The novelty of new toys is wearing off. The chores are done. The kids are stir crazy.
You might know about sledding at Chestnut Ridge Park and shopping at the mall, but did you know children can play president? Or try their hand at scientific experiments? Or skate for free downtown?
There’s no shortage of hands-on activities for children on winter break. Museums are offering kid-friendly exhibits. Ice rinks are busy, and, of course, a layer of snow came back just in time for outdoor winter sports.
Here’s a guide for what to do once visions of sugar plums have faded and cabin fever sets in over the next few days:
• Make fossils and paint with salt at the Buffalo Museum of Science during its Science Rocks! activity series.
The museum’s education staff will offer children the chance to explore the movement of the Earth’s tectonic plates and identify minerals through geology stations set up throughout the museum for winter break. Children will examine the properties of minerals, learn about the dangers of asbestos and observe how ancient invertebrates are similar to their modern relatives.
The series is part of the museum’s new science studios, which aim to bring learning to life with interactive displays. The newest studio, Bug Works, opened in October.
“They’re highly interactive,” Kaitlyn Byrne, the museum’s promotions and special events coordinator, said. “We’re trying to change the museum experience from what people have thought of the Buffalo Museum of Science in the past – as dioramas behind glass – into a very hands-on learning environment.”
The geology activities take place from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily through Wednesday and are included in the price of admission.
• At the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site, children will find the year 1901 has sprung back to life.
The museum underwent an overhaul in recent years to add multimedia displays and guided tours that explore the themes facing Roosevelt as he began his presidency in a Delaware Avenue mansion. Visitors to the museum can sit at a re-creation of Roosevelt’s White House desk and decide how they would have handled presidential decisions of the day.
“It’s very different,” said Executive Director Molly Quackenbush. “You think of an historic house museum as just sort of walking through and seeing furnishing and things like that. This tour is not like that. You’re in the moment, and you’re following Theodore Roosevelt and really learning about not only Buffalo history, but national history and how our nation works in times of crisis.”
• Flowers and foliage aren’t just for adults. The Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens is in the midst of its annual poinsettia show but has also partnered with the Western New York Garden Railway Society to offer two train exhibits that include a Thomas the Train display and a traditional setup. Both exhibits are on display through Jan. 5.
The Botanical Gardens will offer children’s crafts from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday in the Wegmans Family Garden, where children ages 4 to 10 can explore plants and healthy eating. Children’s programs also will be held from 10:30 a.m. to noon Dec. 28 and Jan. 4. If you visit Sunday, admission is just $1 for Dollar Day.
• Trains also are on display at the Buffalo History Museum, where 1900s replica model trains run on more than 200 feet of track through miniature buildings that portray early Buffalo and Western New York. The trains will run from 1 to 4 p.m. today, Saturday and Sunday. The display is included in the price of admission.
• There are opportunities for ice skating throughout Western New York. The Rotary Rink at Fountain Plaza downtown is free and open to the public with extended hours for the holiday week, including midnight skating on New Year’s Eve. Skate rentals at Rotary Rink are $2 for children and $3 for adults. The Northtown Center at Amherst, the Healthy Zone Rink in East Aurora and the town ice arena in Hamburg also offer public skate times this week and next.
An outdoor ice rink in DeVeaux Woods State Park, Niagara Falls, is expected to reopen today after closing because of weather. Skating is free, but participants must bring their own skates.
• Ice skating near the brink of Niagara Falls is part of the ongoing Winter Festival of Lights across the border in Niagara Falls, Ont. The outdoor skating rink will offer extended hours from noon until 10 p.m. daily through Jan. 5.
The festival features a winter wonderland, with 120 animated displays, including a three-story-tall illuminated Canadian-American flag that celebrates the peace between the two nations, a tunnel of lanterns and a display depicting religions of the world.
• Lights are also on display from 5 to 10 p.m. through Sunday at the Fairground Festival of Lights in Hamburg. The event includes a two-mile drive through animated lights, as well as indoor children’s activities. The price is $20 per carload or $25 for large vans.
• Erie County’s parks offer a range of outdoor winter sports, from groomed cross-country ski trails at Elma Meadows and Sprague Brook Park to beginner downhill skiing at Emery Park. The activities are held weather permitting, and the county updates a list of open winter activities online daily at www.erie.gov/parks/ and offers a winter sports hotline at 858-8513.
“Everyone knows Chestnut Ridge is primarily the place to go sledding, but at Como Park and Sprague Brook Park and a few of our other areas, we also have some sledding opportunities,” said County Parks Commissioner Troy Schinzel.
• See how much polar bear cubs Kali and Luna have grown at the Buffalo Zoo, where the bears are on display daily from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The zoo includes an indoor rain forest exhibit where visitors can see lush vegetation, ocelots, birds and more.
• The harbor seals are back on display at the Aquarium of Niagara, where visitors also can see penguin feedings and sea lion shows. The aquarium’s four harbor seals were recently returned to public view after construction on the Rescue Harbor exhibit to replace the filtration system was completed.