Happiness on the Horizon: Hands-On Learning Attractions

As the kids get ready to head back to school, spark their creative minds and get the wheels turning at one of Pennsylvania’s hands-on learning destinations!

From weightlessness simulators used by NASA to hands-on interactive displays, Happy Travelers can find happiness through firsthand learning.

Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Science Center features four floors of interactive science exhibits to explore, including Roboworld, the world’s largest permanent robotics exhibit. While in Pittsburgh, head to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, where dinosaurs and minerals collide! The museum has three interactive areas — Bonehunters Quarry, Discovery Basecamp, and Natural History Discover Carts & Exploration Stations, which engage scientists of all ages in the natural sciences and how to protect the Earth.

For a day trip that's both exciting and educational, visit Quiet Valley Living Historical Farm in the Pocono Mountains. Step back in time and into the lives of 19th-century Pennsylvania-German farmers. Tour their buildings, meet their animals and get a sense of what life was like before the convenience of electricity.

Learn about Marilyn Horne, Bradford’s most famous native-born daughter, considered one of the world's premiere mezzo sopranos at the Marilyn Horne Museum and Exhibit Center. Inside the 3,400-square-foot museum, displays capture the highlights of Horne's life and career, while interactive features teach visitors about vocal music and opera.

Want to feel what it’s like to be in a hurricane? The Da Vinci Science Center welcomes guests to climb inside The Hurricane Simulator, a tube in which visitors stand and experience wind forces accelerating up to 78 miles per hour — the minimum speed of a Category 1 hurricane. The hands-on learning opportunities continue at the PPL Electric Utilities E-Power House exhibit, where children can use bicycle pedal power to ignite side-by-side light bulbs, and at the Built Like a Mack Truck exhibit, visitors are challenged to build the most fuel-efficient and environmentally-friendly truck and drive it through realistic work scenarios. 

The U.S. Army Heritage & Education Center in Carlisle is dedicated to educating visitors about the culture and experiences of American soldiers. Learn and explore the interactive Soldier Experience Gallery, where you journey through the life of a soldier and simulate actual battle skills. Outside, there is a one-mile Army Heritage Trail filled with tanks, trenches, Civil War cabins, and helicopters.

Arts + Education at the Hoyt in New Castle features rotating exhibitions, a permanent collection of fine art and decorative art, and a Shenango China house, plus various school and after-school programs. It also holds several annual festivals, including the Wine Festival, Brew-Fest, Children’s Summer Arts Festival, and Arts on the Riverwalk; and

Step back in time as you enjoy a peaceful ride on the Josiah White II, the state’s only functioning mule-drawn canal boat. At the National Canal Museum in Easton, you’ll get a glimpse of the key role that the waterway played in industrial history. During the summer months, Hank and George (the mules) pull the boat down the canal, allowing guests to experience a bit of the past. The surrounding Hugh Moore Park provides the perfect backdrop for a family picnic after your ride has come to an end.

Glencairn Museum, part of the Bryn Athyn Historic District in Montgomery County, is home to religious-themed art that reflects a host of faith traditions from across the ages and the globe. Artifacts, icons, painting, sculptures, and tapestries are on display in the former home of industrialist Raymond Pitcairn, who made his family fortune in the burgeoning plate glass industry in the early 19th century. Visitors can take a vintage elevator to the four-story tower for stunning views of the local landscape.

The town of Punxsutawney is famous for the prognosticator of prognosticators, Punxsutawney Phil, but did you also know you can also learn about weather at the Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center? At the museum, guests can learn about tornadoes, thunderstorms, meteorology and more through a series of interactive exhibits, including a new one about storm shelters.

Old Mill Village in Susquehanna County offers workshops and themed weekends at this state museum celebrating the agricultural heritage of Northeastern Pennsylvania. During the summer months, you can experience an old-fashioned ice cream social or learn the handcrafts of quilting and rug braiding.

Get the buzz this summer with a visit to Drapers Bees in Tioga County. The honey bee is one of the hardworking insects vital to the health of the environment; their tenacious work produces the sweetest of all made in Pennsylvania products — local honey! As you tour Draper's Bees, you’ll learn the history of beekeeping and see the process for producing the sweet nectar.

Discovery Space in State College is a favorite among children ages 2-12. Each hands-on exhibit and activity is related to a scientific or mathematical concept to spark creativity, curiosity, and imagination.

Have you ever wanted to come face-to-face with an ancient Egyptian mummy? Are you inspired by the original works of Degas, Rodin, Warhol, and Haring? Do you love discovering mysterious Mayan treasures and American Indian artifacts? The Reading Public Museum has these and more in its collection of more than 300,000 art works, antiquities, cultural and natural artifacts!

Pocono Environmental Education Center (PEEC) and Kettle Creek Environmental Education Center both offer educational hikes, demonstrations and programs. Kids can explore an eco-discovery room with hands-on exhibits or get an intro to orienteering at PEEC. Families can take a walk through the Tannersville Cranberry Bog, or learn about the Kettle Creek Wildlife Sanctuary.

Founded in honor of America’s first scientist, Benjamin Franklin, The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia is one of America’s oldest premier centers of science education and development in the country. Think about how you think at the Franklin Institute's biggest exhibition, Your Brain. Explore the brain at the cellular level, learn how it controls your body and cognitive functions, and consider the field of neuroethics as the discoveries in brain science rapidly advance.

Harlansburg Station Museum of Transportation is in a replica train station with four Pennsylvania passenger cars at the intersection of Route 19 and Route 108. All forms of transportation are represented, including planes, trains, cars, trucks, trolleys, buses, boats, and bikes. An extensive display on the history of aviation dating back to 1903 is featured in the main room, complete with uniforms, models, and other artifacts. 

Steps from the State Capitol explore Whitaker Center for Science and the Arts with three floors of imaginative, engaging exhibits, the center is an irresistible invitation to explore science, perform experiments, and discover more about the world around you. This summer catch Dinosaur Discovery: Where Science Comes Alive, with 12 interactive, life-sized animatronic dinosaurs that roar, feed, fight, and care for their young.

The Turkey Hill® Experience in Lancaster allows visitors to learn everything there is to know about dairy culture and the history of Turkey Hill® itself. Through interactive exhibits, you’ll discover the intricate details of creating Turkey Hill® ice cream and tea. Children and adults alike can even take a shot at the process themselves by milking mechanical cows or concocting their own ice cream flavor in Turkey Hill’s® Taste Lab.

For more than 20 years, expERIEnce Children's Museum in Erie has been providing an educational, creative and interactive environment where learning and fun go hand in hand. Children can discover the History, Mystery and Magic of Magnets exhibit, featuring six interactive stations demonstrating the power of magnets. New daily educational programs filled with exploration and learning are available to tiny tots (children 6-24 months) and parents.

Located in the Heritage Discovery Center, the Johnstown Children's Museum encourages children to learn about Johnstown's geography, history and culture through fun and interactive exhibits. Families are sure to enjoy The Water Room where they can learn about rain in mountains and valleys as well as acid rain and dam-building. During the visit, take a walk out onto the rooftop terraces for a spectacular view of Cambria County and learn about the growth cycle of Pennsylvania’s native plants.

Check out some other hands-on learning experiences in Pennsylvania. Follow us on FacebookTwitterPinterest and Instagram to stay up-to-date on even more great ideas and places to visit around our state.


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