Smart options for school vacation week

Where to combine learning and fun

During the school break, the Roger Williams Zoo (above) in Providence provides the opportunity to teach kids about saving the environment as well as seeing the animals. Also, check out the New England Aquarium’s “Island of Lemurs: Madagascar 3D” IMAX film (below left) or the “Birds and Birding at Mt. Auburn Cemetery” tour (below right).

During the school break, the Roger Williams Zoo (above) in Providence provides the opportunity to teach kids about saving the environment as well as seeing the animals. Also, check out the New England Aquarium’s “Island of Lemurs: Madagascar 3D” IMAX film (below left) or the “Birds and Birding at Mt. Auburn Cemetery” tour (below right).

Just because school’s out for the week doesn’t mean the learning has to stop. But to honor the spirit of vacation, it’s nice if educational outings are so fun that learning something new is simply icing on the cake. The usual standbys, such as the Museum of Science and the Children’s Museum, have that philosophy built right in, and they are worth a visit any time of year. Here are five other suggestions to keep the kids curious and engaged.

Museum of Fine Arts’
‘Quilts and Color’ exhibit

At first, the Museum of Fine Arts’ new “Quilts and Color” exhibit (through July 27) may not seem a compelling draw for kids, but in fact, it’s a knockout. As pure art, the quilts are simply dazzling, rich with eye-popping colors and patterns. But the exhibit also embodies a fascinating combination of science (color theory), math (those geometrical designs) and history (the quilts date back to early 1800s), not to mention spectacular craftsmanship. And the MFA sets it up quite cleverly, pairing each of the gallery themes (gradations, vibrations, mixtures, harmony, contrast, optical illusions, variations and singular visions) with a contemporary abstract painting. The more you look, the more you can see, almost like deciphering a puzzle. The MFA’s Family Guide offers some good tips for viewing some of the quilts, and “Vacation Week Adventures” provide free activities especially for children.

Birding at Mt. Auburn Cemetery


While a cemetery may not seem an ideal spot for kids, this one is really a kind of arboretum. It’s a stunning spot to explore, and in April and May it’s considered one of the best spots in Eastern Massachusetts to catch sight of migrating birds. At 175 lush acres, the cemetery provides a seductive green oasis amid the urban landscape, offering woodland shelter, food, and water for a wide variety of birds needing rest during the day after an evening’s migration. (During peak migration, the cemetery opens at 7 a.m.) At the entrance gate, you can get a checklist of birds recorded at the cemetery, and a chalkboard at the information area shows the most recent sightings. The visitor maps ($1) at the entrance show some of the best spots for birding, and the Visitors Center offers an introductory guide of “Birds and Birding at Mt. Auburn Cemetery” ($10). Take binoculars and notebooks for drawing, but alas, no food is allowed on the grounds. The cemetery also recommends cautioning children about basic etiquette, especially regarding noise, staying on paths, and being respectful of any services being held.

New England Aquarium

Of course, the New England Aquarium is always a reliable go to for stimulating family fare. However, the current top draw there may not be sea life but primates. The new “Island of Lemurs: Madagascar 3D” is a splendid Warner Brothers/IMAX film that ties into all kinds of intriguing elements of science, social science, and conservation. Lemurs are not only extraordinarily adorable creatures with remarkable physical prowess, they represent human- kind’s oldest known relatives and live naturally in only one spot on earth, the island of Madagascar. The film shows how their native habitat is imperiled by encroaching civilization and highlights one woman’s quest to ensure their survival. They dance, sing, and fly through the trees. I dare you not to be charmed and moved. It’s the aquarium’s top-selling movie, so book early.

Cambridge Science Festival

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Every spring, the Cambridge Science Festival (April 18-27) offers dozens of activities that make science, technology, engineering, and math exciting, accessible, and fun. It started as a Cambridge event, the first of its kind in the United States, but now the celebration embraces events at sites all around the area. Many museum admissions are free, and a lot of the special exhibits and activities are interactive and geared toward all ages. Recommended highlights for families include Play Day at the MIT Museum (April 22), the science of archery at the Cambridge Community Center (April 23), Dive into Oceanography at the MIT Museum (April 24), the Earth Day celebration at Worcester’s EcoTarium (April 25), Cape Cod Mini Maker Faire at Cape Cod Community College, West Barnstable (April 26), and Making Science Toys V at Beaver Brook Reservation in Belmont (April 27). Check the website for full listings and information.

Party for the Planet! at Roger Williams Park Zoo

Any beautiful spring day is a grand occasion to visit one of the area’s excellent zoos. But one of the oldest zoos in the country, Rhode Island’s Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, is making every day during vacation week a special occasion to celebrate our rich but fragile earth. Each day features an impressive list of green-centered activities and entertainment to help kids understand and buy into ideas of environmental stewardship and sustainability — flora and fauna. April 25 is a special Environmental Fair.

Karen Campbell can be reached at
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