Sunday, December 5, 2010

Larwrence Hall of Science in Berkley

We're big fans of science museums (as you may have been able to tell by the reviews listed here so far), but the Lawrence Hall of Science is one of our favorites. It's among the great hands-on science centers of the Bay Area. It's also a little less expensive than many of the other big science museums, right now running at $6.00 to $9.00 for kids and $12.00 for adults, kids under 3 are free.

One of the things we like best about the Lawrence Hall of Science is that it has generally not overwhelmingly crowded when we've visited. We may have to wait a moment to take a turn with an experiment or a table, but most of the time we don't. Usually the stations we have to ration ourselves with and share the most are the big, new ones in the main lobby. There is usually enough room to move, and take time at each science station without feeling like other as hovering around waiting for us to move.

My oldest daughter took a one-day workshop on animal adaptations that she told me she enjoyed very much. I only peeked through the window from the hall, but the group of kids all looked enthralled with the class.

Some of the exhibits change every few months or so and you can see both the current and upcoming themes on the Lawrence Hall of Science website. There are also many exhibits that stay the same all the time, so not everything will be brand new if you visit a few times a year.

The only thing I've been disappointed in was the planetarium show. It's a fairly small planetarium, so the host/speaker is very accessible for asking questions of, which is nice, but the shows we've seen have been underwhelming. One of the shows we watched was projected with a regular projector as a traditional rectangular screen, which made viewing very difficult for anyone sitting underneath it in the circular room. It seem to be a waste of a domed planetarium to me. On the upside, tickets are very cheap, only $4 (it isn't included in the admission cost). But if you're short on time, or unsure if you want to stop and see a show, I'd pass and stick with the other great options available at the museum.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December 2010 Fun Stuff to Do

Ardenwood Historic Farms: December 4th and 5th 2010 -
This is one of my favorite new holiday traditions. Ardenwood is a historic farm in Freemont. The first weekend in December they have their Christmas festival. They celebreate in Victorian era style. They have carolers, Victorian crafts, the Patterson House is all decked out in Christmas atire, Father Christmas is there, and there is a yule log hunt, plus a lot more. It's a fun place to visit any time of year, but Christmastime is my favorite. Dress warm, since it's an outdoor event.

Crockett's Winder Block Party: December 4th from 1:00pm to 3:00pm -
I've never been to this event, but it sounds like a ton of fun: " Amble down one of Crockett's most historic blocks through the Crockett Library, Crockett Historical Museum, East Bay NTRAK Model RR, and Carquinez Women's Clubs' "Old Homestead". Enjoy: caroling, Christmas stories, crafts, Betty Buttons the Clown with her balloon animals and hats, Don O'Brien and the "Extreme Science Magic Show".
Refreshments provided. FREE!"

Tilden Nature Area Family Restoration Day (Berkley): December 12th -
"Join other families who care about the environment on this action-oriented program. Learn about nature's interrelationships and help remove invasive plants. Make a difference while having fun! Rain cancels. This is a drop in program; no registration is required. For information, call (510) 544-2233. "

Dickens Christmas Fair, San Francisco: Dec. 4, 5, 11, 12, 18, 19, 2010; 11:00am - 7:00 pm -
I've never been to this either, but every review I've read, and everyone I've talked to that has gone enjoyed it. It's a little more pricey than some of the other things on this list, but if you love this time period, you'll probably find it worthwhile.

Holiday Frolic and Snow Park, Martinez: Dec 3rd, 4th, and 5th -
They have snow to play in! How much better can it get than that? (Okay, they have some other fun activities and crafts too) There is a small charge for the snow play and sledding, but most of the events are free here, including a tree lighting and a holiday light parade.

Dunsmuir Historic Estate, Oakland:
I've had some trouble finding specifics for this, such as what dates the Christmas events go on, but several friends say this is a really fun place to visit, so I'm going to list it. If anyone visits, or knows more, please feel free to comment and share!

Local libraries all over the Bay Area are doing tons of fun December activities for families and kids. Check out your local county library's website to see what the branches near you are up to.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Free and Low Cost Summer Movies

While it's great to get outside and play in the summertime, sometime kids (and parents) need a little down time. A great way to get out of the heat and still have fun is to see a movie. Some local theaters around the Bay Area offer free summer movies, or very low cost movies.

