51 Ways to Keep Your Kids Busy This Summer
by Aaron Howard and Marks Hinton
Summer’s on top of us, and school’s out. That means the kids will be home for the next three months. Your child prefers to sleep until 5 p.m. and then watch movies and hang out with friends all night. You’re a parent obsessed with shepherding your kids through as many positive experiences as possible.
With that in mind, here are 51 opportunities for classes, volunteer activities and day trips with your pre-teens and teen-agers. Sit with your children and ask them questions about their interests. Create a family dialogue about values. Then show them this list and ask them to choose from the following.
1. The old ball game. It’s no longer called Enron Field, but the stadium is still open for tours. See the skyboxes, locker rooms and the inner workings of a major league ballpark. If the home team’s in town, stay around for an Astros’ game. Located at 501 Crawford. For tour information call (713) 259-8000.
2. The Eagle has landed. Hey, this is Space City. And this is the place for youngsters who dream of someday exploring outer space. Kids can get a head start at one of the Space Center Houston day camps. Get more information at (281) 244-2131.
3. Skateboarding heaven. Houston boasts one of the country’s most vibrant skate scenes. Urban skaters have been skating downtown since 1979. But if you’re a 15-year-old skater, heaven is Van’s Skate Park, 7620 Katy Freeway. Dad, you might want to drop your teen off here and catch a film at the Edwards complex nearby. (713) 681-9750
4. Sugar sugar. The Imperial Sugar Refining Company in Sugar Land hosts one of the area?s few remaining industrial tours. Young kids can get to see 161 bags of sweetness being produced each minute. Oh, sweet excess! Visits are conducted Monday through Friday. (281) 490-9805
5. Top cops. A helicopter hangs from the roof. There’s a simulated police car kids can play in and a bomb squad robot. And there are guns dating back 200 years. It?s all at the Houston Police Museum at the Houston Police Academy. Reservations are required for their Tuesday and Thursday tours. (281) 230-2361
6. Before sunrise. Wake the kids up at 4 a.m. Load them into the car and drive to the Farmer’s Cooperative Market at 2520 Airline Drive. This is a slice of real Texas where farmers offer their produce directly to Houston’s restaurants, grocers and shoppers. Open daily.
7. Come fly with me. The last time we visited the Cockrell Butterfly Center, it was giving out ladybugs for release. Enjoy the thrill of scores of butterflies landing on your shoulder. Look for the iguanas. The center is located at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, 5800 Caroline in Hermann Park.
8. The engine that could. What kid doesn’t love firetrucks? Climb aboard one. Put on real fire gear. See historic equipment. And there’s even information on historic fires. Younger kids will adore the Houston Fire Museum at 2403 Milam. (713) 524-2526
9. Walk the dog. Do you love animals? The Houston SPCA has dozens of volunteer opportunities. Everything from teaching the large dogs basic obedience with clicker training and positive reinforcement to cleaning ears and general grooming. Call Volunteer Services Director Yvette Carmona at (713) 869-7722, ext. 129.
10. Cruise the channel. The Port of Houston’s inspection boat, Sam Houston, glides past the oil refineries along the Houston Ship Channel. No, it isn’t the Seine, but it’s a great way to understand our city’s industrial muscle. And those breezes coming off the water feel good on a hot summer day. The cruise is free on Tuesdays through Sundays, but you must make reservations in advance. (713) 670-2416
11. Bays and gulls. Plant sea grass in the West Bay. You’ll help prevent erosion, create habitats for fish and get your feet wet. Volunteer by phoning the Galveston Bay Foundation at (281) 332-3381.
12. Go orange. Jeff McKissack was an eccentric. He built a monument to the orange on Houston’s east side. This phantasmagoric structure is like a jungle gym on steroids. Visit it at 2401 Munger. (713) 926-6368
13. Winged red fingerlings. Fingerlings are little red drum. Fifteen million of these fishy guys are raised at Sea Center Texas. Operated by Texas Parks and Wildlife, the center features five aquariums, a touch tank and a wetlands exhibit. It’s worth the 50-mile drive to Lake Jackson. And Surfside Beach is only five miles away. Open every day except Monday. (979) 292-0100
14. Water Wall. An amazing kinetic sculpture and one of the city’s best venues for people watching, the Water Wall is a great place to take out-of-town visitors. After sunset is a particularly good time to visit. Look for the vendor selling Mexican fruit ices. And bring money to take a horse and carriage ride. Located behind the Galleria at 2800 Post Oak Blvd.
15. Wanna play? Widely considered by most to be Houston’s finest children’s theater program, Early Stages offers a summer’s worth of live presentations with professional actors. Meet and greet the actors after each show. Backstage tours and birthday parties can be arranged. Located at Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway, (713) 527-0123
16. Space commander camp. Wannabe space cadets ages 6-12 can build model rockets, perfect robot operating skills and learn how to be astronauts. The Houston Museum of Natural Science runs a space program and numerous other science camps. To access their complete Summer X-Plorations programs, visit online at www.hmns.org or phone (713) 639-4652.
