships. Or ask for them as gifts. “When you have a membership, you don’t feel the pressure of ‘Well, I paid for my admission, so now I have to stay for x-number of hours,” Koenigsberger says, adding that many of Cleveland’s museums have reciprocity with museums not just in Ohio, but across the country.

Koenigsberger says parents should seize any opportunity to build a child’s vocabulary through experience – whether that’s outside or at a museum. Her top picks to engage children and start building connections between their lives and the world around them:

HOLDEN ARBORETUM – Last fall, the Holden Arboretum joined forces with the Cleveland Botanical Garden so that now members of each institution enjoy privileges at both. “It’s only 25 minutes away and for children, it’s wonderful,” Koenigsberger says. “There’s a tree that children can actually crawl inside.”

THE HERSHEY’S CHILDREN’S GARDEN at the Cleveland Botanical Garden “in summer is fabulous. Children can lie on the deck and see frogs and fish bobbing out of the water. There’s a place for digging a planting. Inside, kids can enjoy the butterflies in the Rainforest,” says Koenigsberger.

THE NATURE CENTER AT SHAKER LAKES – “The hikes are short, but you feel like you’re in the woods and you feel like you’ve gone somewhere,” she says. “It’s preschool-sized and something they can accomplish. They feel like they’ve gone somewhere.”

GALLERY ONE, the Cleveland Museum of Art’s hands-on, child-friendly gallery, is “fabulous,” says Koenigsberger. “It acclimates children as to how to be a patron at the Art Museum. It’s a learned skill for kids to know that you can’t just run up and touch a picture. Gallery One makes it accessible for families and kids in a way that you don’t feel scared.”

Originally published in Shaker Life, Spring 2015.