Visiting Longwood Gardens with Kids (and special needs)
I was recently invited to become a Star Blogger for Longwood Gardens. Not only do I just love Longwood Gardens, but my little guy is now at an age where it will be fun for us to attend as a family. A few Thursdays ago, I went to a special evening just for bloggers to see this year’s holiday display. I was full of questions because all families should enjoy this spectacular event. And I know we all have apprehensions.
- Will there be food there for him to eat?
- Where can I take him to the bathroom?
- How far will we have to walk?
- Should I take a stroller/wheelchair or not?
- What’s the noise level like?
Well, here you go, I’ve assembled as much information as I could to help everyone have a nice time.
Best Time to Visit Longwood Gardens
For the Christmas event, if you can, go either on Tue/Wed/Thurs and try to arrive around 2 or 2:30. Plan to leave at dusk. Because we have shorter days this time of year, the lights start to come on around 3. This is also a very quiet time as most of the morning groups have left and the evening rush hasn’t started. Weekends are the most crowded and it costs more per person. You may want to consider purchasing a Longwood Gardens Membership because Mondays there are “Members Only Mondays.”
I’m a fan of taking my kid out of school for legitimate family and educational opportunities, and for me, this qualifies as one. There is a timed entrance, so make sure you buy a ticket online beforehand. The week between Christmas and New Years is also very crowded. For PA Access members, this is a PA Access activity. That means your disabled child + 3 guests can get in for $2 each.
For other times of the year, it just varies. The Fireworks and Fountains shows (summer) always sell out. The Pumpkin Patch and Mums Festival are beautiful and get crowded as well. So does the bulb event. I would aim for an off-travel time, which is almost always Tues/Wed and not weekends.
Here is a list of items that I focus on when we travel. Use this if you are going to fill out one of those forms for your school for “educational travel.”
- Applying already acquired skills across all environments.
- Speech-mimicking sounds, trying new vocalizations in pronouncing new words.
- Literacy-reading program brochures, flyers, maps, signs, as appropriate.
- Math-as appropriate-money involved, counting, matching.
- Sensory & Textures-touching new things, tasting new things.
- Joint attention-viewing things or exhibits together.
- Social skills-waiting in line, waiting your turn, how to respect the personal space of others.
- PT-walking across uneven surfaces, inclines & declines, stairs, increasing endurance.
- OT-your child can practice fine motor skills just about anywhere, many places have fun activities for kids.
Is Longwood Gardens crowded?
Much of this is listed above in the “when to go” section. Just know that while not impossible, if you go on a weekend during the holidays, it will be very crowded with much waiting in line. I heard once that Mothers’ Day is actually their busiest day of the year. Not sure if that statistic is still true.
Handicapped Parking and Wheelchairs
There was plenty of handicapped parking very close to the entrance. They also have wheelchairs to use if you need them. During busier times, I would look online to reserve one if you need it. I have seen them run out of them.
If your child is noise sensitive, the only concern I would have would be crowds and the noise and activity associated with bunches of people around. There are daily concerts during the holidays, but you do not have to view them. If there is some particular noise or instrument that bothers your child, check the holiday concert schedule beforehand to avoid it.
Most children I know with special needs love music, so I would go out of my way to find one that is enjoyable for them. Since Longwood Gardens is so large, there are corners and benches and places that you can walk off to for some quiet time.
The Conservatory has about four or five family restrooms. They are huge with a changing area. Again, my only concern would be the crowds and waiting in line, so try to go when it’s not crowded.
Textures/ Children’s Garden
Some children with special needs really want to avoid textures of leaves and plants. And others may enjoy them a bit too much if you know what I mean. You are able to get very close to all the flowers and plants, so your child may require extra supervision. My little guy just loves to brush his hands over flowers and plants and branches, and I would be mortified if he ruined one of the displays! There is a children’s garden where there are things for them to touch.
Be forewarned that the Children’s Gardens has water play areas. Lots of them. The first time we visited this section with them, it was MLK day. Yes, a cold January day and Kevin’s clothing was soaking wet.
Longwood Gardens has soft lighting in almost every area we went to. Unless it was particularly bright outside, a light-sensitive child shouldn’t have any problems. However, if your child needs very bright light to see and navigate well, they may need extra assistance, particularly in their buildings. The walkways and paths are not all necessarily smooth and flat, and some are concrete or paved and not very colorful. It can be difficult to discern when a walking surface is going to change. There are plenty of wide ramps and walkways.
Depending on which display you are viewing, many of them have very rich colors which I know will be appealing to my little guy.
They also have an outdoor Pumpkin Patch Play area in the fall.
Food/Dining at Longwood Gardens
There is a cafeteria style place to eat as well as a formal sit down restaurant. When I inquired as to special diets, restrictions and nutritional information for families living with Diabetes, this is what I was told. I am copying and pasting what was emailed to me:
- We have made conscious changes to our menus over the past year—more and more guest have dietary restrictions. These foods are labeled as such.
- At Longwood Gardens, we strive to always have options for Gluten-free, vegan or vegetarian, Lactose intolerant. If foods have nuts in them they are labeled. Although we recommend asking because we are not a nut-free facility.
- Nutritional information is not available at this time, although our company is developing programs and tested menus to work towards this. We are not quite there at the time, also not sure if we will adapt to this system as it reduces options.
- The café gets thousands of visitors each month, and we really strive to of options for all allergies, dietary restrictions. Café staff is always willing to provide special meals/preparations if desired. A little bit of heads up is appreciated.
- 1906 menus are broken down by the chef: does it contain flour, animal products, dairy etc, also; how can it be modified to suit the needs of the particular guest. We are happy to accommodate where we can.
So there you go, now you know!
The only question I forgot to ask was about kids who travel with either a nurse or TSS and admission for them. So please call before you go and inquire.
This was originally published in 2012 but was updated to edit and fix links.