We’re SLOWLY moving toward the “tween” years in our house. My seven-year-old can’t wait to reach that milestone and continues to tell us she’s more than halfway there. Times are changing, and it’s exciting to see her love of learning heavily influenced by the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) curriculum in her school.
Everyday, she tells me a new fact like “Abraham Lincoln loved to read! 84 plus 13 is 97, right? Hey, did you know the first people on Earth didn’t wear clothes? I can make a Coke bottle explode. Want me to show you right by the new white couch?”
She’s inquisitive, busy and now wants that huge video game truck to pull up in our driveway for her next birthday. So, when we want to pull out of our driveway and travel these days, we really have to consider our options and what’s available to entertain her.
The days of hanging out on the beach, building sandcastles are dwindling. We need and WANT intellectual stimulation for her. So, if you’re like us, Pensacola is a great city to visit. Not only does it have some of the top beaches (Gulf Islands National Seashore was just ranked best Florida Beach) so you can still play in the gorgeous sand, but it’s home to companies and centers specializing in technology, medicine, military, research, aviation, biology and astronomy that offer fun, STEAM-y programs for kids.
The Institute for Human and Machine Cognition is a major research center in downtown Pensacola. Scientists and engineers research, create and test everything from life size robots to tongue mechanisms that help the blind. They share their passion for discovery and experimentation with kids once a month during their Science Saturdays programs. Kids learn about holograms and lasers, running robots and slime. You have to register before you go, and you and can check the schedule online for monthly dates.
If your child is interested in aviation or just wants a really awesome experience, a visit to the National Flight Academy is a must. Their Adventure Saturday program is a hands-on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) based learning adventure for kids in grades K-12. Upcoming topics include hurricanes, drones, rockets and geocaching. For a longer adventure or possible summer camp idea, the National Flight Academy offers a 6-day camp for 7th to 12th graders that is an ultimate aviation experience where they learn how to operate a virtual aircraft carrier. It’s interactive, it’s exciting, and it’s been proven to provide kids with those critical 21st Century learning skills.
The flight academy is located right next to the award-winning National Naval Aviation Museum, where kids can experience the thrill of flight by exploring the exhibits, watching “The Magic of Flight” IMAX movie, or just taking in the amazing airplanes that hang from the ceilings and line the floors. The Navy’s world-famous Blue Angels practice weekly at the museum, as well, and you can watch those practices and stick around afterward to grab autographs. Admission is free (IMAX and rides inside are not, though, so bring money), and the museum is open everyday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Another hot spot for fun, educational experiences is the Pensacola MESS Hall. MESS stands for Math, Science, Engineering and Stuff. The MESS Hall is a hands-on museum where kids are encouraged to touch, play, explore and experiment all day via marble runs, circuit making and so much more! The MESS Hall even offers a program called Tinker Tots for the smallest future scientists. The museum has extended hours during Spring Break and is offering a zombie summer camp (I’ve already been told by the future tween that she intends to go). Visit for the day or take part in the special programs listed on their website. Hours vary based on the season, and admission is $8.
A free event for future astronomers takes place weekly during the summer on Pensacola Beach. You can get your beach time in during the day and then education and inspiration in at night. The Escambia Amateur Astronomer’s Association offers free stargazing for kids and parents, and it’s an amazing experience. You get to look through more than a dozen telescopes with different strengths and sizes. You can see the planets, the Milky Way and maybe even a shooting star. Dates and times for stargazing can be found on the Visit Pensacola Beach website.
I think I’ve covered science, engineering, aviation, technology, astronomy and math opportunities for kids. So, I’ll leave you with adventures in biology. Kids ages six to 11 can become Junior Park Rangers through the Gulf Islands National Seashore programs in Pensacola and Perdido Key. Stop by any of the Visitors Centers at the Gulf Islands National Seashore, grab a booklet and learn about biology, the wilderness and the history of the parks as you complete the activities and explore these national treasures. The program is free!
As a parent, it’s pretty exciting to see these engaging opportunities to explore and learn. It makes these kids of ours get excited about traveling, seeing and learning new things. I do sometimes long for the days when swimming was the hottest thing on our vacation agenda But, I do have the joy of raising a three-year-old, as well, who’s content with swimming and just sitting in the sand….for now….