If tonight is the most wonderful night of the year for children, then next week is the most dreaded for many parents: school vacation week, with everybody cooped up in the house. It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are a bunch of ways to get out and about, should the new toys and trinkets fail to provide sufficient amusement at home.
Visit Boston’s kid-friendly museums. The Boston Children’s Museum’s “Big & Little’’ exhibit, which examines the ideas of proportion and scale, was scheduled to close Jan. 2 but has been extended indefinitely. The Museum of Science’s “A Day in Pompeii’’ show, with body casts of victims who died in the lava, has drawn praise, but the museum’s regular features - the Van de Graaff generator, the triceratops skeleton, the virtual fish tank, the planetarium, and the butterfly exhibit, to name a few - are worth seeing again and again. One could spend all day gazing at the rhinos, hippos, bones, gems, and minerals encased at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. Even the Museum of Fine Arts offers plenty of children’s programs, especially during school vacations.
Go skating. Whether you do it on the Frog Pond or in any of the indoor facilities around the region, there are plenty of options. You need not own ice skates either. Most rinks rent skates out for a small fee.
Hit an aquarium. You have two world-class ones to choose from. The New England Aquarium’s new Shark and Ray Touch Tank is attracting crowds that rival those at its penguin habitat, but the giant ocean tank in the building’s core will always be the number-one reason to visit. If you don’t mind a short road trip, Mystic Aquarium, right off I-95 in southeastern Connecticut, is a gorgeous showcase of marine life with mesmerizing exhibits of beluga whales and jellies.
Take a hike. (Hiking? In winter?) Yes, hiking in winter. Look at the thermometer: It’s nearly 50 degrees out there, and there’s no arctic chill in the forecast. Hike the trails up the small mountain at Blue Hills Reservation in Milton. Walk through the beautiful 2,200 acres Lynn Woods Reservation. Or just take a walk through Arnold Arboretum. Just take advantage of this unusually mild weather and get outside.
If you’re still hankering for holiday lights, you’re in luck: Displays typically are up through the end of the year. One of the nation’s best arrays is Bright Nights at Forest Park, comprising 600,000 lights along a 3-mile route in Springfield. The religious display of 300,000-plus lights at LaSalette Shrine in North Attleboro is stunning, and it costs nothing to enter; even parking is free. Edaville Railroad in Carver has survived another year, and the best time to visit is December, when the train and the walking paths wind through a festive display of lights.
And if you still hunger to see Christmas-themed plays, you can do no better than Trinity Repertory Company in Providence. Its productions of “A Christmas Carol’’ and “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play’’ run through next weekend, and they’re among the finest anywhere.