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Take an education vacation

  • Banjo Lesson
    Deborah Thompson teaches a banjo class during Hindman Settlement School’s Appalachian Family Folk Week. Photo: Jeanne Marie Hibberd
  • Newport Aquarium
    Will Roenker had a personal Penguin Encounter at the Newport Aquarium with Animal Ambassador Ric Urban, who holds one of eight African penguins raised there. Photo: Tim Webb
  • Sup Yoga
    The Shaker Village pond in Harrodsburg provides a calm setting to try SUP (stand-up paddleboard) yoga. Photo: Clay Jackson
  • Whippoorwill Festival
    Whippoorwill Festival instructors work with students in a spear and spear-thrower workshop. Photo: Meg Wilson Photography
Sign up now for some fun and enriching summer learning adventures
Did you know that some penguins can swim up to 16 mph? (That’s more than twice as fast as Michael Phelps.) My kids learned this, and so much more, during their trip to the Penguin Encounter at the Newport Aquarium.

Since launching in 2007, the Penguin Encounter has allowed more than 120,000 visitors to spend rare, hands-on time with eight African penguins raised by the aquarium’s Animal Ambassador Ric Urban.

Encounters, behind-the-scenes, and backstage tours with marine life
At the Newport Aquarium, there’s a chance to experience and learn at every corner. Home to roughly 500 species of animals, the aquarium offers many hands-on opportunities during regular admission tours—including the chance to touch creatures like starfish, turtles, or even a leopard shark. Additional tour options include the Penguin Encounter or the Backstage Animal Experience, a behind-the-scenes tour that takes guests above the tanks to see the inner workings of the facility.

Alison Florea of Columbus, Ohio, enjoyed watching her three daughters’ eyes light up as they interacted with a box turtle and viewed the aquarium’s sharks and tropical fish from above during the backstage tour.

“We go to the beach every summer, and they are very interested in anything to do with marine animals,” says Florea, as her daughters Lola, 6, and twins Claire and Mallory, 4, saw firsthand how the aquarium uses giant filters to keep their 1 million gallons of water clean.

“We call it ‘edutainment,’” says Urban, who launched the Aquarium’s Penguin Encounter program and helps oversee the aquarium’s visitor engagement activities. “We want you to come and have fun. But we want you to learn something. It’s always easier to learn when you’re having fun.”

The Newport Aquarium is just one of many places across Kentucky where you can plan an education vacation—a trip that’s not only fun, but one where you leave having learned something new.

So, this summer, why not pack a little “edutainment” and “edventure” into your vacation plans? Here are a few more ideas to get you started. (Check each group’s Web site for full course offerings and pricing.)

Learn yoga, hula hooping, juggling, trapeze, meditation, and more
The PlayThink Movement and Flow Arts Festival (www.playthinkfest.com), June 10-14 at HomeGrown HideAways farm in Berea, offers roughly 200 workshops in dance (everything from break dancing to Zumba and belly dancing), martial arts, an array of yoga you may have never tried before (acro yoga or lionflow yoga, anyone?), art (glass blowing and henna), and even aerial arts like aerial silks and trapeze.

And did we mention hooping? The particular passion of festival creator Paige Hankla, PlayThink offers literally dozens of classes on hula hooping that are sure to get you hooked. Best of all: no experience is necessary. “Ninety percent of our classes are for beginners,” Hankla says. The festival is family-friendly by design; classes for kids are available as well. Guests can purchase either a two-day or a four-day festival pass. Most visitors camp overnight. Prepurchase tickets online; the festival often sells out.

Try your hand at natural survival skills and sustainable living techniques
Creator Dave Cooper likes to think of his Whippoorwill Festival (www.whippoorwillfest.com), July 9-12, also at Berea’s HomeGrown HideAways farm, as part survival-skills workshop, part earth-friendly living retreat—with a healthy dose of local music thrown in for fun. Entering its fifth year, the four-day festival is family-friendly, a place where participants enjoy letting their kids run free to play in the nearby field and creek. Workshops run the gamut, on everything from canning, making your own “green” cleaners, throwing a spear, flint knapping, and much more.

“We’ve managed to put together something that is both fun and educational,” Cooper says. “The spirit of the gathering is helped by the really cool people that show up for this festival from all over the country.” Most visitors tent camp; RV sites are available. Prepurchase passes online for one, two, three, or four days.

Learn to play the banjo, dulcimer, mandolin, or fiddle—as well as traditional Appalachian dance, song, and storytelling
Appalachian Family Folk Week at Hindman Settlement School (www.hindmansettlement.org/events/folk-week), June 7-13, Hindman, lets families reconnect while being immersed in a week of Appalachian music and culture.

