Exercise Their Minds

Exercise Their Minds: Give them an experience to tell their teachers about
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Shark skin is smooth in one direction and as rough as sandpaper in the other, a sensation caused by millions of tiny tooth-like structures. At the Catawba Science Center you won’t learn this from a diagram—you can touch live sharks, as well as stingrays, hermit crabs, and sea urchins at the state’s only touch-pool aquarium. But the 35,000-square-foot center’s hands-on approach doesn’t end there. This month, the traveling exhibit “Swamp Things!” puts you in the center of the Southern marshlands with the sights and sounds of native creatures, including a six-foot-long alligator and bobcat kitten. In the planetarium, watch a solar eruption on the surface of our nearest star in the “Heart of the Sun” presentation, or take an astronomical tour through Catawba Valley’s slice of night sky.

243 3rd Ave. N.E., Hickory; $6 adults, $4 ages 3-18 and seniors, free for ages 3 and younger; (828) 322-8169; www.catawbascience.org

—Brian Gallagher

What do you call the pointy mineral formations that grow down from the cave ceiling—stalagmites or stalactites? Visit Linville Caverns and you’ll never forget the answer again. The 30-minute guided tour into the center of Humpback Mountain is part adventure and part lesson in geology, biology, and natural history. Visitors learn about the caverns’ many inhabitants, including blind trout that swim in the underground stream, and a group of Civil War deserters who hid deep in the cold cave for many months. Just remember to duck when you go under those stalactites.

19929 U.S. 221 N., Marion; $7 adults, $5.50 seniors, $5 ages 5-12, free for ages 4 and younger; 1-(800) 419-0540; www.linvillecaverns.com

—Eric Seeger

“Hey kids, pile into the SUV. We’re going to visit the house of a long-deceased poet.” OK, on the surface, a trip to Carl Sandburg’s farm Connemara might sound like less fun than required summer reading, but spin this one the right way, and you’ve got a trip that’s as outdoorsy as it is educational. Easy walking trails begin at the parking lot and lead across the farm’s 264 acres, including around Front Lake, fish ponds, and to the top of Glassy Mountain. At the barn, visitors can meet the resident goats, including some of the same breeds Lilian Sandburg kept. The animals are unbelievably comfortable around people, so don’t be afraid to get close. But remember to keep all personal items nearby, lest they get nibbled.

Little River Rd., Flat Rock; free to roam the grounds and farm, house tour, $5 adults, $3 seniors, free for ages 6 and younger; (828) 693-4178; www.nps.gov/carl

—Eric Seeger

“Gallery” is a misnomer here: Hands On! presents the flip side of look-but-don’t-touch interactive exhibits, including painting, playing music, and getting up close to nature (all are geared to kids 10 and younger). A current exhibit, “Post Office,” lets participants sort mail and play zip-code games, all while wearing a postal uniform.

318 N. Main St., Hendersonville;
$5, free for kids younger than 1;
(828) 697-8333; www.handsonwnc.org

BONUS: Kids can learn about wellness through hands-on science exhibits at The Health Adventure. 2 S. Pack Sq., Asheville; (828) 254-6373; www.thehealthadventure.org. Or stimulate their intellect at
KidSenses Children’s InterACTIVE Museum.
172 N. Main St., Rutherfordton; (828) 286-2120; www.kidsenses.com

-Melanie McGee Bianchi