From the insideDo you ever go any where near an airport? I travel through them all the time, so for me it's not an obvious fun place. But to kids it generally is. All the comings and goings, the loud noises, big airplanes up close and personal behind every window, the funny machine that chews up all the luggage as it goes around in circles....
Most airport shave observation decks of one sort or another, or you can usually sit near a departure gate and get a good view of planes as they come and leave. Press your nose to the window and you may even get to see the pilot doing pilot-things through the cockpit window.
When you're pickling up or dropping off someone is a good time, or maybe just when your passing by. To avoid the cost of parking, have someone drop you off and pick you up at agreed-upon times as they go off on other errands. This may also prevent having a 'where o where did we park' experience.
Many airports, especially smaller ones, also have aviation history exhibits or museums which, while they aren't large enough to warrant a special trip, can round out a visit.
From the OutsideThere was a time when flying was still a great novelty, and it was a 'neat' thing to park at the end of a runway ouside the airport on a Friday night and watch the planes fly overhead. You can still do it at many smaller airports. It's a good way to get an appreciative 'wow' out of your child as they see, hear and 'feel' a plane powering up into the sky, or see one swooping down for a landing.
If you spend a little time to learn the difference between planes (Cessnas and Boeings for example) you can have fun naming them as they pass over. Eventually, of course, your kid will start asking questions like 'Is that a 727-200 or a 727-300?' At which time you may want to go find an 'all about planes' sort of book.
Back toward the more traditional end of the museum spectrum, are art museums. Many cities, even smaller ones, have museums. Even those cities that don't, often have painting-filled public buildings or art/antique galleries where you can do some minor viewing. But let's say that, although you may be out of walking distance from the National Gallery or the Metropolitan Museum, there is some kind of Art-Containing-Museum in reasonable driving or bus-taking distance.
An art gallery is a neat place. Paintings and sculptures are wonderful media to teach your child with, and making an early impression on your child of 'what is appealing' in art may stave off later affection for 'beautification' efforts you may think less highly of (e.g. tattoos and body piercing). Odds are, if you can impress upon them the beauty of, say, a traditional portrait (John Singer Sargeant being great if you can find him), they may not consider that a 'tongue stud' or surgical 'eyebrow clamp' looks all that appealing.
The fun part? it depends on your interest level and how you show it. Talk with your child about what you see. What do they like the best of the 'stuff' in a given room? Ask why it appeals to them. Tell them what you like afterwards, and why it appeals to you. Pick out your favorites too, and see how much you agree on. For older kids, a '10 Worst things in the museum' list may be of interest. It is an interesting exercise to discover that your child may have 'opinions', or 'personal tastes'.
Many art museums offer tours. Some offer art classes. In larger museums, take some time to annoy the security guards. Ask them some questions. Odds are they are quite well versed in the things they watch over and are happy to have someone show an interest.
Keep in mind there are lots of things in a typical art museum besides landscape paintings, abstract blobs, and portraits of the Doe family (John and Jane, of course). There are lots of things that can spark discussion. Historical paintings, or characters or events from stories thay you can explain to them, or perhaps they can explain to you. Scenes of passion or violence that, since they are expressive and frozen in time, you can talk about together and broach some of life's harder subjects. Yep, there may be some of those 'clothing optional' statues as well, and those can spark some discussion as well (you have to get around to it some time).
Most museums have a little gift or reprint store. Your child may find a post card or small poster of one of your favorites to take home. And the price of the poster is a small price to pay for not having to stare at Marylin Manson or the latest Rap singer on your child's wall for the next year...
Don't have a museum around? There are online portals to a number of museums. Check around on the web. If you have access to Usenet, there is an online newsgroup named alt.binaries.pictures.fine-art where some beautiful scans are posted regularly. As a WARNING - I never advise a parent to allow a child to access usenet unsupervised - there is too much room there for getting into trouble. But it is a neat thing to do together, as long as you do the steering.
A Hobby RevisitedAfter spending several decades away from this hobby, I have recently re-discovered it, thanks to a Christmas present my son received from another member of the family. While not as painless as some of the activities in this guide, it still has a relatively low cost, and is much easier to get into than it once was.
Rocketry as a hobby has a special allure, maybe because of all the old science fiction serials and movies I watched as a kid, or all of the books by Heinlein, Clark, and Asimov, et.al. that I spent hours reading.
As a passtime, it combines science, craft activities and some artistic license, with the drama of launching activities, and the opportunity to teach your children the joy of following procedures. (Okay, so not all such things in life are cause for excitement. But a pre-launch checklist, being the person "in charge of safety, and especially being the one who does the countdown and fires the launch button -- these are responsibilities kids fight over having).
It used to be, to get into this hobby, you had to buy a kit of balsa wood and cardboard tubes, and build a rocket nearly from scratch. Hours would go into measuring, cutting, aligning, gluing, sanding, painting, and other necessary steps. You can still do this if you want, the kits are very inexpensive and it makes a good craft activity, where the child can make the decisions about what and how to make things, and the parent can help with the tough spots. On the other hand, you can also buy 'simplified' rocket kits requiring minimal assembly, and starter kits that include a fully-completed rocket ready to launch.
CostsA simple launch kit runs between $20 and $30, and typically includes a rocket, launch pad, controller, and a pack of engines. In as little as an hour or two you can read through the instructions, figure out how to setup engines and parachutes, and be ready to go. Individual rocket kits can be bought at hobby stores, toy stores, and mail-order over the Web, for prices ranging from about $5 -$10 to several hundred dollars. I recommend things in the $10 range.
One rocket can be flown many times, but I recommend having two, as a rocket may be lost in a tree, or damaged during ejection or touchdown, and a back-up lets you keep launching. It also simplifies things if you have multiple kids, that they can find several ways to take turns without feeling left out of the process. Alternatively you can assign someone on each expedition to be the launch controller, and someone else to be in charge of recovery.
..3..2..1..Blastoff!OK, so you build a rocket. How do you 'fly' it? Basically, you slide an engine into the bottom of the rocket, and place an igniter anda plastic retainer in the engine's nozzle. You (and child)) stuff a parachute or streamer and recovery wadding in the top of the rocket (just below the nose cone) and slide it down over the guide rod on a launching pad. Most startup kits come with a launch pad that includes a battery operated controller on 15-20 feet of wire. The controller we have has spring-loaded clips that can be attached to the wire leads on an igniter.
After everything is ready, the launch controller makes sure everyone is 'clear', then goes through a cerimonial launch procedure, complete with countdown. A typical 12-16 inch rocket on a typical B series engine may fly to an altitude of 500-800 feet, and may go well over 1,000 feet with a C series engine. As the rocket lifs off, it makes a satisfying 'Fssssssssst' that tends to draw the attention of anyone within a few hundred yards. There is a small 'pop' as the ejection charge releases the parachute, and the rocket descends.
Small rockets can use streamers to slow their descent and avoid damaging the rocket as it falls to earth. Larger or heavier rockets use one or more parachutes. If you have a small area to launch in, or worry about windy conditions, streamers or a parachute with a circular hole cut in the center are best. Always launch toward the 'upwind' side of the available field you are using. I will always remember the first rocket my father and I made, which soared incredibly high on its first flight, dangled seemingly forever on its parachute, then drifted into some high-tension wires where it became tangled, visible but unreachable.
Rocket recovery usually involves a race to see who can get to the descending rocket first. With multiple kids you have to take turns to avoid having the rocket riped in two. Third party activities include preparing rockets for launch, observing with binoculars, and measuring the altitude your rocket reaches with a home-made transit.