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With the price of gas going through the roof, your economic stimulus check might not be enough to convince you to vacation outside the Badger State this summer. However, in addition to its many natural charms, Wisconsin also offers some fun family destinations that are also educational.
Think caves, logging camps, zoos, planetariums, experiential museums, parks.
Jeff LeMahieu of Wisconsin Connections Academy (WCA), a public, K-8 virtual school based in Appleton, is an expert on these destinations.
"We do on average three field trips a month," says LeMahieu. "One of the first priorities is to spread them around the state because our students are spread throughout the state and we want them to all have access to the trips."
That, says LeMahieu -- a middle school math teacher -- means that he learns about wide-ranging opportunities for fun and educational trips all through the state, not just in a tight geographical area.
Many destinations have official tours to get the most out of the visit and some also offer pre-visit prep sheets available on their Web sites to get the most "brain power" out of your visit. LeMahieu suggests doing some advance work with your kids, by simply using the Internet to get background knowledge on topic.
"You can Google ‘caves’ and you and your kids can come up with really great questions to have ready for the tour guides," says LeMahieu.
Speaking of caves, they are great family adventures for children in kindergarten through 8th grade, says LeMahieu. In fact, he says, visits to caves get the best response.
"The cave trips are always popular with the kids. A lot of the kids have never been in a cave before, so it's totally new to them."
But be aware that there are usually a lot of stairs, it can be damp and slippery and dark.
The Allen F. Blocher Planetarium
The planetarium will be closed to the public from May 19 to June 15.
UW-Fox Valley, Menasha
Planetariums offer spellbinding tours of the cosmos using laser and light shows and other exhibits.
The Building for Kids, Fox Cities Children's Museum
100 W. College Ave., Appleton
The 30,000-sq. ft. museum delights and educates young visitors with exhibits like the Story Telling Tree, Water Play, DaVinci Studio, Happy Baby Garden, Airplane Hangar and more. Closed Mondays.
Dinosaur Discovery Museum
5608 Tenth Ave., Kenosha
Wisconsin was once home to dinosaurs and mastodons and other amazing creatures. You can learn about it all here. Museum opens at noon.
Kenosha Civil War Museum
5400 First Ave., Kenosha
Opening on June 14, 2008 on the lakefront (the trolley, see below, stops nearly at the front door) explores the social, political and economic influences that caused the Civil War, using dioramas and interactive exhibits at this one of a kind museum.
Kenosha History Center
51st Place, Kenosha
The Kenosha History Center's mission is to collect, exhibit and educate people about Kenosha County's rich history. Exhibits include Voices of WWII, Grandma's attic and a blacksmith shop.
Kenosha Public Museum
5500 First Ave., Kenosha
The Kenosha Public Museum, located next door to the Civil War Museum (see below), has interesting natural history exhibits (including a giant wooly mammoth and a dinosaur room) as well as cultural materials and neat selection of dioramas depicting the studios of great artists. There's also a fine view of the lake.
There is no better way to spend a quarter in Southeastern Wisconsin than on riding the downtown Kenosha streetcar. The five brightly colored trolleys travel south on 11th Avenue to 56th Street.
La Crosse University Planetarium
The planetariums present spectacular laser and light shows to explain the cosmos to kids and parents. Call or visit the Web sites for current shows and times.
NEW (Northeast Wisconsin) Zoo
4378 Reforestation Rd., Green Bay
There are miles of trails, trout ponds and an observation tower with fabulous views! The nearby Brown County Reforestation Camp offers miles of hiking, biking and nature trails, too.
Oshkosh Zoological Society
Menomonee Park, Oshkosh
Visit monkeys, goats, prairie dogs and more!
Paper Discovery Center
425 W. Water St., Appleton
The Fox Valley's paper industry comes alive in this center, which uses science and technology and history to open up the world of paper. Closed Sunday.
Racine Heritage Museum
701 S. Main St., Racine
Located in downtown Racine, this museum offers unique displays of Southeastern Wisconsin history, including the Racine Belles, part of the legendary All-American Girls Baseball League, and the role Racine played in the Underground Railroad.
2131 N. Main St., Racine
The Racine zoo is located along the shore of Lake Michigan, giving it a unique feel.
Weis Earth Science Museum, UW-Fox Valley
1478 Midway Rd., Menasha
Create your own earthquake, explore a 19th century lead mine and learn about the importance of mining in Wisconsin history. Families can also learn about the oceans, volcanoes, mountains and glaciers that were once part of Wisconsin's landscape. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Wisconsin Maritime Museum
75 Maritime Dr., Manitowoc
Board a World War II submarine and descend not only into American military history but also Manitowoc's maritime past (28 subs were built here!). The lakefront museum is among the largest maritime museums in the region and is open seven days a week during summer.
Cave of the Mounds
Discovered in 1929, this cave is often called the "jewel box" of America's major caves thanks to the the variety and delicacy of its formations. That "exceptional value as an illustration of the nation's natural heritage and contributes to a better understanding of man's environment" has led the site to be designated a National Natural Landmark. Before you go, visit the Web site which has a lot of useful information on visits and activities that will help kids better understand the cave. Guided tours are offered all year long.
Devil's Lake State Park
Along the Ice Age Trail, Devil's Lake offers great outdoor opportunities for all ages. There are miles of hiking trails, two sandy beaches, rock climbing, camping, biking and scenic views from the bluffs surrounding the lake.
5607 Cty. Rd. C, Spring Green
Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright's Wisconsin home, offers tours of the architect's home, studio and rolling, green estate and, at the same time, will learn more about the man, his vision and his work.
Henry Vilas Zoo
702 S. Randall Ave., Madison
The children's zoo has a new Conservation Carousel. And, admission to the Vilas Zoo is free!
The Wisconsin Historical Museum
816 State St., Madison
Learn about the state's history through photographs, artifacts, multimedia programs and more. Right in the shadow of the capitol dome.
Wisconsin State Capitol Tour
Capitol Square, Madison
See where the governing of the state happens; where laws are created. Perhaps even more interesting is the stunning architecture and the lavish sculptural and other decorations created by artisans. Free public tours are offered daily.
Paul Bunyon Logging Camp,
Carson Park, Eau Claire
Learn about life in a rugged Wisconsin logging camp, in the shadow of a looming Paul Bunyan statue that never fails to delight. There are games and interactive exhibits in Paul's Tall Tales Room and the camp also boasts a barn, blacksmith shop, bunkhouse and more.
Chippewa Valley Museum
Carson Park, Eau Claire
Next door to the logging camp, located on a 134-acre peninsula on Half-Moon Lake, is the Chippewa Valley Museum, where kids can travel back in time to learn about the area. There is an original one-room schoolhouse, an 1866 farmhouse, a turn of the century middle class home and a 1950s ice cream shop!
During April and May weekends each year, guides lead visitors through a maze of well-lighted passages where stalactites, stalagmites and rippling flowstone hang from the ceiling or cover ledges. The cave is accessed by a series of steps and ramps that allow visitors to descend more than 70 feet below the surface.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.