Public and private schools in Rochester will close twice this winter, as they do every year, for the last week in December and the third week in February. The kids will be home, with you, for some fun, meaningful family time. Don't panic. There are plenty of things to do.
For no-fuss, nearby activities in the snow, look to the parks.
The Monroe County Parks Department recently chose six hills in the greater Rochester area to name as sledding hills. The designated hills are free of trees and offer long runs. Find them at: Northampton Park, Black Creek Park, Powder Mills Park, Mendon Ponds Park (2), and Webster Park. The hills are marked.
The beginners' downhill ski lessons at Powder Mills Park have been offered for at least 30 years, says Jack Jesmer, supervisor of Bristol Mountain's Parks Department. "All of Rochester probably learned to ski at Powder Mills," he says. Now there are also classes at Northampton Park and all lessons are taught by staff from Bristol Mountain. Although Northampton is farther from the city, it probably has the better and less crowded hill, says Jesmer. The program offers lessons throughout the winter as well as three-day skiing camps during the winter and February breaks. Rentals, snowmaking, and hill grooming are provided at both parks. For more information, call 374-6000 or visit www.bristolmountain.com.
Nature lovers can hand-feed chickadees at Mendon Ponds park by bringing handfuls of black sunflower seeds and walking along the nature trail that begins at the Mendon Ponds Park Nature Center. Interactive outdoor displays guide and educate visitors as they walk, but a main attraction is the chickadees, which are not shy about taking food from people. "They will just follow you around," says Eric Johnson of the Monroe County Parks Department, "it's amazing."
It doesn't take a lot of time to acquaint the kids with some of the small wonders within city limits. These quick, mini-excursions will make your child think you have lots of tricks up your sleeve.
The Secret Room in the Bausch & Lomb Public Library Building on South Avenue may not be so secret to you, but children still love to discover it. One of the bookcases in the library's Children's Section swings open to reveal a room filled with dolls from around the world.
If you are driving down East Avenue, pull into the Rochester Museum and Science Center parking lot and check out the big, red, parabolic whisper dishes behind the museum. People standing at either dish are yards apart, but the arch carries the quietest whisper in perfectly audible tones. The dishes do what the tin-can phone is supposed to do.
The Edgerton Recreation Center at 41 Backus Street is home to the Model Train Exhibit, which has four working model trains and a small museum of model railroading. The exhibit is open limited hours. Call 428-6769.
Do you have a basketball court or a swimming pool in your living room? For long afternoons during the school breaks, don't forget the City Recreation Centers. They are all over the city, and they offer the types of sports and activities that usually aren't possible at home. Many centers will offer extended hours and special programming during winter recesses, in addition to the usually available activities. Check with your local center or call Rochester's Parks & Recreation Administration Offices at 428-6755.
Not only does the Corning Museum of Glass have the Hot Glass Show, a live glass-blowing demonstration, it also has a walk-in workshop where visitors can make an object, like a sandblasted drinking glass, to take home. Some activities have age requirements, but there is something for all ages. Same-day reservations are required for the walk-in workshop. Call (800) 732-6845 or visit www.cmog.org/ for more information.
If you have seen the local museums, you can try Explore & More, a children's museum in East Aurora. The museum is dedicated to exhibits where kids can learn and explore through play. Call (716) 655-5131 or visit www.exploreandmore.org/.
Or, take a trip to the Buffalo Zoo. It has 23 acres and nearly 1,000 animals. You can even adopt an animal and see your name on a plaque by the animal's cage. Adopt anything from a red-eyed tree frog to a bear. Call (716) 837-3900 or visit www.buffalozoo.org/.
For a nature walk worth a drive, visit the Beaver Meadow Audubon Center in North Java near Buffalo. The 324-acre sanctuary has eight trails, and on the Beaver Pond Trail visitors can walk right up to the dam and lodge built by beavers. The nocturnal beavers probably won't be seen, but their handiwork is always on display. For more information, call 716-457-3228.
The Strong Museum already has exciting children's exhibits and special holiday events, and now it is also the new home of the National Toy Hall of Fame. There are 26 Hall of Famers now on display at Strong, including classics like Slinky and Lincoln Logs. Adults and kids will have fun recognizing and playing with their favorite toys.
At the Rochester Museum and Science Center's Holiday Science and Technology Week, December 27 through 30, interactive displays from local science groups will be added to the regular exhibits. Kids will be able to form plastic, make concrete and learn about the common backyard compost heap. A favorite exhibitor each year is the Rochester Amateur Radio Association. "Kids can just sit down and call up someone in Romania," says Calvin Uzelmeier, Ph.D., who organizes the Science and Technology Week at the RMSC. Call 271-4552 or visit www.rmsc.org.
The Victorian Doll Museum in Chili houses over 3,000 antique dolls, some of which date back to the mid 1800's. The Doll Museum is next door to the Chili Doll Hospital, where antique dolls are re-sewn, restored, and given new parts. While visitors can't go inside the doll hospital, displays show what doll hair, teeth, and limbs look like. Call 247-0130 for hours.
The Rochester Jewish Community Center is offering a "through the decades" camp during the winter break. Kids will make crafts and learn songs and dances appropriate to decades beginning with the 1950s. In February is the JCC's annual hobby camp, where different sports and crafts are offered each day. With both camps, children can sign up for a day or the entire week. Call 461-2000 or visit www.jccrochester.org/.
During the February break, the Rochester Museum and Science Center will host a science camp. Children ages six to eight can spend the week investigating history and children ages nine to 11 can participate in Construct-it Camp. Call 271-4552 or visit www.rmsc.org/.
The Memorial Art Gallery's creative workshop will offer a Winter Break Art Week for the first time this February. Children ages eight to 10 can learn to create 2D and 3D art, using frequent trips to the Gallery for inspiration and instruction from professional artists. "This is definitely for kids who like art," says Larry Merrill, director of the MAG's creative workshop. Call 473-7720 x3056 for a registration packet.
Activity is a business
Some businesses that cater to children year-round will offer classes or activities during school breaks. Two places to try: Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts stores typically host holiday workshops or one-day classes for specific projects during February break and RockVentures climbing gym not only offers classes and activities for kids year-round but is also a licensed childcare facility. Check with your favorite store or center for other options.