Regal Theaters have many locations and off free G and PG second run movies on Tuesday and Wednesdays. To see if there is a participating theater near you, you can visit their Free Family Film Festival schedule web-page. Not all Regal theaters are participating this year, including some that have participated in the past.

AMC Theaters have a similar program with movies for $1.00. For their list of participating theaters and the movies they will be showing, their Summer MovieCamp website is here.

Cinemark (Century Theaters) also have $1.00 movies for kids this summer. If you plan to attend most of the shows, they also offer a prepaid 10 week Summer Movie Clubhouse card for $5.00.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Summer Reading Programs around the Bay Area

My kids and I have participated in Summer Reading Programs since they could toddle into the library (actually, maybe even before that). They love filling out the little forms, and collecting their prizes. Every county library in the bay area has a Summer Reading Program for kids, most of them begin today, June 14th. Some local bookstores also have reading programs, and kids can earn free books.
For more information on the library programs, here are the county library websites:

Contra Costa
San Francisco
San Mateo
Santa Clara

Half Priced books, that has several locations around the Bay Area offers a Summer reading program as well. Kids can earn a $3.00 store credit each week for reading 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week. You can read more, and print out the reading log at the Half Priced Books website.

Boarders Books, requires kids to read 10 books over the course of the summer, and they can earn one free book from a preselected list. To see the reward book choices and print a log form, check out the Boarders website.

We are also fortunate in the Bay Area to still have some smaller, independent bookstores. I don't know if any offer summer reading programs, but many sell used or hard-to-find books, and are just great places. Here is an independent bookstore finder, so you can see what shops are in your area.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito

We attended a group tour and class at the Marine Mammal Center recently. Now, my kids don’t need a lot of help getting excited about anything to do with animals, but every kids in our group was enthusiastic about seals and sea lions by the end of our visit. Our group ranged in age from infant to around 8 years old. Our tour guide provided a lot on hands-on activities for the group along the way. Along the tour, the kids got to use the rescue boards and poles, and a carrying cage to stage a mock rescue of a plush Harbor Seal toy, they got to try out the equipment used in tube feeding young marine mammals, and at the end, they at last got to view some animals being fed from a quite viewing platform.

The class involved watching short video clips, learning to identify the different types of marine mammals that live in the local area, pretended to examine, collect samples from, and feed another plush seal, and ouch some preserved skins and skulls. The very smallest of our group, the 3-year-olds, and smaller generally lost interest in the ‘class’ structure and were soon climbing on chairs or otherwise not paying attention, but all the other children were very focused and interested.

Our tour guide was also our class teacher, and did a great job of getting the kids involved, and never once spoke down to them. She did a nice job of making sure most kids who wanted to vouluneer for a demonstration got picked to be involved at least once.

I was impressed that for a place that relies so heavily on volunteer labor, it was an extremely clean, well run center. They can really do amazing, and sometimes very difficult work on what must be very limited funds. While our group was young, our teacher guide explained that kids can become Marine Mammal Center volunteers at 14 years of age if that’s something they’re interested in.

You don’t need to be part of a group to visit the Marine Mammal Center. They are open 10 to 5 everyday except for major holidays, and admission is free (but I’m sure a donation would be greatly appreciated). If you visit their website, you can see what species are likely to be there at various times of year, learn how to schedule a tour, and a lot of other great information about local marine mammals.

If you decided to visit the Marine Mammal Center, make sure to carefully read the driving directions. It’s located far along a narrow, windy road that made me a little nervous at times that I wasn’t going the right way. The only other recommendation I have, is that if you can, leave yourself a little extra time to visit the nearby beaches. Sausalito is truly beautiful place, and worth hanging out and relaxing in if you get the chance.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

April 2010 Events

April 15th 4:00pm to 4:45pm
Magician Dan Chan at the Bay Point Library

April 17th
As a UC Davis graduate, one of my favorite events of the spring is Picnic Day on the Davis campus. It's a very fun, very family-friendly event, and if you've ever thought about visiting the UC Davis campus, this would be a great time to go have a look around. I'm not going to try to list all the activities that are held on Picnic Day, because I would surely miss many anyway. Instead, here is the website for further information:

11:00 am
Pet Parade at the Rio Vist Library