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1 museum jaunt + 1 outdoor adventure + 1 dose of downtime = an A+ school vacation

Special to Newsday

April 10, 2006

School's out for many districts, and for others, spring break is only a few days away. If you're not headed somewhere warm, then it's up to you to find ways to keep the kids happy and busy, hopefully without spending a small fortune. No problem.

The key to a successful vacation week is balancing structured fun with downtime. That means keeping the kids close to a regular waking and sleeping schedule. "When their bedtime is all over the place, they tend to get worn out and be whinier, and that's harder for parents," explains Laurie Segal, a child and family therapist based in Williston Park.

It also means not overdoing the number of activities you plan. "Kids need to learn how to be with themselves, or they grow up to be adults who come to me for stress management," says Debbie Mandel, a stress management specialist in Lawrence and author of "Changing Habits: The Caregivers' Total Workout" (Catholic Book Publishing Co., $9.95). "Part of the growing-up process is finding ways to amuse yourself."

That said, here are some ideas that will keep the kids happy, as well as a rundown of what's going on in the area this week and next.

Fun time at museums

Museums are ready for the influx of young visitors that will be coming through their doors in the next two weeks. Here's a sampling of what's in store:

The Long Island Children's Museum in Garden City is normally closed Mondays and Tuesdays, but it will be open every day from April 17 to 23. Live shows include a multilingual world concert and blue grass performances. On April 18, the museum will celebrate Astronomy Space Day; kids will learn about the night sky and make their own constellation drawings. On April 20, an artistic safari will teach kids to draw birds and insects. For more information, call 516-224-5800 or visit Admission is $8 for adults and children; children under 1 are free.

The New York Hall of Science in Queens is celebrating the '60s with an exhibit called Far Out Science. Explore the Hall of Mirrors, a 34-foot corridor featuring fun house mirrors, find your way through an inflatable maze, and marvel at the collection of groovy toys, rockin' rockets and nifty sci-fi art. Admission to Far Out Science is included in the general admission price of $11 for adults and $8 for children ages 2 to 17. Open daily but times vary. Call 718-699-0005 or visit for information.

The Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport is hosting Spring Funfest through April 23. It includes arts and crafts in addition to the usual planetarium shows and exhibits. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults; $3 for children (that does not include the planetarium show or museum tour). Call 631-854-5555 or visit www.vanderbiltmuseum .org for more information.

The Sony Wonder Technology Lab in Manhattan is a free communication and technology lab featuring four floors of hands-on exhibits and a 73-seat high-definition theater. The lab is open Tuesday through Sunday. For information, call 212-833- 8100 or visit www.sonywon

If it's free, it's for me

Why spend money if you can have fun for free? Here are some ideas to help your child enjoy his or her carefree time:

Check out the library. It's a great place to spend time reading with your child. In addition, many libraries are offering special programs, such as puppet shows, story times, short films and plays. Call your local library to find out what's going on in your area.

Build a sense of community. Get the kids in your neighborhood involved in a group activity such as a pick-up basketball, soccer, roller hockey or baseball game. Help them organize a talent show. Post sign-ups, then have the children spend part of the week planning their talent, whether it's a rock band, dance or magic act. Or get a bunch of families together for a weekend Family Olympics. Ask the kids to help design and create obstacle courses, relay races and other fun activities. The planning and preparation give them structure, and offer a chance for the kids to be creative and physical at the same time.

Spring for the outdoors

Take a hike. Walking and hiking are great ways for parents and kids to get moving. It's also a good opportunity to bond with your child. Walk the Jones Beach or Long Beach boardwalk, or hike or bike through Caumsett State Historic Park in Lloyd Neck. Want to get even more adventurous? Take a day trip to Palisades Interstate Park in New Jersey, which offers more than 30 miles of hiking trails. For information, go to www.nj or call 201-768- 1360. Wherever you're headed, pack a simple picnic lunch to add to the fun.

Visit a garden. Spring is the perfect time to visit the Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park in Oyster Bay, Old Westbury Gardens, and the Bayard Cutting Arboretum State Park in Oakdale.

Or grow your own. Teach your children how to plant their own garden. You can buy fancy gardening kits at the local gardening store, or simply let them pick out some seeds and start them in pots. For ideas on what to plant and how, visit http://earth _children.htm.

A break for you, too

Whether you're a working parent looking for child care, or just need a break, here are some places where your kids will have fun, be active, and learn something, too:

YMCA Vacation Camp. Most area YMCAs offer vacation camps from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., as well as before and after care. Kids are divided by age groups and enjoy age-appropriate activities focusing on fitness, arts and humanities. The indoor pools are open for swimming, athletic fields are available, as well as rock walls, inflatable slides and other forms of fun for kids. Fees and activities vary slightly at each YMCA, but in general, camp runs about $70 a day. A youth membership also is required. Visit or call 516-674-8091 for more information, or contact your local YMCA.

Sportime, which has locations throughout the area, offers a variety of drop-off programs that range from two hours to full days. Programs, activities and prices vary, depending on the age of the child and the location, but might include games, sports activities like basketball, baseball, soccer, inline skating, tennis and lacrosse. Call the main office at 631-269-1055 or visit to learn about the programs nearest you.

The Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in Manhattan is hosting its first School's Out, Ship's In. The drop-off program offers children ages 7 to 11 a behind-the-scenes look at the ship, how the museum works and the different exhibits. Groups of 15 will be supervised by Intrepid museum staff. It takes place April 17-21 from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Space is limited. Cost is $45 a day, $200 for the week. Call 212-245-0072, Ext. 8080, or visit www.intrepid The ship will be open for regular tours during the week as well.

Get creative indoors

Don't let a rainy day throw a wrench in your plans. Be prepared with some fun indoor activities and crafts.

Start a club. It could be a book club among your child's friends, based on their reading level, or invite some kids over for a fitness club.

Cook! Kids love to get involved in the kitchen. Bake some bread, make cookies or experiment with other recipes together. It's a great way to make connections with your child.

Get crafty. Paint pottery, decorate a T-shirt, make a collage of family photos, or use odds and ends from around your house. Local craft stores have tons of ideas to help you get started.


There's nothing tougher for a working parent than juggling the job with the demands of child care when there's a week off from school. If you can't take time off, don't get down - get creative.

One way, says Debbie Mandel, a stress-management expert from Lawrence, is to "fun-pool." If one or two moms take charge of your children's fun for a day or two, you do the same for them on the weekend.

Take advantage of the long evening hours. "If I can't take any days off, I try to leave earlier and plan things for the evening," says Laurie Segal, a child and family therapist based in Williston Park, and mother of five.

If you can only take one day, save it for the end of the week. That way, your kids have something to look forward to.

Whatever you do, don't feel guilty. "There's nothing to feel guilty about," Mandel says. Explain to your children why working is important to you, and take advantage of the time you do have together. "Quality time is important, and your children appreciate that," she says.

Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.