Whether it’s two weeks off for the winter holidays, a week for spring break, or three months of summertime bliss, your kids’ various school vacations have one thing in common: a lack of educational stimulation. On the other hand, nothing ruins a kid’s dreams for their free time like vacation homework. So how do you keep your kids mentally stimulated without boring them to death and taking away the fun of time off? You achieve the best of both worlds with “edu-tainment,” a new genre of all-ages entertainment with an educational focus.
The Great Smoky Mountains is a world-class vacation destination popular among young families for its kid-friendly rides, games, and attractions. However, it is also full of one-of-a-kind activities that teach about human history, natural history, science, and many other subjects. From museums in Pigeon Forge to nature experiences near Gatlinburg, the various edu-tainment attractions in the Smokies provide a fun way for both kids and adults to learn about an area of interest!
Museums in Pigeon Forge
The museum district in Pigeon Forge is home to some of the best educational experiences in the area. At the Alcatraz East Crime Museum, explore the history of crime in America and dive into modern crime scene investigation and forensics methods across their five galleries. Get the inside scoop on law enforcement practices and legal punishment, and even discover crime in the context of pop culture! You’ll see famous artifacts like Ted Bundy’s VW Beetle, learn how to conduct DNA and fingerprinting tests, and try taking a lie detector test. Alcatraz East Crime Museum is a must for the burgeoning police officer or lawyer in your family!
Meanwhile, WonderWorks is an interactive experience with over 100 hands-on exhibits that are geared toward curious minds. You’ll try on an EVA suit to learn about space exploration, and then play with gigantic bubbles to observe light refraction in action. You might harness the power of lightning at the Tesla Coil to better understand extreme weather. Or, you could dig around in an augmented-reality sandbox to create natural landscapes. Beyond the six science-themed Wonder Zones, WonderWorks also contains a glow-in-the-dark ropes course, laser tag arena, and 4D XD simulator ride for when the kids need to let off some energy!
Educational Theatrical Entertainment
Don’t let your kids sit around and watch television all day during their vacation. Instead, treat them to theatrical performances that bring American history and religious parables to life! The Buttonwillow Civil War Theater in Pigeon Forge tells the story of the American Civil War through a discourse between a Union soldier and a Confederate soldier. Through realistic costumes and set decorations, you’ll be transported back to the year 1864 to hear historically accurate stories and facts from the National Archives.
For those who practice the Christian faith, the Biblical Times Theater provides an exciting way to meet biblical figures in the flesh and witness firsthand the divine meaning of their parables. Currently headlining their stage is “Peter,” which tells a story of forgiveness when Jesus’ most trusted discipline denies knowing Him, even after having witnessed His countless miracles. The religious shows at Biblical Times Theater feature state-of-the-art video mapping and projection, Gospel music, and even a delicious dinner of smoked chicken breast or meatloaf with side veggies and a dessert.
Zoology in the Smokies
Who doesn’t love animals? Zoology is the study of animals, and it’s a crucial field that has helped us to better understand ecology, biology, and even ourselves. At Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, you’ll get a chance to learn about the extraordinary animals of the ocean, from sharks and penguins to jellyfish and frogs! The aquarium consists of eight educational exhibits plus interactive experiences, such as petting stingrays and painting with penguins. For the aspiring marine biologist in your party, Ripley’s Aquarium is sure to be a source of tremendous inspiration!
For a deeper foray into the zoology of land and amphibious animals, take a short drive from Pigeon Forge to Sevierville. Rainforest Adventures is home to more than 600 animals of over 130 species. Tortoises, crocodiles, axolotls, lemurs – you name it – if it’s a tropical or temperate animal, they will have it! Plus, many of these creatures were born or hatched in captivity, providing visitors with an educational experience without sacrificing crucial ethical considerations. If your curiosity lingers with the wild creatures of our beautiful planet, you can’t miss RainForest Adventures Zoo!
Natural History Experiences
These hazy blue peaks don’t just look pretty as a skyline; they also tell quite a different story underground. Tuckaleechee Caverns and Forbidden Caverns are two incredible natural formations that are a part of these peaks, too. Both offer educational tours where kids and adults can learn about how these caves were formed over 20 million years ago.
At Tuckaleechee Caverns, you’ll see a football field-sized cavern called the Big Room and a 210-foot underground waterfall. Meanwhile, Forbidden Caverns features natural chimneys, lighting effects over sparkling formations, and an underground stream. Only in the Smokies will you find this rare chance to see up-close the unique geological structures that make up our Appalachian geography.
Last but not least, your educational tour of the Smokies would be incomplete without a stop at Smoky Mountain Relic Room. Not just any souvenir shopping stop, this Sevierville store gives you the chance to take home a rare piece of natural or human history. You’ll find geological curiosities like fossils, meteorites, and beautiful crystals, as well as antiques and artifacts from ancient civilizations. Explore wood tool relics from the Eskimo people, tribal statues from African tribes, Civil Rights-era hand fans, ancient Egyptian amulets, and even authentic Japanese samurai swords. If there is a historic era or ancient culture your kid appreciates most, Smoky Mountain Relic Room is likely to have a remnant of that world just for them.
Education doesn’t have to take the form of boring school lectures, heavy textbooks, and tedious homework. In fact, the most effective way to learn anything is through fun and play! Edu-tainment attractions like the aquarium, cavern tours, theatrical performances, and museums offer a uniquely interactive and fun way to absorb knowledge. If you’re planning a family trip during your kid’s next school vacation, the Great Smoky Mountains will make an excellent destination!