Family fun

Of sky and fish

Why miSci and Via Aquarium were made for holidaze

This year, the “holidaze” will include 10 days of free time for the kiddies. Looking for boredom-busters? Good news: Some of the best children’s museums in New York are right here in the Capital District. Two in particular manage to balance fun and education with aplomb.

miSci

The Museum of Innovation and Science (miSci) in Schenectady is a stone’s throw away from the gates of Union College. The open layout of the building flows from one installation to the next, encouraging the rapt fascination kiddos usually confine to carnivals and fun zones.

Activity areas include giant Legos and Keva planks for building, a play supermarket with a working register, a bubble table, a water table, the hands-on Magic Planet (an interactive globe that projects actual climate data) and more.

Of particular interest to science and history buffs is “Inside Edison’s House of Magic,” which features 125 years of innovation at GE. It’s jam-packed with artifacts ranging from the first light bulb, to the first jet engine and radar, to oil portraits of GE workers from the 1920s. The exhibit also delves into the story of the first television broadcast ever… which just happened to take place in Schenectady.

The Holiday Train Show, featuring a 19-by-27-foot display of running Lionel model trains, kicks off Nov. 24 and is guaranteed to enchant.

The Challenger Learning Center offers a full NASA experience. It’s equipped with a Mission Control Center and fully operational space station that includes astronaut training.

The planetarium features journeys through the galaxy in the night sky. The Dudley Observatory, in partnership with miSci, also offers astronomy programs at the museum.

Up for a sleepover during the school break? miSci has your back. Sleepover nights, with “campsites” throughout the museum mean round-the-clock adventure.

Hands-on STEM workshops and classes will be offered throughout the school break beginning Dec. 22. These three-hour programs will be offered for grades K-2 through grades 6-8 from 9 a.m. to noon or 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

Via Aquarium

The latest addition to our roster of educational centers, Via Aquarium is a voyage through the oceans and waterways of the world.

Just look for the “VIA/PORT” splash of blue wall outside the Rotterdam Mall and begin the journey through a long “underwater” hallway leading into the mall.

Short of a scuba dive with Jacques Cousteau, you will not get a better feel for life in the ocean than at Via Aquarium. Being submerged in the blue-green darkness and soft azure light makes the 25,000-square-foot oceanic replica feel just that real.

The journey around the globe begins with the Hudson River and its fish. Via offers an accessible, compelling roster of surprising factoids. Moving through the “River Journey,” the next area is called “Jewels of the Sea,” another freshwater system containing piranha, pacu fish, and the arowana — the world’s most expensive aquarium fish — and hundreds more.

Next is an interactive play area separating the freshwater systems from the saltwater ones. “Discovery Cove” includes an auditorium, a digital sandbox, water table, and the virtual “River Rescue” game, along with a bay of stingrays and central island of koi fish. Children are encouraged to touch and play with the fish.

The saltwater section is especially wonderful with the crowd-pleasing “tunnel tanks” arching overhead and the “helmet tank” to crawl under. Your little ones can meet ocean superstars Nemo and Dory (a sturgeon and clownfish), and see the museum’s two extremely rare orange-hued lobsters. There are over 2,000 creatures in all.

You can capture your visit in a green-screen action background photo at the station near the entry of the museum, and it will be ready by the end of your visit. The aquarium gift shop features educational items, toys and souvenirs. S

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