By Colleen Kane, CNBC.com
Family Fun With a Purpose
For parents in search of excursions that provide a little more mental stimulation than the beach, the choices abound. It's just a matter of picking from the wealth of options. To narrow it down, we've picked suggestions for eight types of kids, from budding chef to history buff, to drama queen, to animal lover.
Here, assembled with input from Eileen Ogintz, creator of the travel resource Taking the Kids and the writers at Kids Can Travel, are plenty of ideas for educational family fun.
See the full slideshow: Best Educational Trips for Kids
Animal TrainerAnimal Trainer
SeaWorld has a variety of special "trainer for a day" and camp programs for kids age 13 and up that enable them to see what it is like to be working with the creatures that they love-what it takes to care for and train for them. There are also day-long and overnight programs starting for preschoolers, Ogintz says.
Similar trainer for a day programs are offered at various tourist attractions showcasing dolphins and other wildlife, and Hollywood Animals offers a one-day training program that could involve a tiger, panther, leopard, or grizzly bear, or all of those.
"Many trips that wouldn't have been feasible for families in the past now have a decided family twist," Ogintz says, and those offering family packages include bike trips and whitewater rafting.
Ogintz points out that children with special needs need not be excluded from adventurous activities. Places like the National Sports Center for the Disabled in Winter Park, CO, the National Ability Center in Park City Utah and the Adaptive Sports Center in Crested Butte CO offer activities such as snowboarding, skiing, rafting, horseback riding, and rock climbing for those who are wheelchair-bound, blind, or who have Autism or other developmental disabilities. Many scholarships are available for these programs, as well.
For children who love nature and the outdoors, Ogintz says Costa Rica can't be beat. There, "you can visit a volcano and a cloud forest, get up close and personal with monkeys in the trees right outside your hotel room, zipline through a rain forest, you might even see a sea turtle lay her eggs."
For older outdoorsy kids, the Galapagos Islands are unsurpassed for the sheer variety of wildlife-the birds, the lizards, and they can even go swimming with sea lions. Several companies specialize in family trips, such as Thomson Family Adventures, Wildland Adventures and Abercrombie and Kent.
Kids Can Travel suggests strapping on snowshoes at the Northern Highland American Legion State Forest in Wisconsin to learn about forest ecology and the native people, or heading to South Mountain Park in Phoenix, Arizona for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and observing wildlife.
Due to the Marshall Space Flight Center and its role in space missions, Huntsville, Alabama has earned the nickname the Rocket City. Since 1982, the city's Space Camp has provided a tremendous learning experience for children from fourth grade through their teens (and adults, too) who are interested in science, math, technology, and of course, space exploration.
The zero gravity simulation experience is an obvious draw for thrill-seeking youths, but parents will appreciate the likelihood of their child's increased interest in science and math. According to a survey cited on the Space Camp website, "93% of the alumni said they took more science courses, particularly physics and chemistry, in the years following camp; 91% reported taking more math; and 74% said they learned about careers."
See the full slideshow: Best Educational Family Trips
More from CNBC:
Best Airport Restaurants
Top 10 Destinations for Families
Outrageous American Roadside Attractions
Video: Air Travel in America Improving
By Colleen Kane, CNBC.com