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19 Places in the US to Take Your Kids Before They Graduate

United States Student Work Insider Guides Family Travel #MatadorKids
by Amanda Beyer Apr 9, 2015

IT’S EASY TO GET LAZY and leave your child’s education up to their school. But, let’s be honest here — their education is your responsibility. Make learning actually come to life at these 19 thought-provoking, engaging, educational destinations. Before you know it, your kid might be 18, out of the house, and perhaps doing nothing else with their life except getting wasted at some hostel in Bangkok while blowing through what was supposed to be their college fund…so take advantage and make their travels as enriching as you can while you still have the chance.

1. EMP Museum, Seattle, WA

Why? It’s your duty as a parent to show them there was life before One Direction.

This museum bills itself as a “leading-edge, nonprofit museum, dedicated to the ideas and risk-taking that fuel contemporary popular culture.” The museum was founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and designed by architect Frank O. Gehry by using pieces of electric guitars to build the early model. Exhibits cover the art of fantasy, horror cinema, and video games to science fiction literature and costumes. It also has the largest collection in the world of rare artifacts, handwritten lyrics, personal instruments, and original photographs celebrating the music and history of Seattle musicians Nirvana and Jimi Hendrix. And let’s face it, most kids these days sadly don’t even know who those musicians are.

2. Bread and Puppet Theater & Museum, Glover, VT

Why? To teach the kids the power that art has to tell stories.

Tucked away in the winding scenic routes of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom is a 150 year old hay barn filled to the brim with one of the largest collections of puppets and masks in the world. The collection, made mostly of paper mache, depicts the stories that have defined humanity over time as seen through the eyes of artist Peter Schumann. Each summer the theater hosts a group of interns who create several performance pieces, with the support of long time company members, for weekend visitors. Each performance is followed by delicious homemade rye bread and aioli. Nature + art + good, homemade food = win/win for both you and the kiddos.

3. Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, NY

Why? To offer your kids an authentic glimpse into a different culture.

Brighton Beach, also known as Little Odessa, is a little oasis where almost everyone speaks Russian. Spend the day playing the in waves at the ocean shore or listening to accordion players and guitarists — when they play familiar tunes, the crowd will come alive and sing along. A block in from the boardwalk is Brighton Beach Ave which is nestled under the elevated train. Part of the charm is the frequent rumbling of the train above. The street is filled with colorful fruit stands and little markets that offer all kinds of pickled treats and foreign candies.

4. The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel, Memphis, TN

Why? To teach them about civil rights in a way that they will never forget lessons learned.

Every child in the US will learn about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement beginning in kindergarten, and they will, rightfully, be horrified that people could treat other people in such terribly ways. But it will probably seem very unreal to them until they stand at the site where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. From the parking lot to the wreath that marks the spot he died, they will get a real sense of what he was fighting for and what humanity lost that day.

5. The National Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Why? Because it’s the largest library in the world!

Show your kids that education is literally at their fingertips — and that it goes way beyond Wikipedia. Enjoy watching them actually enjoy exploring books, films, maps, etc.

6. A New Orleans Airlift Project, New Orleans, LA

Why? Because there’s probably no better way to get your kids interested in music.

This collective of artists share the mission to “collaborate to inspire wonder, connect communities and foster opportunities through the creation of experimental public art.” They are probably most well known for their musical architecture projects which began with an idea to build a house that could be played like an instrument. They continue to do project-based work with temporary structures, but have plans to build a permanent “sonic playground.”

7. Millennium Park, Chicago, IL

Why? Because exposing your kids to big city life can be as important as getting them out in nature.

Spend a day here to take in Chicago’s unique skyline, play in the fountains, explore the gardens, take selfies in the giant silver bean and see concert at the Frank O. Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion.

8. Pacific Coast Highway, CA

Why? Because road trips don’t get much better than this.

