12 Family Trips to Get Kids Ready to Head Back to School
Kids across the country will soon be heading back to school, but there's still time to squeeze in a final family outing before summer vacation ends. A family trip that combines education and fun could be just the ticket to help ease the transition back to studying. These 12 inexpensive spots, including museums and interesting exhibits, combine the joys of adventure and learning.
Visiting Colonial Williamsburg is like taking a trip to the past, an illusion created in large part by the park's authentic portrayals of colonial life. Fill the day with art and heritage museums, shops, re-enactments, and tours -- many of which are included in the cost of admission. Ticket prices start at $26 for adults and $12.50 for kids 6 to 12 for a one-day sampler ticket, which includes four sites and shuttle service.
This museum is home to exhibits that tell the story of the people who fought to end slavery during the days of the Underground Railroad (1810-1850) and contemporary heroes who continue to work for freedom and justice. Many of the center's exhibits are interactive, which makes for an immersive learning experience for kids. Admission is $15 for adults, $13 for seniors, $10.50 for kids 3 to 12, and free for kids 2 and younger.
The High Desert Museum features 135 acres of forested land that is home to wild animals, native plants, and permanent and temporary exhibits that explore the local culture and natural environment. Visitors of all ages will want to check out the Autzen Otter Exhibit, where northern river otters swim and frolic. Admission is $15 for adults, $12 for seniors, $9 for kids 5 to 12, and free for children under 4.
In addition to traditional museum artifacts, Mystic Seaport includes a recreation of a 19th century town. Here, visitors can take a carriage ride, explore tall ships, see a working preservation shipyard, and visit the Mystic lighthouse. Tickets are $29 for adults, $27 for seniors, $19 for kids ages 4 to 14, and free for children 3 and under. The museum also offers special promotions, such as 10 percent off when tickets are bought online and free admission on birthdays.
Red Cloud, Nebraska
This tiny town, home to about 1,000 people, is dedicated to the famous pioneer-era author Willa Cather and features several points of interest related to the author's life and work, including her childhood home, the Red Cloud Opera House (a favorite of Cather), and the Cather Prairie, a 612-acre native prairie preserve. The Willa Cather Foundation offers several guided tours, priced from $5 to $50 for adults and $4 to $20 for kids 5 to 18. Kids 4 and under are free, and discounts are available.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is filled with U.S. history that goes above and beyond the history of rock and roll. Visitors will find special exhibits such as "Summer of Love Turns 50," a warehouse of memorabilia, and many items that were once owned by some of the country's most famous and influential musicians. Tickets cost $23.50 for adults, $21.25 for seniors, and $13.75 for kids 6 to 12 (free for kids 5 and under).
Thomas Jefferson's homestead is renowned for its architecture and offers a glimpse into the life of the nation's third president and those who served him. The gardens and house are enjoyable for all ages, but children are encouraged to explore the house's Griffin Discovery Room, which contains reproductions of furniture and other household items that were used in the 1800s. Admission is $25 for adults, $16 for children 12 to 18, and $9 for children 5 to 11.
At this interactive museum, kids can learn about paleontology while digging for real fossils at a replicated quarry site. The museum also has a dinosaur library, a ride that simulates an earthquake, and traditional displays featuring dinosaur skeletons and life-size animatronic models. Admission is $9 for adults, $7 for seniors, $5 for kids, and $25 for families.
A national monument since the 1920s, this formerly active volcano site features unique natural wonders, attributable to lava that once flowed through the area. Families can explore lava fields and caves and see a diversity of plants and animals not often found in desert landscapes. Admission to the park costs $15 a vehicle. Camping in the park is also available with a permit.
During a visit to the Capitol building in Washington, visitors can not only see where the Senate and House convene but also learn about the legislative branch of government, past and present. It's free to tour the historic building, located on the National Mall, but advance reservations are recommended. Sign up through your senator or representative.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
The International Folk Art Museum is one of the city's most popular destinations. Home to the planet's largest collection of international folk art, the museum features traveling and permanent collections showcasing folk art throughout the ages and the world. The permanent collection includes African metalwork, Turkish ceramics, and Mexican folk pottery and jewelry. Admission is $12 for adults, $11 for students, and free for kids 16 and under. New Mexico residents pay $5 less.
A trip to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum brings prairie wildlife up close and personal. The museum's ample outdoor space is filled with local plants and information about local ecology. Be sure to check out the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven, a greenhouse that's home to more than 1,000 exotic butterflies, as well as several species of birds. Museum admission is $9 for adults, $7 for students and seniors, $6 for kids 3 to 12, and free for children under 3.