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For parents in search of excursions that provide a little more mental stimulation than the beach, the choices abound. It’s just a matter of picking from the wealth of options. To narrow it down, we’ve picked suggestions for eight types of kids, from budding chef to history buff, to drama queen, to animal lover.
Here, assembled with input from Eileen Ogintz, creator of the travel resource Taking the Kidsand the writers at Kids Can Travel,are plenty of ideas for educational family fun.
By Colleen Kane
Posted 15 Feb 2011
Every little boy on Earth and more than a few girls go through a stage where they possess encyclopedic knowledge about dinosaurs. What could be more exciting for them than going on a dinosaur dig? The Museum of Western Coloradooffers half-day, one-day, and three-day digs in western Colorado, as well as a five-day digs in Utah, notes Ogintz. The Smithsonian offers them as well.
And for junior archaeologists, The Crow Canyon Archaeological Centerin Cortez, Colorado offers a weeklong family camp. Kids Can Travel says the many petroglyphs at the oft-overlooked Deer Valley Rock Art Center in Phoenix, Arizona are “nothing short of awesome,” and it frequently offers family programs.
There’s less room to dig on the East Coast, especially in New York City, but fortunately for aspiring archeologists and paleontologists, the American Natural History Museum houses a stellar collection of ancient fossils and artifacts, and Kids Can Travel reports that they have frequently scheduled family programs.
Cooking classes for kids can be found everywhere, but like the saying goes, it’s better in the Bahamas. The Atlantis Resorta dedicated culinary program for kids to mold the celebrity chefs of the future.
In the 21-seat cooking classroom in the resort’s $6 million kids center, children learn from chefs hailing from the resort’s restaurants. For Mother’s Day, kids can cook brunch for their moms, and for Father’s Day there’s a grill-with-dad event. Kids love these cooking classes because they cook real food with kid-sized utensils, says Ogintz.
SeaWorldhas a variety of special “trainer for a day” and camp programs for kids age 13 and up that enable them to see what it is like to be working with the creatures that they love—what it takes to care for and train for them. There are also day-long and overnight programs starting for preschoolers, Ogintz says.
Similar trainer for a day programs are offered at various tourist attractions showcasing dolphins and other wildlife, and Hollywood Animals offers a one-day training programthat could involve a tiger, panther, leopard, or grizzly bear, or all of those.
History can seem more compelling and can be more memorable to kids when they visit the sites where it actually took place, see people in authentic costumes of the day, and hear the stories told in compelling ways.
At Colonial Williamsburgand the other outposts of Virginia’s Historic Triangle (Jamestown and Yorktown), Ogintz points out that kids can step into the 18th century and can meet “Thomas Jefferson” and “George Washington,” pretend to join the Continental Army, play colonial games, or even attend a ball. The boulders of Gettysburg’s Devil’s Den, once a battlefield site for sharpshooters, double as a natural playground to visiting children.
For children who love nature and the outdoors, Ogintz says Costa Rica can’t be beat. There, “you can visit a volcano and a cloud forest, get up close and personal with monkeys in the trees right outside your hotel room, zipline through a rain forest, you might even see a sea turtle lay her eggs.”
For older outdoorsy kids, the Galapagos Islands are unsurpassed for the sheer variety of wildlife—the birds, the lizards, and they can even go swimming with sea lions. Several companies specialize in family trips, such as Thomson Family Adventures,Wildland Adventures and Abercrombie and Kent.
Kids Can Travel suggests strapping on snowshoes at the Northern Highland American Legion State Forest in Wisconsin to learn about forest ecology and the native people, or heading to South Mountain Park in Phoenix, Arizona for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and observing wildlife.
Due to the Marshall Space Flight Center and its role in space missions, Huntsville, Alabama has earned the nickname the Rocket City. Since 1982, the city’s Space Camphas provided a tremendous learning experience for children from fourth grade through their teens (and adults, too) who are interested in science, math, technology, and of course, space exploration.
The zero gravity simulation experience is an obvious draw for thrill-seeking youths, but parents will appreciate the likelihood of their child’s increased interest in science and math. According to a survey cited on the Space Camp website, “93% of the alumni said they took more science courses, particularly physics and chemistry, in the years following c 91% reported taking more math; and 74% said they learned about careers.”
For budding singers, dancers, and actors, and little drama queens, Broadway is Mecca. Now kids can attend CampBroadwayin spring and summer sessions and be taught by Broadway pros for a week. Ogintz says kids love it because they are living their dream—being in NYC taught by Broadway choreographers and singing coaches, and talking to Broadway performers.
Kids Can Travel recommends the New Victory Theatre, which has family acts of adventurous and thought-provoking theater, dance, music, new vaudeville, puppetry and circus productions, as well as workshops, teen events and Studio Weeks to give kids an hands-on and behind-the-scenes look at all things theatre.
“Many trips that wouldn’t have been feasible for families in the past now have a decided family twist,” Ogintz says, and those offering family packages include bike tripsand whitewater rafting.
Ogintz points out that children with special needs need not be excluded from adventurous activities. Places like the National Sports Center for the Disabledin Winter Park, CO, the National Ability Centerin Park City Utah and the Adaptive Sports Centerin Crested Butte CO offer activities such as snowboarding, skiing, rafting, horseback riding, and rock climbing for those who are wheelchair-bound, blind, or who have Autism or other developmental disabilities. Many scholarships are available for these programs, as well.