By Alexandra Pecci
---- — February vacation is just around the corner, ready to unleash all that pent up winter energy children are bottling up inside on their unsuspecting parents.
Instead of just letting your kids bounce off the walls for a week, or stare themselves into oblivion in front of the TV or iPad, take a look around the Merrimack Valley and beyond for fun, exciting, and (shh!) educational activities for the whole family.
Whether your kids love art, animals, or the great outdoors, there are plenty of February vacation hot-spots ready for them to explore.
FOR BUDDING ARTISTS
The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has a full schedule of Family Week events running Feb. 18 to 22 from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., with hours extended to 8 p.m. Wednesday. In addition to half-hour long, kid-friendly tours and story hours, children can help visiting artist Rachel Shuman Armentano create a collaborative art installation.
There are also drop-in, hands-on art-making activities throughout the week, such as creation of a ripped-paper collage and optical illusions.
During New Hamsphire’s school vacation week from Feb. 25 to March 1, more artistic activities are planned at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester. On the schedule are special story times and the opportunity to create works of art inspired by the Lethal Beauty, the museum’s new exhibition of Samurai weapons and armor.
For more hands-on activities, visit the Essex Art Center in Lawrence, where vacation week class activities include making musical instruments out of clay, building robots, and developing photos in a darkroom.
FOR ANIMAL LOVERS
Visiting the zoo is great all by itself, but how many kids have a chance to be a guest at a gorilla’s birthday party?
That’s exactly what visitors to the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston will have a chance to do if they visit during Massachusetts school vacation. Little Joe, a western lowland gorilla who lives at the zoo is celebrating his 20th birthday Feb. 18. The indoor gorilla exhibit will be decorated for the birthday festivities, and gorillas will get special treats. Plus, guests will be able to sign a giant birthday card for Little Joe.
At Stone Zoo in Stoneham, visitors can meet zookeepers and even have an “animal encounter” at the zoo’s Animal Discovery Center during vacation week.
In New Hampshire, there’s a week-long Seaside Safari Day Camp at the Seacoast Science Center in Rye, where kids can explore everything from shipwrecks to sharks inside the center and outside at Odiorne Point State Park. Hands-on science activities and interactive exhibits are part of the adventure. The camp is offered during both New Hampshire and Massachusetts vacation weeks.
FOR LITTLE EXPLORERS
Children who visit the Boston Children’s Museum during Massachusetts school vacation week will get a chance to participate in special activities inspired by the exhibit “Blue Man Group-Making Waves!” The daily activities will encourage kids to use everyday objects in creative ways, like building a playground, creating musical instruments out of recycled materials, and painting themselves to glow under black lights.
Other events on the agenda include music with students from Boston Conservatory, a “robot scrimmage,” and dance lessons with Urbanity Dance and guest DJ Jef Czekaj.
There’s also a lot to explore at The Children’s Museum of New Hampshire in Dover during New Hampshire vacation week. In addition to regular exhibits and activities, the museum is hosting a three-day February vacation camp for children ages 4-1/2 to 8 years old.
The camp, which runs Feb. 26 to 28 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., will introduce kids to basics of stage acting, including voice, expression, body movement, and attention. Students will show off their new skills at a final performance at the end of camp.
FOR YOUNG SCIENTISTS
Massachusetts school vacation week also happens to be National Engineers Week, so why not celebrate that happy coincidence at the MIT Museum in Cambridge, home to Kismet and other robots, holograms, and more?
Burgeoning scientists will find a week-long list of activities, including hands-on engineering challenges, workshops, and demonstrations by MIT students and local companies. There are also workshops, demonstrations, and drop-in activities on the agenda, such as making paper skyscrapers, gumdrop domes, and newspaper bridges.
You could head across town, too, to Harvard’s Museum of Natural History, where kids can touch meteorites, examine bugs under magnifying glasses, and check out gigantic dinosaur fossils. Plus, the newly launched “Look, Listen & Touch” guide helps visitors explore the New England Forests exhibition with young children. The gallery exploration flyer, available at the front desk, encourages children to experience nature in a multi-sensory way.
FOR SNOW LOVERS
Hit the slopes in New Hampshire, where the fun includes family fun weeks at Bretton Woods during Massachusetts and New Hampshire school vacations.
There’s a kids club, KISS 108 ski party, winter wiffle ball games, crafts, scavenger hunts, and family movie nights.
There’s also Cranapalooza at Cranmore Mountain Resort in North Conway. Cranmore is open for skiing until 6 p.m. Saturdays and vacation days. In the afternoon and evenings, other activities include fireworks on select dates, games, magicians, puppets, face painting, hypnotists, live entertainment, hot chocolate and s’mores around the fire pit.
Kids still going stir crazy? That’s on you.
How To Find Out More Visit these websites or call for more information about vacation week programming, hours, and pricing. * Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, mfa.org, 617-267-9300. * Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, N.H., currier.org, 603-669-6144. * Essex Art Center, Lawrence, essexartcenter.com, 978-685-2343. * Franklin Park Zoo, Boston, zoonewengland.org, 617-541-5466. * Stone Zoo, Stoneham, zoonewengland.org, 617-541-5466. * Seacoast Science Center, Rye, N.H., seacoastsciencecenter.org, 603-436-8043. * Boston Children's Museum, Boston, bostonkids.org, 617-426-6500. * The Children's Museum of New Hampshire, Dover, N.H., childrens-museum.org, 603-742-2002. * MIT Museum, Cambridge, web.mit.edu/museum, 617-253-5927. * Harvard Museum of Natural History, Cambridge, hmnh.harvard.edu, 617-495-3045. * Bretton Woods, Bretton Woods, N.H., brettonwoods.com, 800-314-1752. * Cranmore Mountain, North Conway, N.H., Cranmore.com, 800-SUN-N-SKI.