Exploring Your City From A to Z

Published on July 01, 2021 - Updated on July 03, 2021

The alphabet was interrupted by the pandemic.

Weeks before the COVID-19 outbreak shut down Washington, D.C., my wife Theresa and I started teaching our then-three-year-old daughter her ABCs. Then, it was easy to do. Both working parents, my wife and I met at our daughter’s daycare at the end of the day. Driving home as a family, we’d practice our letters, sounding out words. “A” is for apple. “B” is for boat. “C” is for cat.

Then everything stopped. First our companies sent us home. Then our daughter’s daycare center closed, stranding us at home juggling life. For families around the world, pandemic life was a circus. Our family wasn’t an exception. After barely surviving for weeks, we needed a plan.

We came up with a pandemic schedule that allowed us to maintain full-time jobs while taking care of our daughter. It looked like this:

  • 6 to 9 a.m. - Austin works while Theresa is with our daughter.
  • 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. - Austin home-schools/explores with our daughter.
  • 12 to 1 p.m. - Lunch.
  • 1 to 3:30 p.m. - Austin and Theresa work while our daughter naps.
  • 3:30 to 6 p.m. - Our housemate watches our daughter. (Yes, we are raising a child in a group-house.)
  • 6 to 8 p.m. - Family time and dinner.
  • 8 to 9 p.m. - Austin and Theresa work.

This schedule gave me permission to continue teaching our daughter the alphabet, but in a more creative way. Combining my passion for exploration with learning the alphabet, I decided to explore a different neighborhood in Washington, D.C. through the ABCs. Starting with “A,” we explored Adams Morgan. “B” for Brookland. “C” for Congress Heights. Here’s how it worked.

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The night before, I Googled neighborhood history, reading newspaper clippings, blogs and social media posts. Once I understood the history and context, I wrote it out in a way that a toddler would understand. I jotted down points of interest and maybe a takeout ice cream spot. The next day, we explored the neighborhood finding items that begin with the focus letter.

Each day brought a new letter and a new neighborhood. It taught Addy the alphabet and our city, while giving me a sense of travel during a travel-less pandemic. There were times a letter didn’t correspond with a letter. In those cases, we went to a street beginning with the letter. It became our daily adventure.

As the pandemic waged on, we finished the ABCs of D.C. neighborhoods. We moved onto the ABCs of D.C. suburbs. “A” is for Annandale. “B” is for Bladensburg. “C” is Cottage City. Once we learned the alphabet through the suburbs, we started again through off-the-beaten-path spots. Then it was places within a 4-mile radius of our house.

Along the way, I chronicled our adventures through photography, creating Instagram guides for each alphabet adventure. (ABCs of D.C. neighborhoods, ABCs of D.C. suburbs, ABCs of Off-The-Beaten-Path Spot.)

A to Z photo 3.png

Teaching your children the alphabet through exploring your city, town or state is something anyone can do with a little research, energy and open mind. If you embark, keep a few things in mind.

Plan. Map out your route and make sure there are restrooms nearby. Bring snacks and double up on water bottles. Always bring a bathing suit. You never know when you’ll stumble upon a swimmable creek.

Be curious. Wander down streets, ask locals questions, explore alleys. Often, my daughter and I found a hidden mural or a café by simply wandering.

Research. Use Google to find a place’s history. Browse Yelp and Google Maps to find top-rated cafes and restaurants.

Be bold. Often when we explored, we heard stories of connections to slavery. Rather than ignore the facts, I explained to my daughter how slavery then leads to systemic racism today in a way a child would understand. It pushed her toward empathy and activism.

As vaccinations go up, cases go down and cities reopen, our children will return to in-person school. But that doesn’t mean exploring has to stop. It’s a lifelong family affair.

Does your family have a favorite interactive teaching tool that ties in adventure? Please reach out to team@happyly.com and tell us about it, or share your highlights on Instagram @gethappyly for a chance to be featured!

Explore our blog for more inspiration such as Build a Summer Bucket List, absorb some Sun Safety Tips for Families or take a few moments to prepare with Ultimate Guide to RV Travel (including a comprehensive packing list) so you can give summer all you've got!! 

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Thoughtfully captured by:
Austin Graff
After growing up in Tatarstan, Russia and attending boarding school in Germany, Austin is now a proud Washington, D.C. resident for 14+ years. After traveling to 75+ countries, he spends his time exploring the D.C. area every single day and posts about it on his Instagram. He's a contributing writer for The Washington Post and the D.C. local guide for By The Way, a new travel destination by The Washington Post. He also is one of the moderators of IGDC, the city's first Instagram community and one of D.C.'s top Google Guides and Yelp Elite. He lives in Southeast D.C. with his wife, daughter and housemate.
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