Show them the beauty of the open road. Rent a campervan or an RV and drive up or down the Pacific Coast Highway together. Take your time, stop often, watch whales and sunsets, and sleep just feet away from the Pacific ocean.

9. Honk! Festival of Activist Street Bands, Cambridge, MA

Why? Because activism doesn’t always have to be boring or heavy.

Punk-rock, political marching bands take the streets at this three day festival. Trust me, neither you nor your kids will be able to resist the urge to dance.

10. Wheatland Music Festival, Wheatland, MI

Why? Because music festivals don’t get much more family friendly than this.

This 3-day music festival in the middle of Michigan celebrates traditional music and arts by hosting local and world-renowned musicians and artists. Each year more than 1,000 children and adults gather at the festival to enjoy the company of one another while enjoying music and dancing.

11. International Folk Art Market, Santa Fe, NM

Why? To give them the chance to interact with artists from around the world.

Since beginning in 2004, this market has hosted more than 750 artists from 91 countries, and it’s the world’s largest exhibition and sale of work by master folk artists. Artists take home 90% of their earnings to invest back into their communities.

12. The Northern Lights

Why? To blow their little minds, of course.

There are several places in the Northern states where you can see these magical night skies. Your best bet is to try in the fall when skies are darker and the weather is still warm. Idaho, Michigan, Maine, Minnesota, and Alaska are known for having some of the best spots to catch them.

13. Caladesi Island State Park, Dunedin, Florida

Why? To unwind together as a family.

This little island off the Florida shore of the Gulf of Mexico requires a boat to get to, as no cars are allowed on the island. There are miles of hiking and it’s one of the best spots to spend an afternoon collecting sea shells.

14. Mesa Verde National Park, CO

Why? So they get it that US history goes back way further than a few hundred years.

For more than 700 years the Ancestral Puebloans and their descendants lived and flourished here. The park has over 4,000 known archeological sites. After living on top of the mesa for nearly 600 years, they began construction of the cliff dwellings — the main attraction of this site.

15. Taos Pueblo, Taos, NM

Why? To learn about Native American culture from the real deal.

The Taos Pueblo is a Native American community with approximately 150 full-time residents. It’s located at the base of the beautiful Sangre de Cristo Mountain range, designated both a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a National Historic Landmark.

16. Museum of Appalachia, Clinton, TN

Why? Because, honestly, where else are they going to learn how to shear sheep?

The Museum of Appalachia replicates an authentic mountain farm and pioneer village with dozens of historic log structures, several exhibit buildings filled with Appalachian artifacts, gardens, and free-range farm animals. They host a Sheep Shearing Day, barn dances, and the Tennessee Fall Homecoming.

17. John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, WI

Why? To teach them that art doesn’t have to be pretentious or inaccessible.

Let’s face it, this one made the list because you might get to see the bedazzled interior of the former home of the Original Rhinestone Cowboy and folk artist Loy Allen Bowlin. The Arts Center focuses mostly on sculpture, crafts, installation art, and the work of self-taught artists.

18. Ossian H. Sweet House, Detroit, MI

Why? It’s a place where you can actually feel the struggle for equality in your chest.

At some point, every family should read Kevin Boyle’s book, The Arc of Justice. The book tells the true story of an African-American doctor and his family moving into an all-white neighborhood in Detroit. Shortly after they moved in, a violent mob gathered outside his house. Sweet, or one of his defenders, accidentally killed one of the whites threatening their lives and homes. After reading the book, go visit the house. It’s an intensely emotional experience your kids won’t soon forget.

19. World Refugee Day Celebrations

Why? To teach them to be a good neighbor.

June 20th is internationally dedicated to raising awareness and honoring the courage, strength, and resiliency of refugees. Across the US, cities with refugee resettlement programs will host events that invite the community to come and learn about these foreign newcomers in their community. These events give you and your family a chance to sample food, crafts, and music from another culture, as well as an opportunity to welcome your new neighbors.

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