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Places for warming up to winter’s mysteries and fun

By Shira Springer
Globe Staff / January 10, 2010

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Henry gravitates toward trouble. To be fair, my hyper-curious nephew is only 10 months old and trouble largely consists of trying to eat his toy piano and doing pull-ups with the oven door handle.

But his parents know New England winters to come will be a challenge. Henry will need things to do and places to go when cold weather sets in and he might feel like tearing up the house. And his parents will need something to keep them from tearing out their hair.

So, with Henry and every cooped up child in mind, here are some suggestions for kid-friendly winter getaways. They offer a chance to explore, to learn how things work, to escape from frigid temperatures, or to experience winter in a new way. Consider them sanity savers.

Montshire Museum of Science, Norwich, Vt.

Children building forts is a time-honored tradition. With its annual Igloo Build (Feb. 13), the Montshire teaches youngsters how to construct the ultimate cold-weather shelter, then lets them make their own, block by block. The workshop is an extension of the museum’s philosophy, which emphasizes the process of discovery through hands-on experiences. “Parents have a hard time dragging their kids out of their igloos,’’ said Bert Yankielun, who has directed the Igloo Build for over 20 years. “The only thing that gets them out is that some kids find it even more fun to destroy the igloos when they’re finished.’’ He recommends the Igloo Build for kids “5 to 150 years old.’’ Outside are plenty of nature trails to explore. Inside, more than 60 science-related exhibits await, covering such topics as weather, astronomy, light and vision, motion, and environment. 1 Montshire Road, 802-649-2200, montshire.org, daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m., adults $10, ages 2-17 $8, under 2 free, Igloo Build free with museum admission.

Eden Dog Sledding, Eden Mills, Vt.
Happy dogs equal happy customers, especially young customers. Owner Jim Blair estimates 60 percent of the time the dogs make the biggest impression on children and 40 percent of the time it’s the ride through this hilly wilderness four hours from Boston. The huggable, hand-raised Alaskan huskies at Eden help make rides an interactive adventure. Kids can assist with harnessing dogs to a sled, then ride the runners and, if they are 10 or older, learn to drive a sled. “It blows their mind,’’ said Blair of the driving experience. All rides end with a chance to feed the dogs treats. Sleds can accommodate a family with two adults and two small children or two adults and an older child. Square Road, 802-635-9070, edendogsledding.com, rides daily from 9:30 a.m., prices range from $195 for 2 people for 1 hour to $595 for the longest rides.

New England Air Museum, Windsor Locks, Conn.
One Sunday every month, children can climb into cockpits of 10 aircraft here. (The next “Open Cockpit’’ day is Jan 17.) At the controls, they learn about the aircraft from museum volunteers who often have firsthand experience operating it. A Coast Guard search and rescue helicopter is staffed by a volunteer who once crewed the same kind of aircraft. The goal, said Mike Speciale, museum director, “is to try to give them a one-on-one lesson.’’ The teaching continues with craft projects where kids construct paper helicopters or paper airplanes with modifiable wings. The largest aviation museum in New England houses more than 80 aircraft along with collections of engines, instruments, and uniforms. Last year, the museum opened KidsPort, a play airport geared toward 5- to 10-year-olds. Inside, youngsters can go through the check-in process, see how air traffic control works, and learn how luggage makes it from place to place. 36 Perimeter Road, Bradley International Airport, 860-623-3305, neam.org, daily 10 a.m.-5 p.m., ages 12 and up $10, seniors $9, 4-11 $6, 3 and under free.

Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale, New Haven
Diseases and dinosaurs offer just the right amount of ick and awe to captivate young audiences here. The museum houses the largest collection of dinosaur bones and complete skeletons in New England, and one of the most historically significant in the country.

To help bring that history to life, the museum hosts “Night at the Peabody’’ once a year (March 27). Inspired by the movie “Night at the Museum,’’ staff members dress as Neanderthals, mummies, and a paleontologist. There are scavenger hunts, games, and crafts. Through Jan. 31, visitors can take part in the “Disease Detectives’’ exhibit. Children are assigned a mannequin-patient and work as amateur diagnosticians to discover what’s wrong, taking temperatures and looking at lab test results. Science Hill on campus, Whitney Avenue and Sachem Street, 203-432-5050, peabody.yale.edu, Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday noon-5, adults $7, seniors $6, ages 3-17 $5, under 3 free.

