Be still, your heart; there’s a tweener in the house. It used to be that she and Dora the Explorer were inseparable. In the past, he and Bob the Builder would go on adventures together. But now, the exploring and building days are over. Their former heroes have been replaced by One Direction and Katy Perry. They talk about music you’ve never heard of. You may even have to pick up a (gulp!) training bra at the department store.
Coined to describe children between the ages of 10 and 12, the term “tween” is a portmanteau of the words “teen” and “between.” That’s precisely what these kids are, caught between childhood and adolescence. No matter parents may wish they’d stay small, cuddly, and in need of their approval for a while longer, your kids’ old hobbies and interests will suddenly seem childish to them. They’ll be testing their independence by pushing the boundaries towards more grown-up pursuits, but in many ways, tweens aren’t ready for the uglier things in this world.
Beijing has a notorious dearth of activities for older kids and teens, but we’ve come up with a list of age-appropriate pursuits that won’t break the bank. Some are designed for parents and kids to do together, while others provide a safe avenue for tweens to hang out with their friends.
Make or Share Music
Get to know the music your tweens like and introduce them in turn to your favorites. If you’re a vinyl enthusiast, teach them why. If you have cassette tapes stashed away, break them out and allow them to laugh at your prehistoric tastes. Play music historian together; they may be surprised to discover that something they enjoy is actually a remake of something from your own time. For instance, Pitbull and Christina Aguilera’s “Take on Me” is an oldie by A-Ha from the 80s.
If they’re not interested in sharing music, point them to Tween Pop Radio (www.tweenpopradio.com). This online streaming site spotlights popular artists among tweens and teens, including well-known acts like Bruno Mars, Justin Bieber, and Demi Lovato. Review the song selection in the Tween Top 40 if you’re concerned about the appropriateness of the lyrics.
Teach your child an instrument or take classes together. Hire a private instructor to come to your house or opt for a music school. My Little Mozart offers keyboard instruction for older kids, while Claire’s Music Studio in Shunyi has classes for a variety of instruments. Both schools also have child-adult duet classes so you can practice for that KTV night. In addition, there are always free online video classes for any instrument you can think of.
Watch a Movie
This one’s a classic. Whether with friends or family, movies are an affordable and entertaining way to wile away a couple of hours. Mega Box Cinema at Sanlitun Village is one of the most popular venues, followed by Saga Cinema at Solana and the CGV Xing Xing chain at various locations in Beijing. Membership at Mega Box is well worth the price at only RMB 20 per year (with RMB 10 renewal fee), which gets you half-price tickets from Monday to Thursday and 30 percent off from Friday to Sunday.
If your tween’s a budding film snob, consider Broadway Cinematheque at the new MOMA for alternative and arthouse movies. However, make sure to find out ratings for these films ahead of time; some of them can be quite risqué. The cinema is smaller-scale, with a maximum capacity of fewer than 200 viewers. Membership entitles you to ticket discounts on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. As a bonus, members can also borrow from the huge selection of books, magazines, DVDs and music at the BC MOMA library. Titles can be taken out for two weeks at a time.
Films buffs should visit China National Film Museum to see the movie production process from beginning to end. Wander through nearly 3km worth of stills, dioramas, and storyboards from Chinese films spanning the last 100 years. Don’t worry about the Chinese-only text; the visual displays are largely self-explanatory.
Alternatively, cozy up at home with a DVD or allow your tween to host a sleepover. Unless your tween has a large and tight-knit group of friends, five is the maximum number of people you want to have over. It’s a good idea to stock up on disposable toothbrushes in case someone forgets theirs.
Take Up a Sport
Go hiking. More challenging hikes are appropriate for ages 10 and up – perfect for active tweens. You’ll finally be able to hike the wild portions of the Great Wall, such as Jiankou, Huanghuacheng, Gubeikou, Simatai, and Qilianguan. These sections often include unrestored passages with steep climbs and crumbling battlements. You might even have to climb up a rickety wooden ladder manned by an irate Chinese farmer (who may or may not charge you) to reach the wall. If you don’t want to risk going by yourself, many groups offer organized hikes of varying intensities. Beijing Hikers rates its hikes by difficulty; aim for Level 2 (5-8km) or Level 3 if your family’s very active. For more off-the-beaten-path adventures, go with Dandelion Hiking. They offer hiking as well as two-day camping trips to the Great Wall. For a different kind of challenge, you can also go on long-distance cycling trips with Cycle China or Beijing Outdoor Club. Tweens who want to make friends, have fun, and do good should consider Girl Scouts Beijing (which starts accepting applications on August 31 at WAB) or 1st Beijing Scout Group (email email@example.com for more info).
For something closer to home, try Heyrobics. The classes are led by energetic, pink-shorted instructors who design their own playlists. Heyrobics is based on a series of 300 basic movements and their variations that don’t require any equipment beyond mats. Each session includes warm-up, cardio, strength, and agility segments. Your tween may feel a bit self-conscious at first, but Heyrobics boasts a welcoming community; no one cares if you make a mistake or two. With 13 locations across Beijing (including three in Shunyi) and at only RMB 30 per session (or RMB 200 for 11 sessions), it’s easier than ever to “sweat like a Swede.”
