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The Best Small Towns to Raise Kids In

Schools, climate and crime are factors to consider when choosing a new home

Photograph by Jana Lumley - Fotolia

One of your favorite memories with your family is the winter you all bought a pair of snowshoes and spent countless afternoons exploring a white wilderness. But when you told your beach-loving brother about the fun you had, perhaps he replied that it sounded like his worst nightmare, as his kids like to spend as much time as they can in the water before winter hits.

The perfect small town in which to raise a family varies widely, and depends on a family's values and circumstances. That said, certain small towns have attributes that put them at the top of the list for many people.

University Towns

Genevieve Carter, a licensed realtor who has helped families find homes in both New York and Texas, is particularly delighted with her new residence, which is located in Nacogdoches, Texas. Nacogdoches is a small college town with a population of just over 33,000.

"It's important to raise your family in a community in which education is appreciated and nurtured," says Carter. "In Nacogdoches, the college campus is part of the community. Beautiful public trails go through the campus, which has a kid-friendly duck pond. Parents and their children both enjoy exercising at the university's outdoor track. Local students can work with the university to get dual credit while in high school, and the university runs an early childhood laboratory and charter school, which are quality facilities available to the community."

Carter also mentions the art galleries, concerts and theater productions that are available to public through the university, and highly recommends other university towns which have similar perks to families who are seeking to relocate. Another university town to consider is Boone, North Carolina. With cool summers and lots of natural beauty -- it's located off the Blue Ridge Parkway -- this town of 17,751 may be just what you're looking for.

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Nature

Carter, who is also a mother to a teenage son who enjoys the outdoors, recommends seeking a community that offers plenty of outdoor activities. "When we lived in New York," she said, "we particularly enjoyed going to the apple orchards, picking strawberries and blueberries, visiting animal and nature preserves and generally enjoying the beauty of our environment."

Before making a move, make sure the small town you are considering has plenty of bike trails and other outdoor amenities that are important to you and your family. Castle Rock, Colorado, with a population of 42,241, is one town that has a considerable amount of natural beauty and bike trails.

Climate

Of course, a town can offer every outdoor amenity imaginable, yet if it rains 200 days out of the year or regularly has temperatures over 110 degrees, it may not be right for your family. After all, if downpours and temperature extremes leave you stuck in the house with a screaming toddler and a grouchy preschooler, it really doesn't matter what else the town has to offer.

Consider the type of climate your family enjoys before making your move. Health-conscious families may wish to consider the town of Ojai, California. This quaint village of 8,000 offers a dry climate that is temperate year-round; artists and outdoor enthusiasts alike enjoy it.

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Low Crime Rates

When choosing a place to live, safety's a prime consideration. Carter notes that "you're more likely to feel safe getting out with the kids and participating in the activities available in the community if you are not worried about the high crime rate." Don't assume every small town is safe -- check the crime rates just as you would if you were moving to a metropolitan neighborhood.

If safety is your top concern, consider Ithaca, New York, which was found to be the most secure place to live in a 2011 Farmers Insurance Group of Companies survey, which also factored in safety issues such as severe weather events. State College, Pennsylvania and Bismarck, North Dakota, ranked second and third, respectively.

Family Activities

Carter recommends looking at the types of family activities the community has to offer. Look for things like "a community pool, a roller rink, places to bowl or play mini-golf," she says. "Also make sure the town has big parks where you can play Frisbee golf, fly kites and play football with your kids." The demographics of a town can determine whether these activities are available. A retirement town, for example, is unlikely to place a priority on roller rinks and Frisbee golf courses.

Murray, Kentucky, is a town that families who enjoy camping, hiking, fishing and other outdoor activities are likely to appreciate. Voted "the friendliest small town in America" by Rand McNally and USA Today, this town is also renowned for its playful spirit.

Education

Make sure the town you choose has schools that meet your high expectations. You can get an idea of how good the schools are in the area by contacting the department of education for that state and asking for performance data for each campus in the town. Ideally, a town will also have a selection of private schools along with a vibrant homeschooling community so that no matter what educational path you choose, your children's learning will not be compromised.

If education is one of your family's top priorities, consider moving to Vermont. This state, liberally sprinkled with small towns, boasts the highest graduation rates in the United States. The Town of Essex, along with the adjoining Village of Essex Junction, has a school system that has been nationally recognized for its excellence. Your family will also benefit from its natural beauty, and there's a low crime rate.

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