For parents hoping to get a little more out of any family trip than just endless play and silly fun, there are many places in the United States that’ll have your children smiling, laughing, creating, and best of all, learning.
Whether they’re a history buff or a drama queen, an animal lover or a budding chef, enriching travel experiences add a learning component for a vacation truly worth remembering. Help your little ones gain new insights and new interests by embarking on these ten best children's educational trips in the United States.
Take Your Kids To These 10 Great Educational Places
When it comes to American history, our nation’s capital has it all. D.C.’s bounty of museums and monuments makes it an obvious choice for an educational family vacation, especially with the Smithsonian Museums and the popular National Museum of Natural History, which are as good as it gets for knowledge-building with little ones.
Each year on select dates from late May to late August, kids can go with a parent to the National Museum of American History for a sleepover with the Smithsonian Sleepovers program. Imagine having a PJ party while doing crafts, projects, catching an IMAX film, and sleeping under Phoenix the whale in the Ocean Hall. Guests can also take part in solving a mystery or becoming a presidential candidate! Just bring along a sleeping bag, a toothbrush, and a keen sense of adventure.
2. The Freedom Trail – Boston, Massachusetts
Who needs a social studies or history book when you can learn all about Colonial history from an actual eighteenth-century ship captain on Boston's waterfront? Take the Pirates and Patriots tour, which is led by an actor dressed up in old naval wear. The tour focuses on teaching kids about maritime history by storytelling with eccentric, ship-raiding characters who lived in Boston’s North End during the Revolutionary era.
Various stops along the way include the epicenter of Boston's colonial shipping industry, Long Wharf, as well as Griffin's Wharf, the site of the 1773 Boston Tea Party.
Budding actors, singers, and dancers listen up—because the Big Apple is definitely the place for you. On Broadway, kids can attend weeklong programs such as CampBroadway in spring and summer sessions taught straight from Broadway pros themselves.
Live the dream life with directors, choreographers, acting, and singing coaches, and even talk to veteran performers. Don’t miss out on the adventurous and thought-provoking productions of theater, dance, music, puppetry, and new vaudeville at New Victory Theatre or the special workshops for teens at A Class Act, which provide a hands-on and behind-the-scenes look into the wonderful world of theater.
Future veterinarians and those who adore animals will have a swell time in Southern California, with spots like SeaWorld, which offers a variety of special “trainer for a day” and camp programs for kids age thirteen and up. They'll love having the chance to work hands-on with the furry and slippery creatures they know and love. Your kids can participate in day-long and overnight programs at the famed animal theme park. Or head on over to the nearby San Diego Zoo, which also houses more than 4,000 rare and endangered animals representing 800-plus species and subspecies-- it’s one of the most diverse animal attractions in America and even has cool exhibits like the Polar Bear Plunge.
5. Colonial Williamsburg – Williamsburg, Virginia
Step into the 18th century at Colonial Williamsburg and sign up for the Continental Army, play colonial games, attend a grand ball, or even meet some of our Founding Fathers in person. The boulders of Gettysburg’s Devil’s Den, which once served as a battlefield site for sharpshooters now also double as a natural playground for visitors. There’s even a living-history museum full of buildings dating back to the 17th century and lively volunteers who reenact what life was really like in the era.
Immerse yourself in the beginning of the American Revolution by joining an angry mob in a march towards Yorktown or by browsing through old-timey goodies at Great Hopes Plantation—a re-creation of the town's original 1700s farm. Williamsburg is a more than interactive way to engage any history buff young or old.
6. Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame – Cleveland, Ohio
The Rock Hall features an array of both permanent and rotating attractions showing the influence of various rock n’ roll artists on our culture. Find displays showing yearly inductees into the Hall, interactive experiences chronicling the evolution of audio technology, along with other super interesting bits and pieces of musical memorabilia. There are also permanent casings on site in honor of legendary groups like The Beatles and U2. Cleveland awaits, rockers!
7. Western States – Arizona, Colorado, Utah, & South Dakota
For little girls and boys who carry an ever-expanding encyclopedic knowledge about dinosaurs, there’s nothing that could be more exciting than going on an actual dinosaur dig. Well, at the Museum of Western Colorado, there are half-day, full-day, and even three-day digs for kids, as well as a five-day digs in Utah. Over in Faith, South Dakota, you’ll find additional opportunities for family dinosaur digs organized by the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis (the world’s largest children’s museum!) which’ll have you and your tykes knee deep in science and fun.
Heading on back westward, little ones can also be entertained at the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Cortez, Colorado, which has a weeklong family camp for junior archeologists, or the Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve in Phoenix, Arizona, which houses tons of awesome petroglyphs to gawk over. Home to the largest concentration of Native American petroglyphs in the Phoenix area (more than 1,500 total), the preserve and its onsite museum have been sharing the legacy of the region’s vibrant past with national and international audiences for more than 20 years.
8. Rocket City – Huntsville, Alabama
Because of the nearby Marshall Space Flight Center and its pivotal role in space missions, Huntsville, Alabama has longed been nicknamed Rocket City—and since 1982, the city’s Space Camp has provided a tremendous learning experience for kids, teens, and adults hoping to learn more about math, science, technology, and of course, space exploration. There’s a zero gravity simulation experience that thrill-seeking youths will adore, as well as lessons about rocket construction and the actual space program on site via various three-day or four-day programs.
Allow those childhood dreams of becoming an astronaut come true by traveling off in a galaxy far far away. Spend the days monitoring mock shuttle launches, climbing Mars’ tallest mountain, or feeling exactly what it’s like to cruise through space without gravity.
9. Yellowstone National Park - Wyoming
Along with learning tons about ecology and getting active with ample opportunities for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and observing wildlife, munchkins and science geeks can also fulfill their investigative fantasies by snagging a Young Scientist Toolkit and hitting the great outdoors at the Old Faithful Visitor Center.
With stopwatches, magnifying glasses, and rock samples, get ready to time geyser eruptions or to take thermal pool readings using an infrared-thermometer gun. There’s also loads of H20 to explore in the area, as the 3,472-square-mile park is home to more geothermal features than any other spot on the planet.
10. Orlando, Florida
Nobody will ever turn down a trip to Walt Disney World, one of the jolliest places on Planet Earth. But little ones can actually get so much more out of the theme park experience than just a photo op with Mickey or Goofy.
Learn about the history of animation and how Disney cartoons have played an integral role in culture since landing onto TV screens in 1928. Kids will even learn how to draw their favorite Disney characters and work with other participants to create their very own animated stories—they’ll also gain insight on various characteristics of visual media and how it can be used to express bright ideas. Make that Disney vacation even more unforgettable by taking advantage of Disney Special Youth Programs.
This article was written by Pamela Chan.