7 Surprising Ways to Turn Traverse City into Your Kid’s Classroom


Take School on the Road With These Traverse City Kids Activities

How did school-on-the-road in Traverse City turn out?! Pretty flippin’ fantastic, actually. 

We held a snake this week, strolled in the middle of the street – on purpose, saw deer from a wagon ride (pulled by Chuckles and Hannah – the sweetest horse friends we’ve ever met), and ran through multiple sand dunes

COGnition-Hands-On-Museum-Boy-holding-a-snake. One of the great Traverse City kids activities.

I must admit, I did have a tiny bit of anxiety before we left, realizing we wouldn’t be near wifi until the evening.

I wondered, would we get their homework in on time? Would it turn into more of a mini-vaca rather than school on the road? And would the kids come back too exhausted for the following week of school at home? 

All of these questions were quickly answered.

The trip turned out to be surprisingly significant for our kids, full of learning, and we can’t wait to plan a few more mini-trips during this “intense” (insert whatever word you’ve been using to describe what we’ve all been going through) school year of 2020/21.

Traverse City Kids Activities = Physics, The Scientific Method, Math & Play-Based Learning

We’re all outside of the box with school this year. Every. Single. One of us. 

We’re trudging through new territory and many are trying to find ways to add to their kid’s learning experiences with enrichment opportunities.

My friend Melissa shared in her latest Lansing Family Fun review of John Ball Zoo how field trips are rich learning laboratories.

If school on the road isn’t on your list yet, here’s why it could be the star. 

Traverse City kids activities include Hiking-at-Old-Indian-Trail-Sleeping-Bear-Dunes-Boy-looking-at-native-bending-tree

We were surprised that there were so many things to do outdoors and one-to-one indoor activities. When we visited, downtown Traverse City was set up for socially distanced walkability with street art painted on the road. Even though front street is opened up for cars again, this time of year crouds are much less making it just as safe for walkability. Even their outdoor food truck court has capacities set and required masks. 



It was cool outside, a breeze swept through our hair, through the horses’ tails and across endless fields of crops as my hubby and I looked at each other thinking – who is this kid?! Our oldest was talking away to Susan on our wagon ride at Fantail Farm.

He asked SO MANY QUESTIONS and carried on a conversation with all of us the entire hour of wagon ride. We knew it was going to be a good trip, but we hadn’t realized how much information they would take in through the activities they experienced.

7 Different Learning Opps With These Traverse City Kids Activities

01) Play-Based Hands-on Learning

232 N Michigan Ave, Beulah, MI 49617

Don’t judge a museum by its cover. COGnition is like a Tiffany’s box – it’s small but packs a big punch! There’s a lot of things to touch and interact with, and my boys’ favorite part: live animals you can hold. 

Safety Precautions you can expect: You have to make a reservation for your family’s time slot. When we arrived, we were greeted by one staff member, Laura, who was wearing a mask, making this stop a one-to-one activity.

Everything is fair game at COGnition. Whatever your eyes see, you can touch and play with, making this place a wonderland for ME.

I’m laughing as I type this because my 5-year-old is just coming out of his “runner” phase but it’s still very hard to walk into a place full of really cool things and without him trying to touch everything. Here, he could. Cue weight on shoulders lifted from this momma!

There are stations set up with all kinds of play-based learning opportunities, like a faux campground with a fire and tent. There’s an art station,  Kinetic energy bikes, a sailor’s ship, and several more.


But the highlight of the day was meeting Sonic the Hedgehog. Well, that’s what my youngest called one of their two hedgehogs. For us, the animals were the big draw of COGnition.

There aren’t many places you can hold a snake, a hedgehog and turtles all in one day!

Yes, a snake! The kids were too nervous to hold it but they still pet the sweet slithering cutie pie. My husband and I held it and for a moment I forgot I was the parent and just a kid inside having such a cool experience two blocks from Crytal Lake.

Laura went on to explain that a summer camper once held the snake for most of the day. He was usually a very bouncy active boy and that the snake calmed him. I could see how it could be almost a type of therapy for some. You should try it!

