Looking for ideas for what to do with your kids when schools are closed for special days off in Howard County during the 2019 – 2020 school year?
Here are a few of the organizations that I know of that can provide care and learning during days off such as spring break, fall break, teacher in-service days, and other days off during the school year.
Howard County Conservancy – [2021-2022 registrations are open] Great camps my kids really enjoy these. Beautiful locations in Elkridge and Woodstock. For example, this year, on the break for September 30, 2019, they have a reasonably priced called “Gardens Galore” that seems like loads of fun!.
Club Science Kids – [2021-2022 registrations are open via Howard County Recreation and Parks] I love these camps and so do my kids. Great organization. Your child is going to have a great time and they will learn some STEM! Camps are located in various places including the Maryland International School in Elkridge.
Active Kids Camp – [2021-2022 registrations are open] They have a variety of sports camps. You may need to look around their site for this year’s camps.
Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts – Located on Dobbin Road, this venue has after school programs and camps for middle and elementary schoolers.
Howard County Schools – Howard County Schools may offer sports camps on days school is closed. Check their website for schedules and locations.
Silver Knights Chess and Programming Camps – They offer camps during Spring Break only in Howard County (last year at the Roger Carter Center in Ellicott City). Check the link above to see if they have added any local day off camp programs as they have them in some locations.
It’s easy to go to the usual suspect restaurants such as Friday’s and Red Robin, but there are other great restaurants that you and your kids may enjoy. Below find a few of the favorites my family enjoys.
Cava Grill (Columbia) – This is currently my favorite fast-casual restaurant. They offer Greek food Chipotle-style. You and your family get a healthy meal and they have great beverages such as cucumber mint or rosemary blackberry.
If the line is long, don’t worry, it moves fairly quickly and even if you have to wait 10 minutes or so, it’s worth the wait. Kid’s meals are available. It may be a small stretch for some kids to enjoy the food here, but it’s fresh, delicious, and high quality.
Check out the menu and location. There are several other options in that shopping center just in case (Noodles and Company, Chipotle, Modern Market, and Jimmy Johns).
Chipotle (Columbia) – I always enjoy a meal at Chipotle. If your kids like Mexican food, especially burritos or quesadillas, they’ll like it here. Conveniently located right next door to Cava Grill off of Dobbin Road in Columbia.
Cheesecake Factory (Columbia) – Aside from the obvious desserts, there are some healthy options here. Kids enjoy the atmosphere and love checking out the cheesecake case and whip cream dispenser behind the counter.
Noodles and Company (Columbia) – If you’re feeling like pasta, this is a great choice. Also in the same shopping center as Cava Grill and Chipotle.
Jason’s Deli (Columbia)- I like the menu at this restaurant in Columbia. There is plenty of good quality food and even a salad bar. I always enjoy going here and my kids do too. The fact that they offer free soft-serve ice cream cones is a fantastic bonus.
Uma Uma (Ellicott City) – We enjoy Ramen Noodle Night at home, and certainly do like to go out to a restaurant that adds an authentic experience. Really the only thing on the menu here is variations of Ramen Noodle soup, and there isn’t really a kid’s menu, AND you won’t find much in the way of your typical dessert items either, but still a great experience.
Having said that, I’d have to warn you that this could be a bit risky with some kids. The food here is different, and your child at least needs to like soup with noodles to like this place!
Eggspectation (Ellicott City) – Lots of great food here including healthy smoothies and foods. Definitely more than just breakfast though. Open for dinner. Check for a Groupon.
Great Sage (Clarksville) – Get your vegan on. Nice atmosphere for kids and families. Great menu. Nice staff.
Seasons 52 (Columbia) – Upscale. Great food quality in a cosy atmosphere. Good for older kids. Might be “too much” for younger kids. The dessert’s here are terrific. I recommend the pecan pie glass.
Maggiano’s Little Italy (Columbia) – Upscale Italian. Nice atmosphere, decent kids menu (provided your kids like pasta). Sometimes they even have classes for kids on Saturday mornings.
Silver Diner (Columbia or Greenbelt) – Silver Diner has been around the Maryland-DC-VA area for decades. And lucky for us, they finally have a Columbia, MD location near the Costco and Lowe’s. Silver Dinner offers a great farm-fresh menu and has some more unusual options for kid’s meals. In my opinion, they have one of the best kid’s menus of all… and it is a fun, traditional diner atmosphere.
Bonus 1: Toby’s Dinner Theatre – This can be a great experience for kids, depending what’s playing. They change the offering regularly, so if the show isn’t specifically a kid’s show, your best bet would be to “Google” it to see what other parents are saying. The food at Toby’s is “okay” buffet food. It’s underwhelming to say the least, and I’ve never felt the urge to go back for 2nds. That said, this can be fun and enriching.
