Friday, January 17, 2014

Put Some Education in Your Vacation!

Put Some Education In Your Vacation
Written by Katie White of the Silver Beach Carousel Society

There's a good chance your kids don't get excited when you announce it's time for an educational trip. There's an even better chance that you'll be able to find a trip in West Michigan that your kids will think is so much fun, they won't even realize it's educational! Many places in our region offer interesting, handson, action-packed, kid-friendly educational outings. Whether you're learning how the fresh ice cream you're eating was made, or finding out the properties of moving water by playing at a giant water table, there's an educational experience out there that your kids will enjoy! One popular stop for families is the Silver Beach Carousel. Read on to see why a stop at this carousel is more than just a fun fair-ground attraction.

Riding the 48 hand-carved and painted figures and two chariots on the Silver Beach Carousel in St. Joseph is fun all year round. But what parents and grandparents may not realize is what a treasure trove of history lessons this circa 2010 carousel offers all ages.

Want to show how great-grandma had fun in the early 1900s? Or what grandma and grandpa did for entertainment before there were tablets and smartphones? Or breathe in the vivid memories that fresh-spun cotton candy and hot, buttery popcorn bring up? That and so much more are waiting for families in the carousel house located just yards from the sandy shores of Lake Michigan.

There is no cost to explore the carousel house, and ride tokens are priced to provide entertainment that fits most family budgets. As you enter the carousel house from the Silver Beach Center boardwalk, there is a free Silver Beach Amusement Park Museum that keeps alive the millions of childhood and teenage memories the park created from 1891 to 1971. Children can interact with amusement ride exhibits, ask the Great Zandini to give their fortunes, or press the button and watch the mechanical model of the amusement park spring to life (it even wafts scents of grilling hamburgers from Eddy's Hamburger Hut).

The carousel is full of lessons, too. Around the top of the magnificent machine are 18 rounding boards that depict in photographs and drawings the rich local history of Southwestern Michigan. A guidebook is available to tell each board's significance to the area, or visitors can ask the carousel operator for volunteers to share stories. Among the featured faces and events are Ben and Mary Purnell, founders of The House of David, a Christian religious colony in Benton Harbor, Mich., that drew thousands of tourists for decades to play in its pre-Disneyland amusement park, and Augustus Herring's first airplane flight on Silver Beach five years before the Wright Brothers' takeoff.

Surrounding the carousel are fascinating displays, including some of the original horses from the circa 1910 Silver Beach Carousel, a model train and village, the original carousel's band organ and board games such as checkers and chess to play with family and friends. Each of the carousel figures and chariots also are a learning opportunity. Ask the carousel operator to share stories about why community donors chose each design and the special carvings. And challenge children to find the lead horse Marcie or the carved cat whose eyes follow riders around the carousel. A red-and-white concession stand offers affordable old-time treats such as cotton candy, caramel corn and popcorn to enjoy while rocking in the carousel house chairs.


The Grand Rapids Civic Theatre School of Theatre Arts offers the most comprehensive community theatre education program in the country. A large variety of specialized classes are available to anyone from age four to adults. With classes ranging from creating a character to musical theatre, and comedy to drama games, the school of Theatre Arts has classes for every interest, age, and skill level.

Younger students can begin with their introductory theatre classes, which offer the basics of drama games and musical theatre. From there, students and adults learn the essentials through scene work and character study, and can take musical theatre performance classes to hone dance skills and showcase the perfect audition songs. Small class sizes with qualified instructors ensure that everyone can get a hands-on approach to developing core theatre skills and gaining stage experience. The grand rapids Civic Theatre school of Theatre Arts has enriched the talents, skills, and lives of over 1,100 students every year. There are Fall, Winter, and spring Terms and summer Theatre Camps.


Chateau Chantal, Traverse City 

Great Lakes Childrens Museum, Traverse City 

Interlochen Center for the Arts, Interlochen

Music House Museum, Traverse City

Country Dairy, New Era

Lewis Farm Market, New Era

Broadway Grand Rapids, Grand Rapids 

Critter Barn, Zeeland 

Downtown Market, Grand Rapids 

Frederik Meijer Gardens, Grand Rapids 

Grand Rapids Art Museum, Grand Rapids 

Grand Rapids Public Museum, Grand Rapids 

Grand Rapids Civic Theater, Grand Rapids 

Grand Rapids Children's Museum, Grand Rapids 

Herman's Boy, Rockford

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