Tag Archives: Kids & Family

Hands-on Fun to Cure Cabin Fever

When it’s not quite warm enough to play outside, but cabin fever is setting in, Hands-on House, Children’s Museum is the solution!

We ventured out on a dreary Sunday and set off for Hands-on House, located off of Oregon Pike in Lancaster. I had been there as a child and volunteered there years ago, but this was my first time visiting as a parent. With as curious as my daughter is, I was excited to see how she would respond to the learning-through-playing activities featured in the museum.

The first area, “Right in Your Own Backyard” explores the sights and sounds found in nature, primarily ones found in Pennsylvania. At first, my daughter who is almost 4, didn’t exactly know what to do. After we showed her she could climb up into the tree house or catch and measure fish, she began branching out and led the way to the next activity.

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Left: Catching fish in “Your Own Backyard” Top Right: Creating at masterpiece at “Art-rageous” Bottom Right: Gathering our produce in “Corner Grocery”

She led us to the next exhibit “E-I-E-I Know,” where she was drawn to the wall of corn that we could pick and distribute to market stands, restaurants and farm animals. This activity, along with many throughout the museum, required reading, and parents are highly encouraged to get involved. Along with the words, many activities incorporate images which help to develop pre-reading skills. This activity also involved lots of counting as we filled each corn order. What makes this children’s museum different from others is how the exhibit designer draws inspiration from Lancaster County, “E-I-E-I Know” being the perfect example. Children can learn about farm life in Lancaster County and how goods like milk and eggs get from the farm, to the grocery store, and to our fridge.

Speaking of grocery stores, the “Corner Grocery” area was a hit, and appeared to be a favorite of other visitors as well. Children can pick a grocery list, featuring both words and pictures, and find the items including produce, seafood, meat, dairy, dry goods and bakery items. Much like a real grocery store, after all the items on the list have been gathered, it’s time to check out at one of the two check-out stations with computers where children can scan the bar codes to ring up their groceries.

Our last stop in the museum was “Marty’s Machine Shop.” This exhibit gave us a look into how factories and assembly lines work, and was by far the highlight of my little one’s day. Oddly enough, this was also a favorite of my sister and me when we visited as children! The process begins with the creation of a “Whatcha-ma-giggle” which is shown step by step with pictures and words. The “Whatcha-ma-giggle” passes through quality control before heading off to be packaged. The last station dives into reusing versus recycling. While that concept was a little mature for my daughter, it was a clever way to take the items from the end of the assembly line back to the beginning while teaching sorting and picture recognition.

We wrapped up our visit with their Pop-in for Play program, “Art-rageous,” which was the perfect activity for my artsy child. The Pop-in program was included with admission and could be done at any time during the 2-hour program period, hence the pop-in. Using construction paper shapes and glue, children were able to put together an “art-rageous” creation. An example was provided but it was really up to the children to design their own art project. My daughter was so proud of the art that she had created. She could not wait to show everyone what she had made.

After discovering our inner artist, we were definitely ready for dinner and a nap. Don’t miss the exhibits we didn’t get a chance to explore during our visit; “Face Painting Porch,” the “Post Office” and “Mostly Make Believe.”

Hands-on House is geared towards children aged 2 to 10, and is stroller-friendly for families with infants. Admission is $9.50 for children and adults. Family memberships, starting at $99 per year, are available for families planning to visit more than one or twice.

Photo courtesy of Hands-on House, Children's Museum

Photo courtesy of Hands-on House, Children’s Museum

Tips:
– Check out their hours prior to your visit. Public hours vary day by day and by what time of year you are coming.

– Be sure to eat before you go! Hands-on House does not allow food or drink inside the building and energy is definitely needed for all the playing and exploring involved.

– Wear comfortable shoes. Since parents are highly encouraged to play and learn with their children, seating areas are limited.

– Visit rain or shine! The “Play Garden” is open year-round, weather permitting, for fresh-air fun.

-The Pop-in for Play programs are an added bonus as they are included with your admission. Be sure to check out the schedule before visiting.

Things We Love About the Strasburg Rail Road

There’s just something about real live steam locomotives.

My boys and I are drawn to them like a moth to a flame. Maybe it’s the grandeur of the gigantic steel machinery or the comforting sound of a steam whistle in the distance, but every year we are inexorably drawn to the Strasburg Rail Road to take a ride on the rails.

Riding in an open air car through the Lancaster County countryside with the familiar clickety-clack noise of the passenger cars rumbling beneath us is a comforting and fun summertime tradition. There are lots of thing to love.

  • They love seeing one of the steam engines in all its restored glory pull into the station and drop off passengers.
  • They love flipping the bench in the open air car so they can be facing the “right way” going to Paradise as well as the trip back to the Strasburg station.
  • They love hearing the Ghost Whistle.
  • They love asking me if we can stop at the picnic spot halfway through the ride, although they’re always disappointed with my, “Not today,” response.
  • They love seeing the farms whip by. I enjoy knowing that they’re beginning to appreciate the inherit beauty of PA Dutch Country.
  • They love that I’m a sucker and buy them kettle corn when we arrive back at the station at the Strasburg Rail Road at the end of the day.
  • I love seeing the big smiles on their faces. What more can you ask for?