Their play-based room kept our kids learning and entertained for hours and if we didn’t have a schedule to keep they probably could have stayed all day.


02) Physics, Engineering, Animal Care

Fantail Farm Wagon and Sleigh Rides
4700 Wallaker Rd, Benzonia, MI 49616

Safety Precautions you can expect: Reservations are required and made by family or group making this a one-to-one activity.

Our family is already planning a trip back to Faintail Farm this winter. We can’t wait to take their sleigh ride through the quiet snow-covered fields. Our chatty-Cathy kid will most likely have just as many questions on that trip too.


His questions led to learning about how the wagon breaks work, how the horses know when to stop, when to go, and how to slow down or speed up on a big hill.

My sons learned all about how the gears work together and how much weight can be pulled with this system in place (it’s 2000+ lbs if you’re curious).

All of this learning was immersed in our peaceful plod through the farm’s trails full of flowing trees and vast fields. 

The best part?! Watching the breathtaking sunset. The crisp air, watching our curious boy light up with questions, and time with our family made this adventure one for the books. Smiles all around for the Brooks fam. 

Oh and, see ya soon, Fantail! 


03) Science, Using the Scientific Method

Sleeping Bear Dunes Hikes and Beach

Old Indian Trail
4349 N Scenic Hwy, Honor, MI 49640

Peterson Road Beach
Peterson Rd, Honor, MI 49640

Ok let’s be real, we can hike anywhere –  we live in Michigan after all. But you guys, this hike…this hike you cannot do just anywhere

We all know Sleeping Bear Dunes is one of those bucket list items everyone should cross off at some point in life but doing this for our kids at such a young age and turning it into a learning opportunity?! Priceless. 


We are so spoiled as Michiganders. The miles and miles of lakeshore both West and East Coast are stunning. But Sleeping Bear Dunes really does take the cake

You can choose from many routes. Last year, my hubby and I took the Empire Bluff Trail and although we would have loved to get back there, we wanted to explore more of Sleeping Bear dunes as we slowly chip away at seeing all of them someday. 

Our kids had never been to the TC area before so this was really special. We chose Old Indian Trail and Peterson Road Beach and WOW. I’m trying to explain how freaking impressive it was without just saying the same words over and over – so here goes: 

Its hombre blues were like a gradient. It was an encounter. It was soul-nourishing. It was the bonding time our family needed so very much. And we didn’t want to leave. 

Here’s our list of questions we came up with after taking Old Indian Trail to mounds of what the kids called “HUGE DUNES!” We snickered a bit wondering what they would actually think of some of the other larger dunes.

  • What are the different types of frogs that live in Northern Michigan?
  • What are all the animals that live in dead trees?
  • What are the layers of birch trees?
  • How does fungus grow and why does it grow on some trees and not others?
  • What is the history of Sleeping Bear Dunes?
Learning-about-Birch-Trees-and-Bark Sleeping Bear Dunes

Here’s the list of questions we came up with after visiting Peterson Road Beach.

  • How many miles is it from Peterson Road Beach to Manitou Island?
  • When did the dirt road leading you to the beach come to pass?
  • What type of bird is it that runs quickly on the beach in groups?
  • Why do some beaches have bigger rocks on the shores and Sleeping Bear dunes have tiny round rocks?
Peterson-Road-Beach-Sleeping Bear Dunes kids-looking-for-skipping-stones-with-their-dad

I tell you these questions because the learning opportunities are endless! We could have come up with so many more questions to fit into whatever type of learning opportunity we were looking for. 

The hands-on, physical field trip type of learning is so amazing and is the kind that sticks! Study’s show that lasting learning happens when we’re having fun.  

04) Reading & Homework Accessibility

Crystal Mountain Condo
12500 Crystal Mountain Dr, Thompsonville, MI 49683

Staying at Crystal Mountain Resort brought a whole new level to learning on the go. After a long drive to TC, stepping into a perfectly appointed condo sets the tone. 

