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What to do with kids in winter

Get the mittens ready: Where to play, ski, learn, recharge, fly, explore, and climb with kids this winter.

Kids can ride or lend a hand to the driver in Newry, Maine.M. Dirk MacKnight/Mahoosuc Guide Service/Mahoosuc Guide Service


It's OK to play with your food at the Flatbread Company inside the venerable Sacco's Bowl Haven, a fixture at the edge of Somerville's Davis Square since 1939. Youngsters get a glob of pizza dough to keep them amused while their pies are cooking. It turns out that most kids are equally fascinated by the pizzaiolos spinning and stretching the dough into rounds, painting them with sauce and toppings, and sliding the pies in and out of the wood-fired ovens on long wooden peels. After the meal, everyone in the family can try their hands at candlepin bowling before returning to the tables for a big, gooey dessert. Brownie sundae anyone? Pizzas $9.50-$19.50. Lunch and dinner daily. 45 Day St., 617-776-0552, www.flatbreadcompany.com


Chef and sculptor Nancy McPherson of Nancy's Air Field Cafe in Stow also likes to play with her food. One of her most adorable creations is Nancy's Famous Air Bear Pancake Deluxe, which features chocolate chip eyes and a sausage patty nose punctuated with a craisin. It's a big hit with the under-6 crowd who eat in the main dining room where a box of playthings features toy airplanes. Older children can join their parents in the Flight Deck, a long, narrow room with big windows looking out at the small planes that land, fuel up, and take off at Minute Man Air Field, the commercial strip that's run by Nancy's husband, Don. Weekend breakfast, lunch, and brunch are the most popular family dining times, though the cafe also offers more ambitious contemporary dinner cuisine — haddock stew with saffron and mussels, for example — on Friday and Saturday nights. Even then Nancy offers a kiddie menu for the "pilots in training." Day menu $5-$13, dinner entrees $22-$25, children's dinner menu $7.50. Open Wed-Sun. 302 Boxboro Road, 978-897-3934, www.nancysairfieldcafe.com

If Pixar Animation Studios were to re-create the rustic New England lake camp, the result would probably look a lot like Camp. Located in the Chase House Inn at Mill Falls in Meredith, N.H., across the main road from Meredith Bay on Lake Winnipesaukee, the restaurant features a tin roof, a big fieldstone fireplace, lots of peeled wood details, and large rustic pine tables. Walk in the door and you might imagine black flies swirling around your head. Someone had a lot of fun with the decor, and the theme carries over onto the menu, with its old-fashioned line drawings. Many of the dishes are the kind of fare that grandma made at her camp on the lake, or that the counselors at sleepover camp used to concoct to make sure they had happy campers. After a big meal of pot roast or mac and cheese, you can even look forward to s'mores for dessert. Sandwiches and entrees $8-$26, children's menu $6-$8. Dinner Tue-Sat. 300 Daniel Webster Highway, 603-279-3003, www.thecman.com



S. Cheng/New England Aquarium


When was the last time you had a close encounter with a stately bald eagle or came nose-to-nose with a tiny saw-whet owl? The Vermont Institute of Natural Science in Quechee is home to more than 40 birds of prey, including eagles, hawks, falcons, owls, and vultures. Many of the birds have sustained permanent injuries that don't allow them to return to the wild, but are thriving in the institute's state-of-the-art, natural enclosures. Watch live raptor shows and animal feedings, and look on as veterinarians help the injured birds and animals. Special programs, including family scavenger hunts and animal releases, are held throughout the year. After visiting the resident critters, rent snowshoes ($3) to walk the nature trails that crisscross the 47-acre site or take a short hike to Quechee Gorge State Park, located next to the center. Adults $13, ages 4-17 $11.  6565 Woodstock Road, 802-359-5000, www.vinsweb.org