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Fun at the Whitaker Center

My first-grader loves math and science.  Considering I’m the only computer nerd on the entire eastern seaboard who didn’t excel at those particular subjects growing up (I was an English and History kind of student), the fact that my son checks out non-fiction after non-fiction book from his school library is a bit mystifying to me.

Me: “Why don’t you get one of those Arthur books? Nice little morality tales wrapped up in some light-hearted aardvark-based shenanigans!”

Him: “Naw. I’m going to get this book on lizards instead.”

Me: “Are you sure? That D.W. is quite the firecracker!”

Him: (Leaves the room shaking his head)

Harsco Science Center at the Whitaker Center for Science and ArtsWho am I to rain on his preferred educational interest parade? So a few weeks back, on a school in-service day, I took the short drive to Harrisburg with my boys to the Harsco Science Center at the Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts.  The science center has three floors chock full of hands-on science activities and exhibits that were engaging for everyone. Considering we had a 3-year-old, a six-year-old, and a 35-year-old in tow, that’s saying something.

The first (top) floor of the museum has some neat interactive exhibits with general science principals on display, as well as KidsPlace, an area for kids 5 and under, that had my pre-schooler working on tubes in a water table and performing on a “right-sized” stage.

The second floor of the Center is focused on health and wellness as well as the science of sound and motion.  While, at their age, the boys might not be taking home the finer points of the principles behind the Doppler effect, they certainly had fun pushing all the buttons and levers and seeing the results of their actions.

Harsco Science Center at the Whitaker Center for Science and ArtsHighlights from the bottom floor, from the Forces of Nature exhibit, included the ability to actually touch a home-brewed tornado, destroying our carefully constructed Lincoln Log homes with a mini earthquake, and seeing the real-time weather unfold on the Science on a Sphere exhibit; a five foot animated 3-dimensional globe .  The boys particularly enjoyed seeing the results of storm force winds on their Dad’s hair.  Friendly tip, hats are of no use in the Hurricane Chamber.

For a day of fostering my son’s budding love of science, and just plain having fun, the Harsco Science Center at the Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts was just the ticket.  I think even Arthur, or at the very least his friend the Brain, would agree.

A Trip to the North Museum of Natural History & Science

I had a chance to return to the North Museum of Natural History & Science with my family this past weekend.  The museum, located on the edge of the campus of Franklin & Marshall College near downtown Lancaster, is a fantastic, accessible way to introduce your school-aged children to the world of science.  My oldest son has shown more of an interest in math and science since he’s started first grade (much to the befuddlement of his English teacher mom and his book-loving Dad) so I thought a return trip to the North Museum might be in order.

The North Museum is filled with lots of hands-on activities and displays for kids.  Even my 3-year-old could get into the act.  Sure, he may not be gleaning any of the “science” from his exploits, but he was having fun which is a bonus for any parent who’s ever heard the phrase, “Can we leave yet?”

The first level of the museum contains a live animal room full of snakes, turtles and insects the kids can inspect through the safety of glass enclosures.  A helpful docent was on hand to clue my boys in on lots of interesting facts about the reptiles and amphibians on display.  We also spent a decent amount of time in the “Hall of Cosmos” which had all kinds of interactive displays geared towards those with an interest in space.

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The boys also enjoyed the “Light & Sight Gallery” where they got to see what kind of effect ultraviolet light had on their respective clothing.  Having already been in a college dorm room in my lifetime, I was somewhat less shocked and intrigued by the day-glow effect then they were, but it was great fun to see how excited they got nonetheless.

The current traveling exhibit was Attack of the Bloodsuckers, which focused on the science behind insects that… well… enjoy an opportunity to dine on you.  The boys particularly enjoyed seeing the world through a mosquito’s prism-like eyes and sitting on the giant inflating tick (no lie).

We hit pretty much everything in the museum, from the expansive Cabinet Museum on the lower level with a vast collection of birds and bugs and gorgeous geology specimens, to the Dinosaur gallery filled with fossils and a fierce looking T-Rex model.  We finished up our visit with the planetarium (south-central Pennsylvania’s largest), where we learned quite a bit about the stars we see in the skies here in Pennsylvania Dutch County, and got a primer on the different constellations.

All in all, the North Museum of Natural History & Science was a fun (and educational) way for the family to while away a brisk fall afternoon in Lancaster County.

Halloween in Lancaster County

I know tons of people who’s favorite holiday of the year is Halloween – it’s fun to get dressed up in costumes, and take your kids out to get tons of free candy – or to go trick-or-treating yourself!

Well, fall is in the air, and that means a lot of things, but one in particular – Halloween is coming! So I’d like to share with you a few traditions that our family has taken on and some great things to do at Halloween in Lancaster County! Here are my top 3:

1. Hersheypark in the Dark is a must for the Halloween season. Are you a person who loves amusement rides but hates the lines? Well, then this is for you. Not all the rides are open, but there’s plenty and the lines are generally shorter than they are in the summertime! Also, when you go, with your park admission, you can get into Creatures of the Night & ZooAmerica! Visit their website for more details!

2. Dutch Wonderland has Happy Hauntings. It’s a family-friendly event where kids are encouraged to dress up in their costumes and enjoy themed rides & attractions, trick-or-treating, magic shows, and much more! See their website for more details!

3. Cherry Crest Adventure Farm has a Pumpkin Madness Festival. Throwing, launching, hurling, rolling, and dropping are all part of the festivities. Bring your own pumpkins or use some of their left over stash. See their website for more.

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