Start planning your travels now, and let the learning begin!

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Enriching field trips can expand children's horizons by exposing them to art, culture and history while also providing fun family entertainment. With spring break approaching, consider these educational, family-friendly field trips or take some time for a respite from the long winter to plan ahead for warm summer outings together.

Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C., is an ideal family vacation destination in a beautiful city that offers multiple opportunities for extracurricular education. The U.S. capital is home to the world-renowned Smithsonian Institution, which features the National Air and Space Museum (housing the Wright Brothers' plane, among other artifacts), the National Portrait Gallery, the National Postal Museum and fine art and natural history exhibitions from around the world. All these museums offer free admission. Tours of the White House, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorials, the Library of Congress and Ford's Theater can all serve as lessons about a complex and multifaceted American history.

National and state parks

With millions of acres of parks across the United States, it is simple to locate one close by, and that’s without including county or state land set aside for recreation. Often, parks host educators and offer free programs, such as hiking, stargazing, and environmental education. Many national parks allow camping within their borders, provided you adhere to specific guidelines. Several, such as the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone, must be reserved nearly a year in advance, but others that are less well-known can be just as rich and diverse. A smaller park like Buffalo National River in Arkansas may be perfect for a family day trip, as well as for exploring the ecology and history of the area.

Local museums

Even outside of New York City and Los Angeles, museums are incredible locales for family outings. Small museums typically offer ample one-on-one time with guides and often charge less. The St. Louis Zoo, for example, has offerings similar to those of the San Diego Zoo, but charges no fee for admission. The Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York and the Tucson Museum of Art in Arizona are stellar examples of lesser known museums with a great deal to offer, including weekend art programs for families and teacher resources. Search for quirky, small or single-collector museums within a two-hour radius, then prepare to be pleasantly surprised.

Farms

Local dairies and agricultural facilities, such as Shamrock Farms in the greater Phoenix, Arizona area, occasionally lead tours of their businesses and discuss the process of producing food. This is a wonderful way to educate children (and parents) about where our meals originate and the resources required to deliver them to our dinner tables. These tours sometimes include hands-on time with animals and a taste-testing of the final product at the end of the tour.

Colleges and universities

This field trip allows for the added bonus of evaluating colleges for and with your children before they even complete the SAT. Universities across the world are also hosts to beautiful architecture, science laboratories, specialized collections of many kinds, sporting events, and lectures by leading experts in a variety of fields. Almost all colleges offer guided tours, but self-guided options are also sometimes possible. Quite a few university-sponsored museums are free or offer steep discounts. Frequenting the local college’s website for information on upcoming lectures and events will enable short evening or weekend field trips.

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