This article originally appeared in the Hockessin Community News (August 2010)
If you are like most, you are still feeling the unpleasant pinch of the economy. And this summer, many families are downsizing their traditional summer vacations into weekend getaways or even day trips.
But, just because your trip is only one day doesn’t mean it can’t be memorable. Here are my top picks for affordable, family day trips that mix a little learning in with the fun. Shhh! The kids will never know!
Since it opened its’ doors in 1972, The Delaware Museum of Natural History has become a mainstay for elementary school trips of youngsters from all over the state. But what you might not know is that this little gem is also a member of Association of Science-Technology Centers – a collection of over 250 museums and facilities worldwide. That means that when you join as a Grandparent ($45) or a Household ($55) you get not only a year of fabulous visits to see life sized dinosaurs, an African watering hole, plus birds and shells from around the world, you also get free admission to 250 other locations! From the New Mexico Museum of Space History, to the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, to the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Florida, joining DNHM offers some serious bang for your buck.
Take the train for worry-free travel and spend an entire day exploring the city that never sleeps. The kids will undoubtedly want to visit FAO Schwarz, but you can add in more educational sites, too, like a trip to see Lady Liberty (No entrance fee to enter the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island. Ferry fees: $12.00 – ages 13+, $10.00, Senior Citizens 62 and over. $5.00 – Children 4 – 12). For older kids and teens, visit the 9/11 Memorial Preview Site to learn about the plans and progress for the Memorial and Museum currently being built at the World Trade Center (Free). Or visit the Empire State Building (ESB Observatory ticket prices Adult (13-61) $18.45, Child (6-12) $12.92, Senior 62+ $16.61). Other NYC ideas include The Metropolitan Museum of Art (remind your kids of the classic tale From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler), The Guggenheim Museum, or a stroll though Central Park (see if they can find the statue memorializing the famous sled dog Balto).
An easy drive from anywhere in New Castle County, the Maryland Science Center is located at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. This mammoth, 170,000 square foot facility is absolutely filled with great hand-on learning experiences. The Center boasts over a dozen full size dinosaurs, SpaceLink — a high tech environment accompanied by high touch experiences, and even Odyssey’s SHIPWRECK! a new exhibit featuring the compelling stories behind some of the world’s most famous shipwrecks, their treasure, historic artifacts and pirates, plus so much more. The Center focuses on hands-on, interactive exhibits, cutting- edge computer games, simulations and more to engage and excite your kids about science. Full ticket with planetarium, Adults, $20; ages 3-12, $14. But, if you’re a card-carrying member, the Center is FREE, since it’s also a member of the Association of Science-Technology Centers!
Perfect for the outdoor-loving family is a visit to the Tyler Arboretum. 650 acres of horticultural collections, rare plant specimens, ancient trees, historic buildings, and over 20 miles of fantastic hiking trails. The kids will get a kick out of the Butterfly House & Garden, a rare chance to get a close-up look at local butterflies in all their stages. A Household Membership is only $60 for a year and includes Reciprocal Program Privileges through the American Horticultural Society Gardens Reciprocal Admission program to over 100 U.S., Canadian, and overseas gardens!
Make history come alive at the 3,600-acre Valley Forge National Historical Park. At Valley Forge during the winter encampment of 1777-78, General George Washington faced starvation, sickness, and despair and still forged his Continental Army into a force to be reckoned with. See Washington’s original stone headquarters which have been restored and furnished, or marvel at the reconstructed log huts that housed our brave soldiers. There are also numerous statues and monuments throughout the park including statues of General “Mad Anthony” Wayne, Baron Friedrich von Steuben, and the Monument to Patriots of African Descent. All park facilities at Valley Forge are free.
Our nation’s capital has so much to see and do that you could spend all summer there and never see it all. But, if you only have one day, try a free walking tour of the city’s spectacular collection of monuments. Tours from DC by Foot include a fast paced and engaging presentation by young and energetic tour guide. Learn Washington’s best kept secrets — from the indestructibility of the President’s car to why French women loved Thomas Jefferson! Tours meet at the NE corner of 15th and Constitution Ave. NW After a tour visit any of the Smithsonian Museums, all free.
The National Aquarium, located in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is an experience unlike any other. This spectacular aquarium houses approximately 16,500 specimens and more than 660 species of animals! You can watch the rays glide mysteriously, marvel at the colorful rainbow of tropical fish, or examine terrifying jaws and teeth of the many species of sharks (from behind the safety of some thick glass, of course!) Membership to the National Aquarium includes daily admission for one year at both the Baltimore and Washington, DC, locations. A family membership admits 2 adults and up to four children for only $159 per year.
The birthplace of our country is right in our own backyard. This summer take advantage of this unique opportunity to teach your children more of their national history in a fun way. Forget the dusty history books. Visit the Liberty Bell (free daily, no tickets necessary), Independence Hall (free daily, although you must register for timed tickets in advance), The Mint (free), or Betsey Ross’s home (Admission is $3 for adults, $2 for students, seniors, and military). End the day with a leisurely carriage ride throughout the historic district, And don’t forget an authentic Philly soft pretzel!
Beverly Stewart, M.Ed. is President and Director of Back to Basics Learning Dynamics, Inc., an area leader in 1-on-1 tutoring and small group instruction for children and adults since 1985. Back to Basics is also a Department of Education approved private school for K-12 and Business and Trade School for adults. Email Beverly at , call her at (302)594-0754 or visit on the web at www.backtobasicslearning.com.