The emotional trajectory of summer vacation is typically a straight line from euphoric that school's out to bored without school's structure. But that path need not be inevitable.
Sure, the initial thrill is short-lived — by mid-June, parents are undergoing serious sleepaway camp FOMO. Their only solution: Take it day-to-day.
Some of Philly's biggest, best museums get extra kid-centric from June on. Standouts this season include an extra-awesome Art Splash — taking over the Philadelphia Museum of Art's Grand Stair Balcony — and ramped-up cultural programming at the renovating Penn Museum. If all else fails, there's lying on the grass and looking up at the clouds.
Hello from Japan! (Please Touch Museum, through Sept. 3, 2018). Big in Japan goes little in this Tokyo-inspired exhibit that introduces kids to Nipponese traditions and trends. The tradition: Shinto shrine. The trends: A purikura photo booth, kawaii graphics, even older-school manga and karaoke. The setup, on loan from the Children's Museum of Manhattan, is the Please Touch's first trilingual exhibit, in English, Spanish, and Japanese. (215-581-3181, pleasetouchmuseum.org)
Treetop Quest (West Fairmount Park, through November). Tall oaks and their brethren anchor and shade Philly's first outdoor zip-line and obstacle course. Although the setup is beginner friendly — newbies practice on a training course, kids ages 4-6 use the supervised "chick'pea" course — it's also quite the workout for both the body and the wallet (prices from $19 to $51). (267-901-4145, treetopquest.com)
X-Treme Bugs (Academy of Natural Sciences, through Jan. 21). Outside the academy, the 12-foot-tall pink orchid mantis next to the double-deinonychuses is more than just a pretty decoration. It's also a harbinger (a har-bugger?) of the exhibit inside. This U.S. debut features 20 other much-larger-than-life animatronic insects — five-foot bedbug, anyone? — upscaled additions to the institution's 3.5 million-specimen entomology collection. (215-299-1000, ansp.org)
Kidchella (Smith Memorial Playground, June 15, July 20, Aug. 17). Now in its fifth year, this way-more-fun-than-the-other-ella allows grown-ups to enjoy the great pleasures of childcare: Carefreely dancing around like a kid. This year's series includes performances by bands with serious cred: Emmy-winning Alex & the Kaleidoscope and Grammy-nominated the Pop Ups (both June 15) and the Alphabet Rockers (July 20). There will be playground access. There will be food trucks. There will be half-price tickets for both PA Access cardholders and members. And, with 6.5 acres to spread out on, there will not be a sell-out. (smithplayground.org)
World Wonders & Storytime Expeditions (Penn Museum, Wednesdays June 27-Aug. 15, except July 4). As serious galleries undergo serious renovation and restoration, less serious scholarship goes on, on Wednesdays. The Penn Museum's summer programming aims to bring global studies closer to home for kids ages 4 and up. Late-morning story times lead up to live performances (Eda Ne Kakati, Momma Sandi) and demos (by the Academy of Natural Sciences, the Franklin Institute). (215-898-4000, penn.museum)
Bright Lights, Little City (Philadelphia Museum of Art, June 30-Sept. 3). Art Splash, the museum's annual kidcentric summer takeover, really takes over the old place this year. A cardboard city — including a toy LEGO Philadelphia Museum of Art — will occupy the Grand Stair Balcony — "prime real estate," according to family programs manager Liz Baill. Biweekly children's studio projects will explore the color, geometrics, and meanings of works by Horace Pippin, Georgia O'Keeffe, Alexander Calder, and other artists with works in the exhibition "Modern Times: American Art 1910-1950." (215-763-8100, philamuseum.org)
Free First Sundays (Barnes Foundation, July 1 and Aug. 5). Families with kids under age 18 have priority access every first Sunday at the Barnes. This makes getting into the popular monthly event a little like boarding a plane, except not at all, because entering the Barnes' galleries means experiencing life-changing art by African, French, and Pennsylvania artists, including Matisse, Renoir, Picasso, Soutine, Cézanne, Rousseau, and Modigliani — with nary an eye roll from other kiddie-toting guests. Regulars know to arrive before 10 a.m., when the collection opens, to stay for lunch on site, and to hang around for an afternoon of games (July) and stories (August). (215-278-7000, barnesfoundation.org)
Family Workshops (Brandywine River Museum of Art, July 5, 12, 19, and 26). Thursday is family day at the Brandywine, when smallish artists use nature — and the occasional Wyeth — during morning "museum explorer" classes in line, shape, scratch art, and sculpture. The sessions are aimed at ages 3-10, but what adult doesn't love scratch art? (610-388-8382, brandywine.org)
Shore Baby Parades (Stone Harbor, July 9; Wildwood, Aug. 1; Cape May, Aug. 3; Ocean City, Aug. 9). Among the less educational but more memorable (at least for grown-ups) summer activities for kids is the Jersey Shore's decade-long tradition of outfitting little ones in get-ups and setups that put Halloween costumes to shame, and parading them in the sun before a panel of judges for ribbons, bragging rights, and unforgettable portraits. But heck: One shouldn't knock what one hasn't tried, and any parent willing to invest spare time turning a toddler into a sparkling crustacean princess certainly deserves some kind of award. (Stone Harbor: 609-368-5102, stoneharbornj.org; Wildwood: 609-729-4000, wildwoodsnj.com; Cape May: 609-884-9563, discovercapemaynj.com; Ocean City: 609-399-6111, ocnj.us)