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Learning comes along for the ride

August 10, 2003|Eileen Ogintz | Special to The Times

YOU and your children are at loggerheads. The kids are trying to forget they ever have to go back to school, but you're determined that they learn something on vacation.

Many parents agree with you, according to a survey by Smithsonian magazine and the Travel Industry Assn. About 30 million trips with kids during the last year have included historical and cultural sites, a significant increase since 1996.

But you know what answer you'll get if you ask the kids whether they'd rather go to a museum or a water park, a city's historic monuments or a beach town. The trick is to mix a little history with a lot of fun.

Take the Kennedy Space Center in Florida,, less than 45 minutes from Orlando and just named the No. 1 summer attraction for families by, a travel research site.

A new NASA tour takes visitors to places that were formerly off-limits. The new Astronaut Hall of Fame, founded by the original Mercury astronauts, contains the largest collection of space travel memorabilia anywhere, as well as old spacecraft dating to the Mercury Sigma 7 capsule.

Focus on the fun and you'll be amazed how much the kids learn. A couple of new books from Fodor's might help too: "The Thirteen Colonies" for those traveling along the East Coast and "The Old West" for those touring the West.

How about a tour of one of California's state historic parks? You can take the kids to an amusement park and a historic landmark by visiting the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk,, which is celebrating its 96th year. (A new ride will let you see why people get so excited about hang gliding.)

Museums are doing all they can to help you engage the kids.

If you've always had a hankering to see what it would have been like to be a Pilgrim, head to Plimoth Plantation in Massachusetts,, where the kids can work on the Mayflower II, bake, farm or play English and Wampanoag games. Here's your chance to learn how to thatch a roof or make a canoe out of a log.

While you're in New England, you also can sing songs with 19th century seamen at the Mystic Seaport sea museum in Connecticut,, or hobnob with shoemakers and blacksmiths in Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, Eight of New England's living history museums have banded together to create "Historic New England Driving Tours,", which include discounts for each museum.

If you're in the Midwest, you can time-travel at the newly reopened Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Mich., After a $60-million renovation, it's now the largest outdoor history museum in the country. It gives kids a chance to visit the worlds of some of the inventors who changed American life, including Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and the Wright brothers.

Big cities can be great bets for history lessons too. And they offer good hotel deals, especially on weekends.

Philadelphia is touting the opening of its National Constitution Center,, just north of Independence Hall. The kids will like the hands-on exhibits, which tell the beyond-the-history-books stories of how the Constitution was written.

Since you're going to be having too much fun to leave Philly after only a day, you can take advantage of the "You can't do it in a day" deal, which offers a second hotel night free as long as you check into a participating hotel on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday. This deal, which runs until mid-September, is available at more than 60 Philadelphia hotels. Visit

If you and the kids want to walk Boston's Freedom Trail, check for an array of special deals.

Taking the Kids appears twice a month. E-mail Eileen Ogintz at

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