17. Demolition derby. Loud engines and lots of dust. Everything for a boy to love, from stock cars to monster truck wars. It all takes place at Houston Raceway Park, 2525 F.M. 565 South in Baytown. (281) 383-2666
18. Movies and more. The Marq*E Entertainment Center offers pure entertainment for Houston families and singles in search of a great time. This 350,000-square-foot entertainment complex features a 22-screen state-of-the-art cinema, a variety of good restaurants and eateries and fabulous specialty retail shops. Located at I-10 West and Loop 610 South
19. Decorate your car. Art cars are eccentric, visionary and always a joy to behold. Inspire your kid to consider the personal and impractical in life at the Art Car Museum, 140 Heights Blvd. (713) 861-5526
20. Paddle boats. Nothing says lazy summer like a paddle boat. Nowhere to go and all the time in the world? The Hermann Park boathouse is located beside the miniature train station and across from the zoo entrance. Paddle boat hours are weekdays from 11 a.m. to dusk and weekends from 10 a.m. to dusk.
21. Hidden sanctuary. A tiny wildlife refuge in West Houston, the Edith Moore Nature Sanctuary is a walk in the woods right in the center of the Memorial area. Operated by the Audubon Society, the sanctuary features a self-guided tour with maps that can be obtained at the log cabin. Plan a birthday party here. Located at 12955 Memorial Drive, (713) 464-4900
22. Stormy weather. You can experience tornadoes, hurricanes and floods in the safety of the Weather Research Center, 3227 Audley. Scouts can earn their weather badge, and the center offers a weather camp each summer. Reservations are required. (713) 529-3076
23. Mexican wrestling. As far away from the WWF as you can get, the heroes in this parallel wrestling universe include El Mongal Chino, Pantera, Olimpica, Caballero Star and Gran Brutus. Virtually all of the wrestlers wear mascaras (masks), and the audience is mainly Hispanic. This is definitely a unique Houston cultural experience! Sunday afternoons at the new flea market at 8315 Long Point Road, (713) 722-7122
24. Eat your heart out. From the kid’s table by the front door to the numerous samples offered throughout the store, Central Market is geared to young people. Prepare to be overwhelmed by the volume and variety. You’ll see vegetables you’ve never heard of, sophisticated kid?s meals and candy by the bulk. A trip to the supermarket was never this much fun. Located at 2815 Westheimer, (713) 386-1700
25. This Bud’s for you. Retired railroad car upholsterer John Milkovisch, sick of painting his house, decided on a unique material for siding – beer cans. John and his neighbors consumed enough brew to completely cover his cottage. Visit the results of his hard work or recycling gone amok at 202 Malone. It’s free and you can drive by any day.
26. Yaks and llamas. A visit to the True Buddha Temple is a slice of Tibet transported to Sharpstown. In addition to an impressive array of golden Buddhas, the walls are lined with intricately painted holy thankas, religious story paintings. This sacred space welcomes visitors. Remove your shoes at the door. Open 1-6 p.m. daily. Located at 7734 Mary Bates
27. Buffalo Soldiers. 180,000 African-Americans served in the Union Army during the Civil War. Of these, more than 33,000 died. After the war, Congress passed legislation establishing two cavalry and four infantry regiments, which constituted 20 percent of all cavalry forces on the American frontier. Learn all about this part of our history at the African-American Military Museum, 1834 Southmore. (713) 942-8920
28. Nature’s way. You may have passed by the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center while driving through Memorial Park. Make a trip to explore this beautiful 265-acre wooded site. Nature walks, trails, a lake for bird watching and indoor exhibits are offered. The kids will love touching the animal exhibits. Located at 4501 Woodway, (713) 681-8433
29. Spooky tour. Explore Houston?s enchanted and haunted sites on the High Spirits tour. Visit homes, hospitals and graveyards to commune with Houston’s restless souls. (713) 224-2868
30. Big art. Rodin, Matisse, Calder, Umlaf and Naguchi are just some of the artists in the Cullen Sculpture Garden. Turn your kids on to metal and stone that seems alive. A trip here will put you right in the heart of the Museum District. Located at Bissonnet and Main
31. Well kids. Teens make great mentors for younger children. Texas Children’s Hospital has a vibrant junior volunteer program for teens ages 15-18. Junior volunteers are trained in most of the same areas as adult volunteers and can choose from entertaining children in clinic waiting areas and playrooms to planning and hosting weekend craft activities. Call the Volunteer Services office at (832) 824-2255.
32. Underground city. Did you know that downtown Houston has more than six miles of tunnels? This air-conditioned matrix, full of retailers and restaurants, means you never have to go outside in the sweltering summer sun. Ah, what pleasure. Visit the downtown tunnel system during business hours, Monday through Friday.
33. Bird’s eye view. The 60th floor sky lobby of the Chase Tower is the highest public viewpoint in Houston. From here, you can see the downtown skyscrapers, Buffalo Bayou, Memorial Park, River Oaks and an amazing amount of trees. Located at 600 Travis, it’s open business hours, Monday through Friday.