“We have been going for 14 straight years, since my son and daughter were 8 and 5 years old,” says Lisa Willner of the Willner/Scruton family from Louisville. “My husband, John, and I and our son, Ben, have all learned to play the banjo there. And my daughter learned the fiddle. It’s such a special place. From the start, I remember, my son—while only 8—was taken seriously, as someone interested in learning music and the folk tradition. And that was very powerful.”

Families room together on-site; all ages are welcome. “We have activities for adults, teens, and children, and for beginners as well as more advanced students,” says Jeanne Marie Hibberd, Hindman Settlement School’s development and communications director. “This place forges lifelong friendships. Kids from different families grow up together coming to Folk Week each year; many times they’ve gone on to form bands together as adults,” Hibberd says.

Enhance your creative writing skills
Tap into your inner author and enjoy learning from some of the nation’s best writers at the renowned Appalachian Writers’ Workshop (www.hindmansettlement.org/events/writers-workshop), July 26-31, Hindman. With classes on memoir, creative nonfiction, fiction, poetry, and more, you can immerse yourself among fellow writers and learn from world-class instructors with literary ties to Appalachia. (Past teachers include Silas House—who got his start at Hindman—and Barbara Kingsolver.) Note application deadlines: by mail must be postmarked by April 28; online by May 1.

Take your quilting talents to the next level
Have you mastered basic quilting and feel ready to try something a little more unusual? The National Quilt Museum in Paducah (www.quiltmuseum.org) offers three-day (Thursday-Saturday) workshops on various weekends throughout the year to help keep your quilting creativity firing. The 2015 workshop topics include “Translating Ideas into Fabric” (August 27-29) to help you convert a sketch, photo, or motif into a fabric composition. Or, take the traditional Log Cabin pattern to a new, abstract place in the “Artful Log Cabins” workshop (October 8-10). Attendees work on-site at the museum and receive free museum admission.

Give paddleboarding a try at (surprise!) Shaker Village
Experience the popular sport of paddleboarding at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill’s (www.shakervillageky.org) Paddle + Yoga Weekends (Harrodsburg, May 15-16, June 12-13, July 10-11, August 21-22). Visitors start out by paddleboarding on the village’s pond and then, at dark, take part in a “glow canoe paddle” on the Kentucky River, says Jill Malusky, Shaker Village’s director of visitor engagement. A paddleboard yoga course and other outdoor yoga and hiking sessions in the picturesque nature preserve are also offered. A Winter Explorer Weekend series offers workshops such as beekeeping and homesteading to landscape and wildlife management.

Attend the Kentucky Derby; learn about bourbon; go on a birdwatching trip—or see the world
Since its founding in 1975, Road Scholar (formerly known as Elderhostel) has been the world leader in educational travel opportunities for adults. Check out Road Scholar’s Web site (www.roadscholar.org) for a complete listing of more than 5,500 programs offered in all 50 U.S. states and 150 countries around the world.

Each year, Road Scholar offers several Kentucky-based programs, including a popular trip to the Kentucky Derby and Oaks and a new five-day/night Kentucky Bourbon Trail tour that has been an immediate hit, says Megan Bates, one of Road Scholar’s North American program managers. Other local options include “Walking in Wildflowers: Spring at Shaker Village” (April 5 and April 12); “Spring Birding in the Bluegrass” (May 3); “Living on the Frontier” (Nancy, May 3); and “The Beauty of Cumberland Falls and the Traditions, Legends and Music of Appalachia” (April 26, September 20, and November 8).

Road Scholar offers educational trips for nearly every interest, from eco-adventure tours in Costa Rica to journeys to explore the history and culture of the American Southwest. Grandparents and grandchildren can enjoy learning vacations together via Road Scholar’s many “Intergenerational Adventures,” while those looking for more extended travel can sign on for Road Scholar’s new six-week immersive “living/learning” experiences in cities including Paris, Florence, Barcelona, and Havana (three weeks). “Our educational adventures are for people who are looking for more than just a beach vacation,” says Jim Moses, Road Scholar’s president and CEO. “They’re for people who are excited about learning and who see learning as the journey of a lifetime.”

Make Berea a learning vacation destination

Whether you’re interested in learning woodworking, pottery, textiles, jewelry making, ironwork, painting, creative writing, basket making, or how to play an instrument, there’s likely to be a class (or two, or three!) for you at Berea’s annual Festival of Learnshops, July 10-26. Go to Berea.com for full festival details and workshop listings. During the winter months, Berea artisans offer classes in the city’s holiday “Make It, Take It, Give It” workshops, and in the spring and summer, lessons are available through a series of H.O.W. (Hands-on Workshop) classes. See www.berea.com for details. The Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen’s Academy in Berea also offers extensive craft workshops. See their complete 2015 schedule at www.kyguildacademy.com.

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