Make your next visit to the New England Aquarium extra special with a Behind-the-Scenes tour ($16 plus aquarium admission). The 30- to 45-minute excursion takes you on the other side of the glass to discover the nuts-and-bolts of running an aquarium. You'll get a peek at how biologists work, see how the animals are cared for, and learn insider tidbits (Where does the aquarium's saltwater come from? What happens when a dolphin gets sick? What's the difference between an exhibit tank and a holding tank?). You can also join an official 30-minute harbor seal training session on the aquarium's special Meet and Greet tour ($100 includes admission). On this hands-on, immersive outing, you'll learn how seals are trained, and perhaps step in as temporary trainer giving signals to a performing seal. Sometimes, you may get close enough to touch the seal's flipper, rub its belly, or lean in to receive a seal kiss. Aquarium admission: adults $24.95, age 60 and over $22.95, ages 3-11 $17.95, under 3 free. 1 Central Wharf, 617-973-5206, www.neaq.org


What kid doesn't love a good mystery? Bring your best detective skills and curiosity on an animal tracking safari with the Appalachian Mountain Club. Free, guided walk-on programs, including complimentary loaner snowshoes, are available for guests at both Highland Center Lodge and Joe Dodge Lodge in the White Mountains. At the Highland Center Lodge, you'll follow a naturalist to nearby Ammonoosuc Lake, Gibbs Falls, or Elephant Head, looking for fox, red squirrel, and snowshoe hare tracks; sometimes marten, moose, and bobcat tracks are discovered too. What were the animals chasing? Where do they hide? The naturalist will lead you into the woods in search of clues on how and where animals survive in the winter. The excursions are offered weekends and school vacation weeks. At Joe Dodge Lodge, the walk-on programs are offered during Martin Luther King weekend and the Presidents' Day school vacation week. Kids ages 13 and up may enjoy the two-day family animal tracking weekend program (Feb. 7-9, $203-
$285, includes lodging, meals, snowshoes and guided instruction). Each day, you'll hike one to four miles through snow-blanketed forests and up gradual mountain slopes in search of wild animal prints and signs. Look for signs of moose, fisher, beaver, even mink in the snowy landscape. A similar animal tracking weekend is offered at the AMC Little Lyford Lodge and Cabins in Maine.  603-466-2727, www.outdoors.org


Boston Rock Gym


Winter can be a tough time when you have a child who has more energy than the Energizer Bunny. When it's too cold to move around outdoors, get the kids (and yourselves!) moving indoors before they go blind playing Minecraft.


The oldest rock gym on the East Coast, Boston Rock Gym in Woburn is as dedicated to getting kids climbing as it is to safety. During Kids Climb (Mon-Fri 3:30-5:30 p.m., Sat-Sun 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., $25) kids 5 and older climb with instructors, gaining strength, confidence, and spatial skills. Extra session Jan. 20 1-3 p.m. 78G Olympia Ave., 781-935-7325, www.bostonrockgym.com

Petit Papillon, with locations in Quincy, Hingham, and Braintree, has kids downward dogging like pros in its diverse class offerings, including parent-tot yoga (2-4 years), Girl Power (tween-teen yoga (10 and up), and Inclusive Kids Yoga (8 and up, kids with special needs practicing alongside their peers). Classes are designed to meet the needs of each child's age and developmental ability. They know just how much kids love turning into butterflies, lions, and trees. www.petitpapillonyoga.com

Are the kids bouncing off the walls? Why not head to a place where it's encouraged? At Sky Zone, a massive indoor trampoline park, kids (and adults) can jump and bound in the jumping area, play 3-D dodge ball, sink into the foam pit, or dunk in the Sky Slam basketball courts at three locations in Boston, Everett, and Westborough. Parents of youngsters should check the website for toddler times. Buy tickets beforehand so you don't have to wait when you get there. www.skyzone.com