  • Table and chairs mean desks for completing homework, check! 
  • A full kitchen means healthy meals, check! 
  • The kids having their own room means enough sleep, check!
  • Restaurants and grocery store within walking distance, check!  
  • Plus, a living room and our own room means us parents get time to relax on our own timing – big mega check! Oh yeah, did I mention the fireplace?! Dreamy check!
Crystal-Mountain Resort Traverse City-Evergreen-Condos

05) Economics, Math, Geometry

Downtown Traverse City
Traverse City, MI 49686

Michigan Legacy Art Park
12500 Crystal Mountain Dr, Thompsonville, MI 49683

Let’s face it, when we go on trips the kids get excited to explore, and hope to bring home some sort of souvenir

We don’t always say yes to this but this trip posed a great opportunity for them to decide what was worth spending their allotted money on and if they could afford it or not. 

We loved exploring the Mercato in the Village at Traverse City Commons and of course, Toy Harbor.

It was really fun to see what they picked out and confidence in their choices.


I will say, this portion of the trip was fun for the kids but it was really on my must-do list because I couldn’t wait to see the murals, painted street, and art project that Downtown Traverse City and their Arts Council has going on through October 2020. 

But it went along so nicely with the schooling portion because seeing art can also be a great way to incorporate geometry

Mural Matics, based in Lansing, teaches kids geometry through murals and street art. We love to incorporate this on any of our drives as we see art pieces and Traverse City is not lacking!


06) Physical Education

Outdoor/Indoor Pools at Crystal Mountain
12500 Crystal Mountain Dr, Thompsonville, MI 49683

Biking The Tart Trail (We love renting from Brick Wheels)
736 E Eighth St, Traverse City, MI 49686 

Run the Maze at Jacob’s Farm TC
7100 East Traverse Hwy. (M-72 West) Traverse City, MI 49684

We can’t forget PE! Studies show doing something active can help solidify what you’ve learned.

After walking around downtown TC and a full day of rain, rain, rain and cold toes, we decided to throw in the towel on a few other things we had hoped to do (running the Jacobs Farm Corn maze, seeing the Labyrinth at Barns park, and biking the Tart Trail.) 

On a nonrainy day, the PE options are endless in Traverse City. On a rainy day, I imagine you could gear up for a bike ride or hike. 

I only wish we would have come prepared with waterproofing equipment for the kiddos. Note to self for next time! 


Thankfully, as we pulled into “home” at Crystal Mountain Resort the sun peaked out for just an hour. We checked to see if their outdoor pool was open and to our great surprise it was! 

We hurriedly donned our bathing suits and were able to swim for the entirety of the brief sunbath! 


07) Social-Emotional Learning

Emotional health is a hot topic in school right now.

My kids have this portion of study every day in their virtual classrooms. Their school really wants to ensure they are doing well and are able to express what they are going through in this unconventional school year.

Being the mom that’s doing “the most,” the downside can be that the kids won’t have enough opportunities to be social and interact in the real world. This is why we loved this school on the road opportunity. 


It gave the kids a way to break the norm for a bit, space to breathe deep and take in the wonder of nature, experience new things to talk about, and ask questions.

The long drive gave us ample time to talk with each other and listen to the things they need and have been pondering. 

And real talk – it did that for me and my husband too.

Peterson-Road-Beach Sleeping Bear Dunes Traverse City


Wait! I take it back, maybe you shouldn’t take your kids on a school on the road getaway. Every day my kids keep saying, “when can we go back to the condo?” Your kids may keep asking the same, too! 

Jokes aside, I think you’ll be surprised to see how much of an enriching experience it truly is like we were. Not just to the kids, for the whole family. Lots of needed bonding went down on this TC trip.

I mentioned above thinking “Will the kids be too exhausted to get back to their normal routines at home?” Turns out it wasn’t a factor at all. They wanted to go straight to sleep so they could get up on time and tell their friends about their trip.

Cheers to this crazy school year, parents, and maybe we’ll see ya on the road! 


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