Bonus 2: The Meadows Custard – This is a well kept secret in Hickory Ridge. Amazing custard and Italian Ice. Better than competitors. Highly recommended.
Looking for great educational gifts for kids? See my list of over 70 handpicked gift ideas for birthdays, Christmas, and Hanukkah.
This is my two part review of Lifetime Fitness/Lifetime Athletics ( click here to view part 2 ). Although this is a review of Lifetime Fitness (recently renamed to Lifetime Athletics) in Columbia Maryland, much of it applies to most of the Lifetime Athletics/Life Time Fitness Clubs in the USA and Canada.
I will try to give you my best assessment in a fair, honest way. I also mention some alternatives to Lifetime Fitness in the Columbia area at the end of this review. tl;dr: If you don’t have time to read the entirety of this review, I have bolded the good things about the gym and some of the other reasons you may want to avoid it below along with this executive summary:
Wide variety of group classes including kickboxing, yoga, hip-hop, weight training, and tabata. Great instructors.
Pools, climbing wall, racquetball courts.
Nice locker rooms.
Towels, shampoo, conditioner, mouthwash, shaving supplies, and soap supplied.
Upscale environment (this is somewhat dependent on club level-when you sign up for a membership, you’re also signing up for a membership level that admits you into clubs that are of that level or below–more on this later! The important thing to note is that some clubs are more luxurious than others. Some of their facilities even have doctors and physical therapists to coordinate with the personal trainers.)
Sometimes high-pressure sales tactics used on new members and guests of current members.
Dues are frequently increased (I have seen them raised more than once per year). Specific prices listed below.
No outside food or drinks allowed in the gym or at the pool, aside from water.
Monthly dues are very high compared to other clubs.
The gym gets crowded on weekday evenings–you may have to wait in line to use equipment. This is especially so just after new years.
Occasional long/slow lines to get into the gym and more frequently to drop kids off in the child center. I have spent as long as five minutes waiting in line to get into the gym and/or drop my kids off.
Class formats may change or can be randomly canceled and classes often fill to capacity week after week.
The climbing wall is not open at slower times of the day.
Unreliable notifications about pool closures or canceled classes.
You must pay extra for some group classes
Lifetime Fitness Club Overview
Lifetime Fitness provides an adequate experience for families with children as well as all of their members Although it is pricey (about $90/month for one single membership, about $200/month for a couples membership plus two kids–each child (13 and under) is about $15/month extra-there are also student rates available for college students–a discount of about $10/month), if it is in reach for you then you might consider joining–but please read below for more information about the club .
There is a 14 day trial membership period, so you can try it out for a couple of weeks before you join–and they seem more than willing to let you come in as a guest for a day without much in the way of formal paperwork. There are definitely some good things and some bad things about this gym .
If you decide to join, tell them I referred you (Eron Cohen) , even if you’re not joining in Maryland . By the way, they regularly have new membership promotions, for instance they often give the people who are signing up for a new membership AND the person who referred the new member some extras–so it is often better to be referred by someone than not to be — see below.
First a bit about Lifetime Fitness:
Lifetime Fitness (NYSE: LTM ) is a chain of over 100 gyms across the USA and Canada.
They are based in Minnesota and were founded in 1992.
The experience from place to place seems to be generally consistent judging by the reviews left about other locations and the amenities available, but note that not all locations have all the same features (ie- some locations do not have a pool or a climbing wall).
My Review of Lifetime Fitness As a four year member of Lifetime Fitness , my observations and comments are relatively informed. I have a family membership that allows me, my wife, and two young children (age 8 and 10) to use the gym as often as we like.
General Comments Being at Lifetime Fitness can be a nice experience–especially in the summer when the outdoor pool is open. A few thoughts:
The place is vibrant, fairly clean and makes you want to get in shape.
The facilities are modern and they are kept up with frequent refurbishments and remodeling–most recently there was a major renovation in September 2013.
Clean towels are provided for the pool and showers.
There are plenty of lockers available.
The staff that I have gotten to know are generally friendly and helpful.
The gym is open 24/7
There is plenty of parking on site (although many times the place is so crowded that you may have to park pretty far from the door, especially during the summer months–I consider this part of the exercise though.)
I have read other reviews that have said things to the effect that the place has “gone downhill”. I would say that either it started out better than it is now, or that they have since solved some of the problems that caused those complaints. Don’t get me wrong, this gym isn’t perfect, but it is better than that:
Complaints about Lifetime Fitness seem to mostly center around advertising and membership policy issues.