If you are looking for a safe, kid-friendly place to learn (or remember how) to skate, try the public skate at The Edge in Bedford ($5, every day but Saturday) or sign your kids up for the multiweek Learn to Skate programs (next one begins Feb. 1). The Edge also houses a covered turf field with soccer, lacrosse, and field hockey programs, as well as Toddler Time (Tue and Fri, 10:30 a.m.-noon, $5 per child, $10 per family). Helmets are required for children 12 and younger. Skate rentals are available for $3. 191 Hartwell Road, 781-275-9700, www.theedgesportscenter.com

Kings Bowling, with locations in Boston, Dedham, and Lynnfield, is a far cry from the neighborhood bowling haunt you may have known as a kid. By day (before 6 p.m.), this luxury retro-inspired entertainment venue is super family-friendly. With tenpin bowling, billiards, bocce courts, skee ball tables, shuffleboard, and a full-service restaurant with pint-sized meals like mac and cheese and pizza, Kings is a treat for the entire family. Bonus: bowling before 6 p.m. costs less.  www.kingsbowlamerica.com


McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center


"Winter is a great time to go stargazing," says Tiffany Nardino, education coordinator at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord, N.H. "There is little humidity in the air, which means the stars twinkle less and we are able to see deep sky objects easier — really neat things like nebulae, galaxies, and star clusters." No wonder the Tonight's Sky program is one of the center's most popular. The ever-changing presentation takes a look at the current sky with a state-of-the-art digital projection system that takes you light-years away from Earth. Is it a star or a planet? Can you name that constellation? Is that the Milky Way? A presenter takes budding astronomers on a guided tour of what is visible in the night sky, including constellations, moon, planets, nebulae, and galaxies. You can also take your own tour of the night sky at the center's observatory dome. You may see distant planets, moons, and galaxies through the high-tech telescope. The observatory also has a solar telescope with special filters that allow you to safely view the sun and solar activity during the day. Educators are on hand to explain what to look for and point out objects in the sky. The observatory is open daily 1-4 p.m. and first and second Friday 6:30-9 p.m., weather permitting. Adults $10, age 13 through college $9, 3-12 $7; planetarium shows additional $5.  2 Institute Drive, 603-271-7827, www.starhop.com

Join astronomers during Public Open Night at Boston University's Judson B. Coit Observatory. You'll get a chance to look through the university's high-powered telescopes and binoculars, while educators point out stars, planets, nebulae, and moons in the night sky. The hourlong program is held most Wednesday evenings, weather permitting, throughout the year. Dress warm; the telescopes are outside. Free. 725 Commonwealth Ave., 617-353-2630, www.bu.edu/astronomy

Learn about Native American interpretations of constellations, find out what's happening with the Mars Rover, or discover what's in tonight's sky during one of the themed, hourlong programs at the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium in St. Johnsbury, Vt. The dynamic program, sometimes with live presenters, is held Saturday and Sundays throughout the year in the Lyman Spitzer Jr. Planetarium, named for the astrophysicist who was the driving force behind the development of the Hubble Space Telescope. The presentations are a hit with kids, but the fun starts beforehand in Vinton Space Science Gallery, where you can see a 17.3-pound meteorite, believed to have fallen 4,000 to 5,000 years ago in northern Argentina, as part of the largest meteorite known to have crashed to Earth. The gallery also features photographs taken by the Hubble. $5.  1302 Main St., 802-748-2372, www.fairbanksmuseum.org

Little tykes love Big Bird's Adventure: One World One Sky program at the Boston Museum of Science Charles Hayden Planetarium. Beloved Sesame Street characters guide you through the sky to learn about the Big Dipper, the sun, moon, and North Star. The planetarium offers a lineup of special programs, including Explore: Wonders of the Winter Sky, featuring a live presenter who takes you on a journey to see bright stars and northern lights, ending at the North Pole. Adults $10, ages 3-11 $8. 1 Science Park, 617-723-2500, www.mos.org


Newport Harbor Corp.


