Family Fun and Learning in Ohio (page 4)
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- Plan on Pennsylvania for Family Fun and Learning
- Fun and Learning in Florida!
- Must-Sees in Michigan for Family Fun
- Kid-Friendly California Fun and Learning
Looking for an all-American family destination? You can't beat the charm and history of Ohio! Buckeye State cities along the Ohio River and Lake Erie have blossomed in recent years from rust-belt industrial hulks to vibrant, clean, culturally diverse urban centers. Surprisingly large swaths of the state, however, are rural and agricultural, with charming small towns and rolling country roads that often contain an Amish buggy or two. Whether you're looking for big-city attractions or country appeal, here are our picks for top Ohio spots your family will love.
1) Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park – The town of Dayton is considered the birthplace of aviation; it was here that Ohio natives Orville and Wilbur Wright experimented with making practical and functional flying machines. The Heritage Park includes multiple facilities: the Wright Cycle Company complex, a Visitor Center housed in the building where the brothers’ printing business produced newspapers and handbills, the nearby Huffman Prairie Flying Field Interpretive Center where the brothers flew their inventions over the open prairie, and the Carillon Historic Park’s Wright Flyer III, the first aircraft that could turn and be controlled in flight. Park rangers lead guided tours, some of them even using appropriate transportation: bicycles.
2) Toledo Museum of Art – Since the city is a leading glass manufacturing center, it makes sense that Toledo’s art museum has a massive collection of beautiful ornamental glass and a dramatic curving glass-walled pavilion with frequent glassmaking demonstrations. At the end of every week there are extended hours and kid-friendly activities during “It’s Friday!” and the TMA Family Center has drop-in themed activities during the week. Best of all, everything including admission is always free.
3) Ohio Historical Center – The history and growth of Ohio, all under one roof in Columbus. Poke through artifact drawers full of ancient tools, see how the state grew from raw wilderness to an industrial and agricultural power and visit interpreters in the recreated Civil War-era Ohio Village adjacent to the main building. Fun sidelight: the Ohio Village Muffins sponsor the largest vintage “base ball” tournament in the US over Labor Day weekend, complete with players using uniforms and equipment identical to that of teams from 1845 – 1924.
4) Glacial Grooves – Kelleys Island, one of several islands in the Lake Erie Islands State Parks complex, has a demonstration of the power of massive glaciers that covered Ohio about 10,000 years ago. The Glacial Grooves make it appear that a giant cat’s claw raked across the island’s limestone, leaving long swaths of scored rock several feet deep. Native Americans also left pictographs on Inscription Rock. Soak it all in, then stay overnight in one of two yurts in the island’s campground.
5) National Underground Railroad Freedom Center – The Underground Railroad was a secret series of houses and churches that hid fugitive slaves on their way north to freedom. Some of the hiding places can be seen today, but many are in private homes, so this Cincinnati museum on the Ohio River (including the child-friendly “Escape!” exhibit) is a great way to learn a lot in one spot. To find out how to visit many of the actual Railroad hiding places across Ohio, see the Passage to Freedom Web site.
6) Hopewell Culture National Historic Park – The ancient residents of Ohio lived in some of the largest cities north of Mexico, and 23 of the mounded remnants of their 200 BC – AD 500 civilization are in this park on the Scioto River near Chillicothe. Watch a short film at the visitor center that explains what archeologists have learned so far in their explorations, and then take a Ranger-guided tour across the mounds to see how they were used for ceremonies, social life and possible astronomical observations.
7) Dayton Art Institute – Known for decades as “Dayton’s Living Room,” this mid-sized museum has a vibrant children’s education and outreach program. The self-contained interactive gallery space called Experiencenter (the first of its kind in any US art museum) hosts in-depth, multidisciplinary rotating exhibitions that focus on certain periods of history or a specific decorative art. Museum Tuesdays and Museum Saturdays always have special themes combined with hands-on workshops using 2D and 3D materials. Stop in on Sunday afternoons or Thursday evenings for free concerts.
8) Taste of Cincinnati – Held downtown every Memorial Day weekend, this is the longest-running culinary arts festival in the U.S. Dozens of restaurants serving over one hundred tasty items, continuous live music and entertainment, booths set up on stroller-friendly asphalt, plenty of hotels nearby if you want to stay close to the chow….and admission is free. Surely even the pickiest kids can find some new foods to enjoy!
9) Cleveland Orchestra children’s programs – One of the top orchestras in the nation for decades, the Cleveland Orchestra hosts family concerts, many kid-friendly activities and music during its Blossom Festival summer series and 30-minute Musical Rainbow concerts for children ages 3-6. They also sponsor and mentor a Youth Orchestra, Youth Chorus and Children’s Chorus.
