Kids can't wait for summer. Parents, on the other hand....well, there are a lot of hours to fill until the fall. Even after camp, ESY and other summer programs for your kiddos, you are still going to have plenty of time left. Here are our recommendations for the top 5 safest and best summer activities for kids with special needs in New Jersey.

1. LAND OF MAKE BELIEVE in Hope, New Jersey

Land of Make Believe is one of those throwback amusement parks that has survived for the past 50 years not in spite of but because of it's hometown, hokey-as-heck, good old-fashioned amusement park-ness. It is fun for the entire family and super safe for our kids.

Unapologetically low-tech, the park features rides, shows, attractions, games, waterpark, and picnic area on over 30 acres. It sounds big, but it is actually quite small which is why it is perfect for children with special needs. Most of the rides are small. There is no pop music soundtrack piped throughout the park. (If they do pipe music in, I recall was something like "Old McDonald's Farm" sung by kids). They serve almost exclusively chicken nuggets and burgers with prices hovering around the $3 - $5 range - super affordable. There is a petting zoo and gold-mining area, a roller coaster, a wading pool, Tilt-A-Whirl, civil war locomotive, and hayride. The water slides are great with plenty of choices for children of every age. Warning: A few water slides are as big as any you would see at Hurricane Harbor, etc. so you might want to try them out yourself first (awesome!) before letting your child go down them. The park is wheelchair accessible. Go early to avoid the lines which can get a little long, but are manageable.

The Land of Make Believe is located in Hope, New Jersey, 60 miles west of New York City, and 10 miles east of the Delaware River just off Route 80, exit 12. 

2. SANDY HOOK BEACH in Highlands, New Jersey

The beauty of the Jersey Shore is that there is something for everyone, nature enthusiasts, boardwalk lovers, surfers...but our hands down favorite for special needs kids is Sandy Hook.  A short distance from NYC (the Seastreak offers visitors a high speed ferry to Sandy Hook from Manhattan), Sandy Hook is part of the Gateway Recreation Area so each beach is beautifully maintained (with a bring your trash/take your trash policy), affordable parking ($15 per car for parking), you can bring your own cooler or take advantage of their low key concessions (burgers and fries), and the waves are just right, not too big but not too small.  

Lifeguards are on duty from 10 am to 6 pm from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day at ocean side beaches. 

GPS address for Sandy Hook is 128 South Hartshorne Drive, Highlands, NJ 07732. 

3. ADVENTURE AQUARIUM in Camden, New Jersey

When it comes to accessibility, Adventure Aquarium in Camden gets an A+. In addition to the over 8,500 aquatic species, the largest collection of sharks on the East Coast, and the only great hammerhead shark on exhibit in the United States, Adventure Aquarium offers some great supports for special needs kids to make their day as sensory-friendly and fun as possible. Our favorites include:

Sound-Reducing Headphones - Sound-reducing headphones are available at the Information Desk and at the Member Services desk for free checkout on a first-come, first-served basis.

Weighted Blankets - Weighted blankets are available at the Information Desk and Member Services Desk for free checkout on a first come first serve basis. The blanket requires a $10 deposit that will be refunded upon return.

Behind the Scenes Shark Shack tour - Because the Shark Bridge attraction is an able-bodied experience, Adventure Aquarium offers guests the opportunity to come up close with a fully accessible, behind the scenes Shark Shack tour. During your visit, just ask an Adventure Aquarium team member at Shark Bridge for assistance.

Adventure Aquarium is located at 1 Riverside Drive in Camden, NJ 08103. Also check out their F.I.S.H (Family Inclusive Sensory Hours) event on August 4 where the entire day is devoted to special needs families with sensory guides, reduced sensory inputs and reduced rates for families.

4. SPACE FARMS in Wantage, New Jersey

Space Farms Zoo & Museum is a one-of-a-kind, you have to see it to believe it New Jersey treasure. Located in Wantage, NJ. Space Farms Zoo has over 500 live wild animals including lions, tigers, bears, leopards, jaguars, lemurs, buffalo, sheep, deer, goats, pigs, kangaroos, monkeys, llamas, hyenas, and snakes. The Space Farms Museum is home to many antique and classic American History artifacts including more than 50 antique cars and motorcycles, over 500 antique dolls and one of the largest collections of antique firearms in the United States. All due to the foresight of Ralph Space the founder of Space Farms, who collected items throughout his lifetime. 

With plenty of small animals to pet and feed (including daily "bottle feedings"), picnic tables and a quiet atmosphere, Space Farms is a lovely way to entertain young kids with special needs on a summer day.

Space Farms is located at 218 County Road 519, Sussex, NJ 07461.

5. DUKE FARMS in Hillsborough, New Jersey
 
Located in Hillsborough, NJ on a 2,740-acre property, Duke Farms is a quiet and beautiful place to bring the family to explore, ride bikes, take a nature class through their Junior Series (with a new topic each month) or shop at the Farmer's Market (Sundays only). 
 
For adults, learn how James Buchanan (J.B.) Duke transformed more than 2,000 acres of farmland and woodlots into the extraordinary landscape known as Duke Farms. Tour the Old Foundation site where the remnants of the original mansion (which was never finished, Duke abandoned the construction of the mansion altogether) overlook the Great Meadow, a centerpiece of the habitat regeneration efforts at Duke Farms.
 
Highly accessible, Duke Farms provides accommodations to visitors who need mobility assistance while on the property. The Accessibility Shuttle is a service available to those visitors with limited mobility. This service is provided on a first come, first served basis, and advanced registration is strongly recommended for this service. 
 
Duke Farms is located at 1112 Dukes Parkway West Hillsborough, N.J. 08844.
 
From Mid-March to early November, the Orientation Center and Duke Farms are open six days a week Thursday through Tuesday from 8:30am to 6pm. After November, our hours shorten to 8:30am to 4:30pm. Admission is always FREE.
 
Duke Farms is closed on Wednesdays. To be safe, call 908-722-3700 to make sure they are open on your designated visiting day.
 
What are some of your favorite activities? Drop us a line at info@needquest.com and we'll post them in our next blog!
 
 

 

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