For your next family vacation or weekend getaway, why not forget the amusement parks and take a “learning vacation” instead? Bring home knowledge, instead of souvenirs, from one of these five fun and educational destinations:
Sunriver Nature Center & Observatory, Sunriver, Ore.
Double stars, nebulas and planets are the focus on the rooftop of the one-of-a-kind Sunriver Nature Center & Observatory, where 10 or more 8- to 20-inch-diameter telescopes are available for studying the night sky.
Forget the images you may have seen projected on planetarium screens. At Sunriver, visitors come face-to-face with the real thing. Objects billions of miles away shine before your eyes, thanks to the observatory’s advanced equipment.
The on-site nature center is home to a bevy of live animals, including eagles, falcons and owls. The center also offers classes on subjects such as astronomy, rocketry, animals and insects; houses a meteorite display; and presents special events, such as a wildflower show, star parties and a lecture series.
Plimoth Plantation, Plymouth, Mass.
To teach appreciation of how settlers lived in the early days of our country, head to Plimoth Plantation. Step into the past and explore an authentic 1627 English village that re-creates the first permanent English settlement in New England, established seven years after the Mayflower voyage. Through the Wampanoag home site, families also can experience life as 17th-century American Indians knew it.
Plimoth is a live museum, immersed in the experience of the lives of the early settlers and American Indians of that time. Costumed role players represent citizens of the plantation, and visitors can expect to be thwarted by any attempts to lure them out of character.
Steps away, board the Mayflower II, a full-scale reproduction of the original sailing ship. The Crafts Center allows the entire family to meet with artisans who create the authentic feel of the plantation by employing techniques and tools of the past.
Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, Cortez, Colo.
Families can dig into the past on an archaeological excavation at Crow Canyon, which is dedicated to teaching and preserving the history of the Pueblo Indians who inhabited the area more than 700 years ago.
“Our most popular activity for kids is probably excavation at our current excavation site—the Goodman Point Unit of Hovenweep National Monument,” says Joyce Alexander, the center’s spokeswoman. Families can unearth a variety of artifacts and learn about the culture of the ancestral Pueblo Indians (the Anasazi) while digging at the site a short drive from the facility.
Visitors also can experience the ancestral Pueblo lifestyle through a variety of hands-on activities, including playing traditional games, learning to make fire without matches, and sorting and identifying artifacts. Special events include Family Archaeology Weeks in July and August, featuring activities designed for children, parents and grandparents to enjoy together. Day programs, offered as weather permits, are open to those over age 10.
Space Center Houston, Houston, Texas
Ten, nine, eight . . .
Families blast off to a learning adventure at Space Center Houston, the official visitors center for NASA’s Johnson Space Center. A tram carries visitors through some of the center’s real working areas, such as Mission Control Center, and also includes a stop at the Saturn V Complex, which houses the largest rocket ever launched.
At the Living in Space module, brave volunteers can demonstrate the challenges of daily life in an environment without gravity. Blast Off Theater simulates the feel of an actual space shuttle launch, while the Astronaut Gallery features the various space suits worn by American astronauts. Young visitors enjoy Kids Space Place, the spacecraft-turned-playground that simulates life in a space station.
The Crayola Factory, Easton, Pa.
Throughout the years, kids plus crayons have equaled creativity. Visiting the Crayola Factory is like opening a new box of crayons—full of options and fun.
The factory is not an actual manufacturing plant; the crayons are made at a nearby facility. Instead, it’s a hands-on museum that combines learning how crayons and markers are made with enjoying the creativity they encourage. One exhibit allows visitors to write on a curved glass wall to see what happens when colors collide, while another lets young sculptors mold their own masterpieces using Crayola Model Magic modeling clay.
Special events include birthday celebrations for Vincent Van Gogh, John James Audubon and other artists, and family workshops are held monthly.