By Ellen Byron
The beginning of summer doesn’t have to mean the end of learning for your kids. Los Angeles is filled with great ways to entertain them while injecting a little education. “I think it’s important to keep kids’ brains active over the summer,” says former teacher Sarah Barrett, a Studio City mom and school fundraising expert whose daughters are 7 and 10. “That doesn’t mean you have to make them do multiplication tables and write paragraphs.”
The following seven spots pack in just the right amount of education plus so much fun that your kids will never realize they’re learning.
The Autry National Center Of The American West
A host of educational adventures await at the Autry, starting with a summer program, “Wednesdays Are West Days,” from 1-3 p.m. Wednesdays June 26-July 30. The program includes crafts, games, hands-on art and teachers in the galleries. “Learning doesn’t have to stop in June and then start again in September,” says Sarah Ruzicka, senior manager of education. “In many ways, summertime learning is much more satisfying. It isn’t graded, but is its own reward.”
Panning for gold is offered 11 a.m.-3 p.m. every day except Monday from June 17-Aug. 1. Kids can also visit the Imagination Gallery and jump on a moving model horse to be filmed as if they’re in a Wild West film. The museum’s Day of the Cowboy and Cowgirl July 26 features everything from music to trick ropers. To find out about these activities and more, sign up for the Autry’s e-blasts.
4700 Western Heritage Way, L.A.; 323-667-2000; www.theautry.org. Admission: $10 adults, $6 students and seniors, $4 ages 3-12, free for kids under 3.
Leonis Adobe Museum
This summer, kids ages 3-11 can learn about what it was like to be a rancher in the 1880s through the Leonis Adobe’s L’il Ranchers program, 9:30-11:30 a.m. Tuesdays, July 8-Aug. 12. “Each week has a theme – Cooking on the Ranch, Animals on the Ranch, etc.,” says the Adobe’s Michele Fisher.
Visitors can also tour the Adobe, built before Los Angeles was a city, and the Plummer house, known as the oldest house in Hollywood before it was moved to the Leonis site. There is antique farm equipment on display and hungry goats and sheep to feed. In addition, the museum sponsors Passport 2 History, a program that links 80 historical sites in SoCal and offers prizes as participants fill their passports with stamps from the different locales.
23537 Calabasas Road, Calabasas; 818-222-6511; www.leonisadobemuseum.org. L’il Ranchers Program: $4 per person, free for children under 2. Admission: $4 adults, $3 seniors, $1 children.
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles
While most kids first experience L.A.’s Natural History Museum on school field trips, it offers lots of educational events for children and families over the summer. Critter Club, held at 10 and 11 a.m. select Saturdays once a month, invites ages 3-5 to meet some of the museum’s live animals, including snakes and tortoises. Junior Scientists, ages 6-9, participate in hands-on activities at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. one Saturday per month that teach them what scientists such paleontologists actually do. Dinosaur Encounters is a live weekend show with life-size dinosaur puppets, and a scavenger hunt that visitors will be able to pull up on their electronic devices is currently in the works.
To learn about even more programs, Gallery Interpreter Jesse Daniel advises clicking the “Activities and Programs” tab on the website. He also shares a tip to help you get the most out of your visit. “Check out the weekly insert you’ll get when you buy your ticket,” he says. “Also, talk to the guest relations advisor when you arrive. They have the most current information.”
900 Exposition Blvd., L.A.; 213-763-3466; www.nhm.org. Admission: $12 adults, $9 students, $5 ages 3-12.
Heritage Square Museum
Drivers on the Arroyo Seco Parkway (110 Freeway) often do a double take when they pass this pristine collection of old homes that seems to have been dropped into our busy metropolis like a California Brigadoon. This living history museum, open 11:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Friday through Sunday, teaches visitors about life in the first hundred years of California’s statehood. The homes and businesses – donated or rescued from demolition – include everything from elaborate 19th century gingerbread beauties to an early 20th century drugstore. “We have chickens roaming around the grounds,” says Jessica Rivas, director of education, “and a great heirloom garden that kids love to see, with purple carrots and beans that are black.”
Special summer events include Movie Night July 26 and a car show Aug. 23 featuring a wide range of vintage cars. “Bring food to have a picnic afterwards,” recommends Rivas. “Hang out on the grass. It’s a chance for life to slow down in the middle of Los Angeles.”
3800 Homer St., L.A.; 323-225-2700; www.heritagesquare.org. Admission: $10 adults, $5 children.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
LACMA has a range of wonderful educational opportunities and makes them affordable with its NexGen program, which provides free admission for kids under 18 plus one accompanying adult. “Exploring works of art and making art in our different family programs is a great way for kids to keep their brains stimulated during school breaks,” says Karen Satzman, director of youth and family programs.
Begin your visit by grabbing a handy “Tips for Families” brochure. In the Boone Children’s Gallery, anyone can try their hand at Asian brush painting, and the Boone staff leads story time for preschoolers at 2 p.m. Mondays and Fridays. Experience Andell Family Sundays, which offer artist-led workshops from 12:30-3:30 p.m., or check out an ArtTote full of touch objects that match up to a self-guided museum tour. “If you’re not blocking an exit, you can sit on the floor,” says Satzman. “It’s a great way for kids to see art.”
5905 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; 323-857-6000; www.lacma.org. Admission: $15 adults, $10 seniors and students, free for ages 17 and under.
Carter Sexton Artist’s Materials
A neon artist’s palette sign has announced this valley landmark since 1944. Carter Sexton sells art supplies for every age range, but it’s more than a store. “My goal is for it to be an art community,” says owner Chris Hauser. Professional artists teach moderately priced classes for kindergarteners through senior citizens, and are available to help middle and high schoolers put together portfolios. This summer, there will even be a sewing-by-hand class for kids, with a different project each week. The Carter Sexton Gallery sponsors a once-a-month art show, which is open to submissions from all for a nominal fee. Exhibit opening nights, featuring snacks and beverages, are free to the public.
Families can put their newfound art skills to use with a visit to the Japanese Garden at the Donald C. Tillman Reclamation Plant (6100 Woodley Ave., Van Nuys; 818-756-8166; www.thejapanesegarden.com).One of the Valley’s best-kept secrets, the garden, an authentic recreation of a Japanese “stroll garden,” inspires all with its serene beauty.
5308 Laurel Canyon Blvd., North Hollywood; 818-763-5050; www.cartersexton.com.
Los Angeles Fire Department Historical Society, Hollywood Museum And Harbor Museum
The LAFD salutes its history in two restored firehouses, one in Hollywood and one in San Pedro. Both are only open on Saturdays, but well worth a visit. “Our education center teaches children and adults about fire safety,” says acting curator Bill Dahlquist.
There are videos to watch, fire trucks to admire, and a toy truck for kids to climb on. The San Pedro location has a harbor bent to it, focusing on fire boats and divers. Make a day of it by visiting one museum in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Kids can commemorate the experience with a brochure featuring photos of awesome vintage fire engines. And the whole family will benefit from learning about fire prevention and home safety.
Hollywood Museum, 1355 N. Cahuenga, Hollywood; Harbor Museum, 638 Beacon St., San Pedro; www.lafdmuseum.org; 323-464-2727. Admission is free, but donations are suggested.