34. Black life. The John Biggers murals at Texas Southern University are some of Houston’s most elegant depictions of African-American life. And while you’re here, visit the rest of the TSU campus. The murals are located at 3100 Cleburne. (713) 313-7210
35. Oriental fusion. Dorothy, you’re not in Texas anymore. Eat, see and smell your way through Houston’s Chinese community, all enclosed in an air-conditioned mall at the Hong Kong Market, 11205 Bellaire Blvd. It?s open daily, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
36. Row your boat. The Allen Brothers founded our city on the banks of Buffalo Bayou. Get down to the water level, and you?ll discover a different Houston. The best way to explore Buffalo Bayou is by canoe. Consult the Yellow Pages for canoe rentals. Many of these places will help you put in along the bayou and will pick you up downstream.
37. Gator got your granny. If granny doesn’t move faster, she may be supper for one of the many alligators in Brazos Bend State Park. The area also is home to numerous breeding pairs of bald eagles. Visit the gators at 21901 F.M. 762 in Needville. (979) 553-5101
38. Ticket to ride. Don’t forget your stale bread to feed the seagulls that hover over the Bolivar Ferry. Watch for porpoises, too, and enjoy the sea breeze and the lights of Galveston in the night sky. The Bolivar Ferry runs day and night. And this ocean cruise is free. Go to the east end of Highway 87 in Galveston.
39. It’s a mechiah! Uncover hidden historical Jewish Houston with professor and historian Keith Rosen on his Jewish tours of Houston. Visit the oldest synagogue in Houston and see the old neighborhood. Make reservations by calling (713) 392-0867.
40. Born on the bayou. The 2000-acre Armand Bayou Nature Center is often so quiet and removed from urban Houston, it’s said you can hear falling leaves. There’s an Indian camp, boat tour and interpretive center. Don’t forget to bring your mosquito repellant. The entrance is one-quarter mile from Bay Area Park in Clear Lake. (713) 474-2551
41. Ride ’em cowboy. There?s something so Houston about riding a horse in the middle of the city. Generations of Houstonians have covered the trail at the Hermann Park stables, located at 5716 Almeda. (713) 529-2081
42. City treasure. The Miller Outdoor Theater has a covered seating area with 1,582 seats, 27 wheelchair spaces and lots of grass seating on the hill behind the covered seating. All shows are free and open to all, but some popular events require tickets for reserved seating in the covered area. The grass area is always open, and no ticket is required. Tickets must be picked up at the box office between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. on the day of performance. Call (713) 284-8350 for a recording with updated programming information.
43. Pick your own. Put your kids to work picking their own meal. At the Matt Family Orchard, 20010 Bauer Hockley Road in Tomball, they grow Asian pears, figs, Asian dates (jujube), mayhaw, Asian persimmons, loquat, thornless blackberries and citrus. Phone (281) 351-7676 to find out hours and what?s in season.
44. Under the boardwalk. It doesn’t matter what age your kids are, the Kemah Boardwalk is one of the hottest area destinations. Bring lots of money because nothing is cheap here except the fountains and the occasional free concert. (281) 334-9880
45. Pigsty. This lavender house was once the home of Priscilla the Swimming Pig, who became famous for saving a little boy from drowning. Although Priscilla is gone to that pigsty in the sky, Pigdom remains a monument to our porcine friends. Visit the outside, but please respect the owner?s privacy. Located at Crawford and Eagle
46. Really big guns. Houston kids have scampered aboard the anti-aircraft batteries and machine guns aboard the Battleship Texas for two generations. It’s the only U.S. battleship to see action during both world wars. Combine a trip out east with a visit to the San Jacinto Battleground and Monument. It?s all located at 3523 State Highway 134. (281) 479-2421
47. Ranch style. The Taylor-Stevenson Ranch is one of the oldest African-American-owned ranches in the nation. Lots of farm animals live here, and the American Cowboy Museum also is on the grounds. Located at 11822 Almeda, (713) 433-4441
48. Crypt kickers. More fun than Dracula’s castle, the National Museum of Funeral History is chock full of hearses, coffins, tombstones, a replica of King Tut’s tomb and other equipment of the undertaking industry. Boys will love this place. Located at 415 Barren Springs Drive, (281) 876-3063
49. Environmental action. There are dozens of local organizations that are working to protect and educate people about our environment. All of them need volunteers. Start by visiting the Citizen’s Environmental Coalition Web site at www.cechouston.org. Educate yourself about the issues and the diverse, then volunteer your time and energy. The CEC Eco-Information Line is (713) 524-4ECO.
50. Share the music. Nothing divides the generations like one’s taste in music. On the other hand, nothing can bring parents and kids together like a night of sharing live music together. Ask your kids whom they really like. Then spring for tickets and surprise them with a different type of family outing.
51. Mall rats. Yes, Katy Mills is part of a nationwide retail and entertainment corporation. Yes, Katy Mills sucks your time and money better than anyone else. But our teen-agers and their friends love Katy Mills. You want to spend a mindless afternoon with your kids? Offer a trip to Katy Mills. They won’t say no. Located at 5000 Katy Mills Circle in Katy, (281) 644-5000 ih