Hands-on children’s museums

If you are searching for a fun and educational outing during vacation, check out one of the more than 200 children’s museums found in cities across the United States. Child magazine conducted a survey to identify the 10 children’s museums that do the best job of combining fun and learning. At the top of their list were the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the Children’s Museum of Houston and the Children’s Museum of Boston. These museums are known for hands-on activities ranging from working with dinosaur fossils to designing a roller coaster. Many of these museums offer special holiday programs. See Child Magazine’s 10 Best Children’s Museums.

Beyond children’s museums

Besides the many wonderful children’s museums around the country, check out the more offbeat smaller museums, factories or community historical sites to visit on your holiday travels or in your own community.

In Fairfield, California, for example, you can visit a jellybean factory, see how jellybeans are made and eat free samples. The Jelly Belly Visitor Center factory guided tour will enlighten you with such facts as how jellybeans are “grown.” Yes, according to the guide, jellybeans reach their adult size through a process called “engrossing.” It takes a week to plump most up to their full size and some flavors take even longer. You’ll also learn some American history — how Ronald Reagan was a big fan of jellybeans and brought the candy international fame during his presidency. The Jelly Belly Factory has a whole display case full of Ronald Reagan memorabilia.

If you happen to be in the Midwest, you can visit the Jelly Belly Center and Warehouse in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, off of I-94 on the Milwaukee/Chicago corridor, near the state line, where you can hop on board the Jelly Belly Express train for a tour inside the warehouse and distribution center.

Closer to home, why not take a tour of your local police or fire station,or recycling plant? Many cities have historical societies with interesting exhibits that will give your children a flavor of how it “used to be.”

Easy and fun projects

Create a time capsule. As the new year approaches, why not create a time capsule to reflect back on the events of the past year? Collect items to remember the year by: newspaper or magazine articles, photographs, special school projects or artwork, postcards of places you visited and small souvenirs. Identify each item with a label, date each one, and put all the items in a large plastic container or shoebox. Seal with tape. Figure out with your child the month and year she will graduate from high school. Write on the container,” Do not open until ______.” Decide on a safe place to put your time capsule.

Learn about the North Pole. Everyone knows that the North Pole is where Santa Claus and the reindeer can be found this time of year. Why not spend some time learning more about the North Pole? Did you know that the British Arctic explorer, Sir William Pearcy, was born during the holiday season on December 19, 1890? He achieved fame when he became the first man to reach the North Pole in 1909.

Create a poster about the North Pole. Find out the warmest and coldest temperatures there. Learn about the vegetation and wildlife. Cut out pictures from magazines to illustrate or draw pictures of what you think it looks like. Check out books from the library or find information on the Internet. A good place to begin is the North Pole entry on the free Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia.

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Updated: March 3, 2016