My best childhood memories include going to the theater matinee with my mom to watch a performance of my favorite tales and stories, days at the science and history museums and evenings at the art exhibits around town. My mother loved culture, the arts and sciences, never letting an opportunity to go to a festival or play pass her by.
Here are my favorite activities to try with kids that are off the beaten path and very much into the arts and sciences:
1.Take kids to the opera, symphony or ballet
The Nutcracker is a great place to start in terms of a ballet education but did you know most local symphony orchestras have programs for children or all ages? They can learn about the music, history of the instruments and music plus they get to play! Children 5 years and older are welcomed in most halls during performances and those younger than 5 can benefit from camps and weekend activities.
2. Book a theater matinee
Be it an adaptation of a Disney movie to a rendition of Dr Seuss or Wicked, the theater is a one of the best experiences a child can have. Most cities have a Children’s Theater or at the very least a kid friendly show or showing. Universities and high schools with drama programs may host shows as well during certain holidays and seasons that are family friendly and usually very inexpensive. Check out drama or acting camps during the summer months as an alternative if you can’t spare the time due to work or family commitments.
3. Spend a day at a local science or art museum
This one is a very popular choice for school trips and weekend getaways. Large metropolitan areas have multicultural museums and can host a myriad of science and technology experiences including history, industry, aerospace, railroads, science fiction, music and automobiles. Asian, European, Native American, Classical and Modern Art museums have admission free days with extended hours, ideal for families with a tight budget or flexible schedules. Astronomy departments at the local University or College have planetariums and telescopes that are open to the public on particular nights and when special celestial events are taking place. If you are going on a vacation, make sure one of these museums experiences are part of your plan especially if you are visiting LA, Chicago, Houston, Orlando, New York or Washington D.C.
4. Visit an IMAX Theater
Although many cinema complexes boast of having IMAX quality movie showings, most are smaller sized screens which do not compare to the traditional IMAX venues. Visit London or Seattle, and you will find that the screens are 8 stories high and housed inside a dome, which is the trademark of the classic projection equipment. The movie experience is immersive, and features educational and promotional movies that are not released on regular movie screens. Some museums have IMAX theaters and show proprietary or exclusive content. If you are in an area where the IMAX hosts enhanced versions of popular movies you may be able to take your kids to a Disney movie or currently released title and kill two birds with one stone. Their 3D projections are incredible and will make you wonder why you settle on watching films on smaller screens.
5. Book a manufacturing plant tour
This idea is not new but most parents miss out on opportunities to take their children on tours of local manufacturing plants because they don’t realize these types of attractions are popular. From chocolate factories to airplane manufacturers, cities in booming economies or with long standing products offer tours of their biggest or most notable items. Areas with crops, wineries and breweries offer tours that are kid friendly and offer age appropriate refreshments; you can inspect the equipment and taste their products while learning about the farmers and businesses supported by the agricultural region. Companies like Coca-Cola and Hershey’s have visitor centers and manufacturing tours but charge and admission fee that includes samples. Some corporations will offer tour opportunities upon request, which can be a great unique and less commercial experience. You can also try glass blowing seminars or pottery classes which have a twist to the traditional tour by providing a more hands on experience.
6. Visit an airport observation deck
My parents used to take me to the observation deck at our local airport, and some locations have restaurants, cell phone parking lots, or open terminal areas from which you can spot aircraft. Military bases with open perimeters are good for watching fighter jets and cargo aircraft land and take off (for example Miramar) and during certain seasons they may host air shows and community outreach programs that enable access to the aircraft, including helicopters. Don’t forget regional airports, as they also have good air traffic and have flying schools that can set up flights!
7. Book a family Space Camp experience
NASA has several versions of Space Camp which includes an adult and a children’s experience. All members of the family could share the joy of spaceflight, in age appropriate groups and tailored packages. They are located in Alabama though, so you need to include the travel time and costs.
8. Visit a drive through safari or local farm
The Zoo and the Aquarium are very popular options with children, and in most cities there are various venues to attend. However, they have started to fall our of favor since many animal right groups and documentaries on the industry are exposing flaws in the treatment and health of the animals in captivity. If you can afford to go to Africa or Australia and see the animals in their natural environments I highly recommend that you consider this option, and there are many travel agencies that facilitate family vacations to this locations. Some parks and farms in the United States have drive through zoos or safari experiences which are ideal for weekend trips and are less expensive.
9. Attend public library or local book store activities
The library and local book store are the best places to learn about new authors, classic and modern tales for children, and to participate in free book readings in many language options, depending on your location. Kids are getting exposed to literature, activity books and songs, and in many cases electronic versions of books that have animation or can be customized with the child’s name. For older kids, there are opportunities to join book clubs or meet their favorite authors and characters. With contests and reading passports, your child will always have something to do and look forward to when visiting the library. Browse through the calendar of your city or higher learning facility for opportunities.
10. Hop on a train!
Public transportation, Amtrak, local train society, mystery train, or Santa train, there are many opportunities to interact and ride trains in today’s world. I haven’t met a child that doesn’t like to ride a train or that wouldn’t benefit from the opportunity to visit a train museum and enjoy learning about the steam and electric locomotives. In my area, there is a Santa Train that takes children to the North Pole for a visit and includes a 25 minute ride. It sells out fast! Stake out or visit a local depot to see trains coming and going, or to a loading facility and verify if they will let you observe operations.
By following these suggestions you can ensure your child learns about the unique styles of music, movie and art of the many countries around the world, giving them an opportunity to explore the world in an interactive and safe environment.
My family took great care in teaching us youngsters how to behave during a classical music concert and how to react to the nuances of the opera, ballet and theatrical performances while also engaging us in the scientific aspects of the arts and of technology. Because of this different upbringing, we were exposed to careers and hobbies that most children miss out on, like reading or creating our own experiments at home, and we learned to solve problems using the knowledge we had learned from all our museum and library experiences. My parents and I learned together about our planet and the universe which made us a stronger and closer family.
Take the time to figure out what your children would like to see and experience, and join them on their learning adventure!