Camden (Maine) Snow Bowl
The ice-filled wooden chute here dates to the mid-1930s, though the latest incarnation was built in 1990 and stands as the only toboggan track in New England. But the 400-foot ride with a 70-foot drop is anything but old-fashioned. “Toboggans reach speeds of nearly 40 miles an hour at the bottom of the chute,’’ said Jeff Kuller, general manager, who notes the 42-inch minimum height requirement for riders. The run finishes with toboggans ejected onto a pond and requires a hike back uphill to go again. Call to make sure the weather-dependent chute is open. If watching is more your speed, join the thousands of spectators at the 20th annual US National Toboggan Championships (Feb. 5-7). What started as a lark has grown into an event with 400 teams in several divisions. Tubing, skiing, pond skating, and snowshoeing are also offered onsite. Hosmer Pond Road, 207-236-3438 (office), -4418 (conditions), camdensnowbowl.com, toboggan chute 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekends and holidays from about mid-January to February, $5 person/hour, including toboggan if needed.

Wenham Museum, Wenham
Exhibitions curator Jane Bowers describes this museum as “a little bit more intimate’’ than better known child-friendly museums in the Boston area. The result is a place where almost every exhibit spills beyond its glass display cases, offering an opportunity to play with related items. With the current American folk toys exhibit (through Jan. 18), each antique toy is presented with a reproduction for kids to try. When “Paper Capers’’ arrives Feb. 5, there will be stations throughout the gallery where visitors can make their own art from origami to paper silhouettes. “What we’re trying to do as much as possible is get parents to do these activities in the gallery with their children,’’ said Bowers. Permanent exhibits feature the museum’s well-known doll collection, as well as toy soldiers and model trains. For the youngest visitors, there is the Family Discovery Gallery on the basement level. 132 Main St., 978-468-2377, wenhammuseum.org, Tuesday-Sunday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and on Martin Luther King Jr., Presidents’ and Veterans’ days, adults $7, ages 1-16 $5.

Mass Audubon South Shore Sanctuaries, Marshfield
Looking for natural treasures? They’re easy to find in the winter, whether birds’ nests left behind, owls in action, or spots where deer nibble on trees. Programs at the sanctuaries and other Mass Audubon locations aim to introduce children to those unexpected treasures. “We’re so used to watching TV and the tropical rain forests, but there’s some cool stuff right here in New England,’’ said Sue MacCallum, South Shore Sanctuaries director. “It’s about getting kids excited about what’s right here in New England. It’s about getting out there and spending time outdoors when you don’t normally.’’ Youngsters can learn how animals survive the winter, search for harbor seals, call out to owls, and track animals with programs like “Nature Nut Club,’’ “Hoot and Howl,’’ and “Seals and Seashells.’’ When children explore beyond nature’s surface, Mass Audubon hopes the winter landscape becomes a little more inviting. 2000 Main St., 781-837-9400, massaudubon.org, check listings for schedules and prices.

Kahuna Laguna, North Conway, N.H.
Sometimes the best winter fun is a taste of summer. With a water park heated to 82 degrees year round, Kahuna Laguna offers warm-weather fun with a three-story slide tower (two body slides, two tube slides), wave pool, super-sized hot tub, water cannons, rope bridge, and water-based basketball court. The “Little Kahuna’’ area is suited for the smallest visitors (under 48 inches) with a 9-inch-deep pool, smaller slides, water toys, and baby bouncers. There are height restrictions: 48 inches for body slides, 42-48 inches for raft slides. A snack bar and arcade make the 40,000-square-foot site a full-service fun park - all part of Red Jacket Mountain View Resort. 2251 White Mountain Highway (Rte. 16), 603-356-5411, kahunalaguna.com, Monday-Thursday 3-9 p.m., Friday noon-10, Saturday 8:30-10 a.m., 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Sunday 8:30-10 a.m., 11 a.m.-9, extended hours during school vacation weeks and on holidays, resort registered guests $20, nonregistered visitors $40, locals with ID $30, age 2 and under free.

Shira Springer can be reached at springer@globe.com.