Scuba diving is appropriate for kids aged 10 and older. SinoScuba’s Shark Interaction Program allows inexperienced divers to interact with sharks and fish at Blue Zoo Beijing. Should your tween wish to pursue their PADI Open Water diving certification, they can choose between doing the qualifying dive at a submerged part of the Great Wall or on a family beach holiday. The certification process also involves theory tests and practical dives at Blue Zoo Beijing. Open Water certification costs RMB 3,800 with the Great Wall dive and RMB 2,800 without.
Skateboarding and BMX are also popular tween activities. Woodward Beijing is located all the way in Daxing District, but it’s the largest skate park in China. Facilities include two bowls, two half pipes, a mini-ramp, and indoor and outdoor plazas. Woodward Beijing is accessible through subway Line 4 (Qingyuanlu station), followed by bus 841 to Xingming Lake Resort. Or, pile your tween and their friends into a van and pay a driver to take them. Admission costs only RMB 68 per day.
Still undecided? Have your tween try a bit of everything with multi-sports organizations like Sports Beijing and Flips & Kicks Plus.
Visit a Museum
Now that the kids are older, you can leave play centers behind in favor of museums. That being said, it’s worth doing a bit of homework beforehand. Map out the best way to get there, identify the exhibitions that are most interesting to your kids, and find out if the museum offers English-speaking tours or cheaper admission on specific weekdays. It’s also a good idea to pack snacks or even a light lunch; food options at museums are often limited to pricey cafes or ill-stocked gift shops.
For tweens who love maps and urban design, Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall features a 300sqm 3D scale model of Beijing, complete with lights that indicate the gradual expansion of city limits over the decades. Art fans should visit the multitude of galleries dotting 798 Art District. There’s also Caochangdi to the north, Songzhuang Artist Village in Tongzhou, 22 Art Street in Shuangjing, and Art Base 1 in Hegezhuang. For budding scientists, there’s China Science and Technology Museum. This massive 48,000sqm museum near the Olympic Village has hands-on scientific displays and an immersive 4D cinema.
Feed the Foodie
The tween years are a great time to develop cooking skills, as kids have the capacity to safely handle sharp knives and hot gas ranges. If you’re not much of a cook yourself, sign up for cooking classes together at The Hutong, Black Sesame Kitchen, or Hias Gourmet. You can also leave the kitchen and get inspiration from a Beijing Food Walk. This four-hour food tour includes local tastings and cultural tidbits. Participants wind through hutongs and along the banks of Houhai sampling breakfast items, hearty lunch at a Muslim restaurant, and a selection of desserts to cap off the day. Classes and tours are also a great way to start discussing issues like nutrition, food safety, and community-supported agriculture.
Once your tween is ready to pick out their own groceries, take them to popular Sanyuanli Market. This is the place to pick up imported ingredients, fresh herbs, and hard-to-find items like limes and avocadoes. Allow them to invite their friends over for a cooking party. One easy recipe is beef or chicken burritos. The kids can prep the ingredients (try bell peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, refried beans, and grated cheese) and tortilla shells, and lay them out on the table for everyone to assemble their own burrito. The only ingredient that really requires cooking is the meat. Once they’re done eating, don’t forget to make them clean up the mess!
Discover the City
Design your own adventure by taking the subway to discover new and random places. Aim for off-peak hours, such as a Sunday morning. Hop on the subway and get off wherever their fancy strikes, or look up an itinerary ahead of time. However, it’s not always about the destination. Encourage your tween to keep their eyes wide open during the ride; people watching is one of life’s simplest pleasures. While you’re at it, take the opportunity to teach them about staying safe on public transport by keeping valuables out of sight, not talking in a loud voice, and never traveling alone. And don’t forget to dress comforably, wear sensible shoes, and stay hydrated.
Central Beijing, especially the area around the Drum and Bell Towers, is rife with iconic rickshaws. Haggle for an acceptable price and tour duration, then allow yourselves to be swept away into lao Beijing. Some enterprising residents may even offer a private hutong tour; don’t worry about finding them, your driver is likely to suggest this right off the bat. You’ll get to peek inside a real siheyuan for a small fee (not included in the price of the rickshaw ride). Usually, there’s a young, English-speaking member of the family who speaks about the traditional courtyard architecture.
For something faster, try a sidecar tour. You and your tween will be chauffered around town on a motorcycle and sidecar. Choose from tours within the city or out in the suburbs. Beijing Sideways, which offers tours in English and French, can even take participants on camping trips to the Great Wall.
Throughout all this, encourage your tween to take pictures. Photography is a powerful medium for self-expression. If you find yourself with a budding photographer on your hands, sign them up for classes at The Hutong or Atelier, then join Beijing Photo Walks to meet other amateur photographers and put their skills into practice.
Photos: Littleones Kids & Family Portrait Studio, Marmella (Flickr), Ellen Zimmerman, Flips & Kicks Plus, Jan Spacir, Leeluv (Flickr), The Hutong, WWWorks (Flickr) and MCKIMG (Flickr).
This article originally appeared on p60-65 of the beijingkids August 2013 issue.
Check out the PDF version online at Issuu.com