10) Ohio Amish Country – One of the largest Amish and Mennonite communities in the U.S. is spread across picturesque Holmes County (several roads are a designated National Scenic Byway.) The Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center in Berlin gives a good overview of their unique language, religion, culture and daily life. Park next to Amish carriages at the Mt. Hope Auction and enjoy the bustle during one of the produce, dairy cow or draft horse auctions. Explore the typical Amish farm and lifestyle at either Yoder’s Amish Home or Schrock’s Amish Farm, then marvel at the old-time equipment and appliances that are still sold at Lehman’s Hardware in Kidron (butter churn or wringer washer, anyone?)
11) Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum – When this dramatic I.M. Pei-designed landmark opened in 1995, it gave the city of Cleveland a whole new cachet. Packed with treasures like The Door’s lead singer Jim Morrison’s Cub Scout uniform, the museum weaves the history of rock and roll from the 1950s through today with the story of how the music spoke to political, economic and creative issues. Exhibits range from the evolution of audio technology to “Hang on Sloopy – Music in Ohio,” and public outreach programs include live summer concerts and a February tribute to the African-American roots of rock.
12) Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal – Several fun places for kids are all located under the soaring Art Deco roof of a former freight and passenger rail terminal. The Cincinnati History Museum uses costumed interpreters to recreate a World War II home front, a 1910 machine shop and the Cincinnati Public Landing of the 1850s (including a side-wheel steamboat.) The Duke Energy Children’s Museum features the Little Sprouts Farm and Kids’ Town for toddlers and preschoolers, and the glaciers, caverns and creatures of Ohio are on display in the Museum of Natural History. Throughout the year, there are cultural festivals inside the Terminal and annual events like BugFest – here’s your chance to meet a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach.
13) Cuyahoga Valley National Park – Ohio’s only national park spreads across 33,000 acres near Akron and Cleveland. Its location combines geographic aspects of both the Appalachian Plateau and Central Lowlands, so the wildlife is diverse – bald eagles, coyotes, blue herons and beavers. In addition, there are rides aboard the historic Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad and a Canal Visitor Center that tells the story of the Ohio and Erie Canal that runs through the Valley and connects Lake Erie to the Ohio River. Ride bikes down the canal-side Towpath Trail and see the locks, taverns, gristmills and small towns that supported this important trade and transportation route.
14) Celebrate Juneteenth – Every year across the state, residents celebrate the end of slavery on or near June 19th, the day that word of the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached to the far corners of Texas, two and a half years after the Proclamation was issued. Many Ohio cities and towns feature educational activities, sports, musical entertainment, family reunions and good food. Columbus, Toledo and Cincinnati have particularly noteworthy events, but Gallipolis, Ohio has the longest-running Juneteenth celebration in the US.
15) Franklin Park Conservatory – A botanical garden with more than 400 plant species housed in a wedding-cake 1895 glass palace, the Conservatory also includes 90 acres of outdoor gardens. It was the first conservatory with an annual butterfly exhibition (now called Blooms and Butterflies, from March to September) and it is also unique because it incorporates a number of stunning Dale Chihuly glass artworks into the plant displays. Summer youth workshops engage children ages 4-12.
16) Malabar Farm State Park – This is an interesting combination of Ohio State Park, working farm and historic landmark. The country home of author and conservationist Louis Bromfield invites visitors to explore farm life with animal petting areas, wagon rides and a cow milking exhibit. There are special events like barn dances and star parties, and at the end of your visit, eat locally-grown food at the restaurant or pick up produce at the farm stand. Camping is available, and there is one family room at the main house, which is now a hostel (the first hostel opened in a state park.)
17) Paul L. Dunbar House – The prolific author and poet is often called the African-American poet laureate; during a life that was tragically cut short by tuberculosis, he wrote novels, plays, short stories and over 400 published poems, plus a newspaper that was published by the printing company owned by the Wright Brothers. Consequently, his Dayton home (carefully preserved by his mother until her death in 1934) is part of the Aviation Heritage Park.
18) Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden – This zoo is the nation’s second-oldest, and has a careful focus on youthful visitors. There is a Children’s Zoo with areas for sea lions and wolf conservation, a meet-the-animals Discovery Center, a please-touch barnyard animals exhibit, a Nursery where kids can watch the staff care for injured or sick creatures and finally a playground for burning off that extra energy. An extensive set of children’s and family educational programs are carefully calibrated to specific age levels, some as young as 18 months.
19) Roscoe Village – In the early 1800s this was a prosperous town along the Ohio and Erie Canal; now it’s a living history village. In the summer (and weekends through October) ride the horse-drawn Monticello III canal boat while the captain tells stories about village life and commerce. There are hands-on crafts workshops in tin punching, candle dipping, weaving and printing. Special seasonal events include the big autumn Apple Butter Stirrin’ Festival and a rollicking musical Dulcimer Days Festival in May.
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