Today we have guest blogger Whitney joining us on the blog to share just how much fun a little one can have at probably the most famous sheep and wool festival in America - The New York Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck!
First, to introduce myself: Hi! I’m Whitney, and I’ve got an almost-4 year old little one who (lucky for me!) shares my love of all things knitting.
The New York Sheep and Wool Festival is known to knitters everywhere as “Rhinebeck”, and people travel from all around to go there each fall. I’ve been going to Rhinebeck every year since 2009, only missing 2011 because I was then 8-months pregnant with my daughter. So, as you clever folks can figure out, that means I’ve been bringing the little one with me for the past 4 years!
While most of the knitters I know leave their families behind and travel to Rhinebeck with friends, it actually is a family festival, and what I want to focus on in this post are the wonderful opportunities for sharing your love of yarn, wool, sheep, and fiber arts in general with your kiddos if you bring them with you. I’ll be honest, though: it’s not necessarily easy to have the “classic” Rhinebeck experience (read: lots of shopping and yarn petting!) if you’ve got a wee one in tow, particularly if said wee one is too big to be worn, but still using a stroller. As you might imagine, the crowded barns (especially on Saturday) are not exactly easily navigable with a stroller, so if you can wear your little one in a carrier of some kind, it’s MUCH easier to get around!
This was the first year I did not wear my daughter for the majority of the day - at nearly 4, she’s a good 40 pounds, and that’s more of a workout than I can manage. So we used the stroller the whole day (it made a good “stuff-holder” when she wanted to run around). This meant that if I wanted to actually shop, I needed to leave my daughter outside the barns with my husband, and she wasn’t always very happy about that (to put it mildly!). But that’s ok, because at least for me, Rhinebeck isn’t primarily about the shopping - it’s about the experience.
One of our favorite things to do as a family at Rhinebeck is visit the sheep, alpacas, llamas, vicuñas, and other fiber-animals. These barns are generally more “open” and less crowded than the vender-related barns, and give a great opportunity to introduce little ones to real live animals. My daughter was quite shocked the first time she heard a sheep say “baa” in real life - it was much louder than she’d expected!
You can also watch sheep shearing - if your kiddo is curious about where yarn comes from, this is a really wonderful part of the process for them to see.
But the fiber-producing animals aren’t the only ones at the festival - there’s also the “Two by Two Zoo”, which brings pairs of various animals (monkeys, kangaroos, pot-bellied pigs, and more) for kids to watch and learn about:
And if your kiddo enjoys dogs, they can watch sheep dog trials and also see demonstrations of frisbee-catching dogs. I didn’t get a photo, but my daughter was particularly enamored of a “micro” dog named Hashtag who was catching frisbees shortly after we arrived at the festival.
In addition to the animals, there are also more typical “fairground” activities for kids to enjoy, including classic games like the ring toss. This year, my daughter was delighted by the hay-bale maze that was set up with the kid’s activities!
She was also thrilled with the balloon-artists, and spent quite awhile just watching them until she got brave enough to make a request.
She loved her alien!
But I can’t talk about kids at Rhinebeck without mentioning the pan flute band. If you’ve been to Rhinebeck, you’ll know what I mean - there is a band there every year playing pan-flute music by one of the restrooms, and my daughter, along with basically every other child I’ve seen at the festival, is OBSESSED with them. It’s amazing and hilarious to watch the little kids start spontaneously dancing to the music as they get closer to it - always the same sort of knee-bends and shoulder-dips. This year my daughter tried to “teach” me how to dance to the music when we were taking photographs of our “Rhinebeck sweaters” (a matching mama-daughter cardigan set that I plan to self-publish in the near future - I don’t think I’ll trade designing for dancing any time soon!).
In addition to giving kids a place to work on their dance moves, they also sell inexpensive instruments at their booth - last year, we got our daughter a bird whistle:
And this year, she got the grand prize: a pan flute of her very own!
The setting at Rhinebeck is absolutely gorgeous - I can’t think of a place much prettier than the Hudson River Valley in mid-October. The fall colors make an excellent backdrop for family pictures, if you can get someone to take them for you, and if your kid is like mine, and obsessed with picking up pretty leaves, they’ll have hit the jackpot at the festival!
That pretty much wraps up my family’s experience at the festival itself - and like us, if you’ve got your kids with you, you probably won’t be spending two full days at the festival either. So, what do you do with the rest of your time in the area?
Our family has stayed in a hotel in Fishkill, NY these past few years, which gives us about a 25 minute drive up highway 9 to get to the festival, but has the benefit of a hotel pool (which my daughter LOVES), and nearby chain restaurants. As much as I’d love to explore the independent restaurants and diners in Rhinebeck and the surrounding area, we have a supremely picky eater (despite our best efforts!), so having a Panera and a Red Robin nearby is useful on that front. (The other “benefit” to staying further out of town: they still had a room open when we finalized our travel plans in mid-summer, which wasn’t true for anyplace else!)
If your family enjoys hiking, there are a number of great parks and trails in the Hudson River Valley region that you could explore. In nearby Hyde Park, you can visit historic sites for both Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt, which may be a fun activity for slightly older kids.
We’ve become particularly fond of visiting the Walkway Over the Hudson on our way out of town. You can access the Walkway from either side of the river, though we’ve always found it easiest to use the parking lot on the Poughkeepsie side. The views are INCREDIBLE, and the railings are nice and solid, which is great if your kiddo is curious and you’re a nervous mama like I am!
It’s also a nice long walk, great for letting your little one burn off some energy before a long car ride!
Be warned, though, that the Walkway is probably best done in the evening on Saturday than in the morning on Sunday, because there are frequently charity-walks taking place on Sunday morning. So check the Walkway’s website ahead of time to see if you’ll be competing with crowds, but if you can get there during a less busy time, it is SO worth it!