You may also want to glance over what’s being said recently on Ripoff Report .
Price of Lifetime Fitness and Joining the Gym in Columbia, MD
We are members of an Onyx level club (second best) and we pay about $161/month for the family membership ( dues are raised frequently )–this price is no longer available since they’ve raised dues for new members–couples who join now would pay at least $180, plus junior memberships. I was told back on 6/19/2014 that single memberships are $110/month. There is a “start-up fee” which ranges for $20-200 depending on what kind of special offers or promotions you might be able to garner (again, if you come in as a referral they may reduce this fee–so tell them I referred you). Personal training at this gym costs about $70/hour as of 9/1/2016.
A Note About Lifetime Fitness Club Levels/Membership Levels
The club levels of Lifetime Fitness clubs indicate the types of amenities you can expect. In order of best to worst, the club levels are:
If you happen to be in a market that has a diamond level club, expect to pay more…quite a bit more. I am told (thanks cGott42 who commented below) that you will pay $160 for a diamond level monthly membership and $340/month for a family of 4. Note that you will only be able to use your membership in a club that is at your membership level or below. I believe diamond clubs are only available in New York, California and Las Vegas.
Whichever club you join, you will have a month-to-month contract that you can cancel at any time, but when you cancel you have to pay for the next month –in other words, you have to give them a month’s notice and pay for an additional month from there. Some important things to know about this are:
This applies to any paid kid’s classes or swim lessons you sign up for. So if you’re kids are taking karate class there, and you cancel, you’re going to pay for the following month of classes. If you decide to start taking the classes again, your price is going to jump to the current monthly fee.
You also have the option of “pausing” your membership for a small monthly fee–I believe it is $19/month–the caveat, I am told, is that if you DO pause a membership, when you unpause it, you will resume your membership at current rates for membership & classes . So if you were getting your membership or classes at a lower, grandfathered rate, they will shoot to their current levels when you unpause–and given the frequent increases, this could be a big difference.
In the first year that were members dues were raised three times (!). The first time was for the primary couples membership which we didn’t have to pay because they told us our dues were frozen until 2014 when we signed up as a referral. But the second increase we DID have the pay–they raised the cost of junior memberships. I complained and they said that junior dues are separate and were not frozen. This was sneaky of them and definitely an indication of below board policies on their part–it definitely did not reflect what their salesman told me when I signed up for membership .
They also have this promotional gimmick called “lifetime bucks”. When you join you’ll be granted some number of lifetime bucks which you can spend on all sorts of gear, yoga workshops, personal training or even classes like swimming or karate (sorry, you can’t use them toward your membership dues).
If you refer people who join Lifetime you’ll be given additional bucks. And BTW it seems that the people who are referred are also given additional perks–so if you do decide to join and don’t know any other members, tell them I sent you. In our case, since we were referred, we got additional lifetime bucks and our “dues are frozen” (see above for why this was a misleading promotion ) for 2 years.
I’ve been using my lifetime bucks to pay for swimming lessons for my kids. So if you do get a promotional rate or use a referral, be sure to get the offer in writing and carefully monitor your bill to be sure you get what you’ve been promised.
When I signed up, they made the process easy with not much pressure (the pressure comes later-see below). This was welcomed because I have had experiences in the past where you feel like you’re working with a used car salesman when you just want to sign up for a gym. The salesmen I worked with did contact me a few times while I was thinking of joining, but otherwise, I didn’t feel he was being pushy.
Having said that, when you join they will probably ask to set you up to speak with a personal trainer about the various upgrade offerings of Lifetime Fitness. They do this under the guise that they want to get your baseline measurements and weight, etc. But, basically it’s their chance to sell you some (overpriced) add-ons which you may or may not want (personal training, vitamins, protein supplements, heart monitors, etc). If you are interested in personal training, I’d definitely say take them up on that meeting, but otherwise, don’t bother — they use high-pressure sales tactics for these sessions and you’ll be able to get what you need when you decide you need it.
If you read the employee reviews of what it is like to work at Lifetime Fitness – a few of the cite pressure and sales tactics as a reason they do NOT like working there. At this meeting, I definitely DID feel like I was with a used car salesman – and again, plenty of other reviews mention high pressure at the initial meeting with the Lifetime Athletics salesperson.
One thing I can say about paying for a pricey gym membership is that it gives me one more reason to keep using it. If it was alot cheaper it would be easier to let it go. Having said that be sure and consider the Columbia Association if you live in the Columbia, MD area (see below). If you’ve read my review and still want to join, even the sales pressure won’t matter much because you probably already decided to join anyway.
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.
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.