The Newport Winter Festival, dubbed "New England's Largest Winter Extravaganza," features more than 150 events spread across 10 days, Feb. 14-23. Sample recipes and cast your votes at the chili and chicken wing cook-offs, attend a lively children's fair, and go on a guided seal watching safari. There are also arts and crafts events and workshops, concerts, guided historic house and site tours, ice skating, fireworks, and more. 401-847-7666, www.newportevents.com/winterfest

The 14th annual Lowell WinterFest Feb. 21-22 will be jam-packed with arts, culture, music, and magic. The two-day festival, in collaboration with the New England Music Awards, will feature an impressive lineup of live concerts showcasing some of the region's best musicians. The event draws crowds to the historic downtown area, and features horse-drawn carriage rides, ice skating, arts and crafts, magic shows, fireworks, and food competitions between local chefs and restaurants. To really get in the spirit of things, have members of your family dress up in silly costumes to pull a sled in the zany human dog sled race. 978-446-7200, www.lowell.org

Join a boisterous and brave group and take a dip into icy Highland Lake during the Maine Lakes Mushers Bowl and Winter Carnival Feb. 14-16 in the Greater Bridgton Lakes Region. The Freezin' for a Reason Plunge helps benefit a local animal shelter but you can skip the dip and still have plenty of the excitement at this weekend event filled with nearly nonstop activities. There are pancake breakfasts, chowder lunches, and baked bean suppers. Go on a snowmobile or horse-drawn carriage ride, take a snowshoe hike, enter the snowman-making contest, try ice fishing, dog sledding, snowshoeing, and skijoring. Kids will enjoy the carnival games and family film night too.  207-647-3472, www.mainelakeswintercarnival.com

Stowe, Vt., is a great place to visit any time, but the fun-o-meter really ramps up during the Stowe Winter Carnival Jan. 18-Feb. 2. Take a stroll around town to watch professional ice carvers create stunning sculptures. Stop by the Kids Karnival Kaos, with music, games, and prizes, and participate or watch more than 15 sporting events, including the Super G and Halfpipe competitions. There are snow golf and snow volleyball tournaments. Opening night features fireworks at Stowe Mountain Resort; other evening events include dances and “meltdown” parties for adults. 802-777-5510, www.stowewintercarnival.com


M. Dirk MacKnight/Mahoosuc Guide Service/Mahoosuc Guide Service


Bretton Woods Ski Area has doubled in size over the past decade and is now the largest in New Hampshire. They recently expanded their glade skiing on Mount Stickney, which sits directly across from Mount Washington and offers some of the finest views in New England. Adding to the fun is a year-round canopy tour and a Kids Snowmobile Park. Children 4-13 can test their snowmobiling skills at the base area. The course, open last winter, provides plenty of banked turns, straight stretches, and wooded runs. Full-face helmet and supervision provided before and during the ride. Cost is $15 for 15 minutes.  www.brettonwoods.com

This year marks the 24th anniversary of the US National Toboggan Championships, held at the Camden Snow Bowl Feb. 7-9. Even if you're not one of the 400-plus entrants, try the thrilling chute, open on weekends and during February break. Originally built in 1936 and reopened in 1990, this two-foot-wide track will have the whole family whooping it up as they drop off the side of the mountain at 30-plus miles per hour. On the mid-Maine coast, Camden Snow Bowl is the oldest ski area in the state and the only one still owned and operated by the town recreation department. Ride the double chair to the 1,300-foot peak and you'll soon understand the allure, the ocean view. Toboggan ride $5 per person per hour. Lift tickets $14-$35.  www.camdensnowbowl.com

Dogsledding outfitters are popping up all over New England. One of the most reputable is Mahoosuc Guide Service in Newry, Maine, which made its debut 25 years ago. Polly Mahoney and her husband, Kevin Slater, lead day and overnight trips to Umbagog Lake on the New Hampshire border. Cost for the overnight tours start at $595 per person, including food, camping, winterized tents, and requisite doggies.  www.mahoosuc.com