Moms

12 boredom-bustin' mini 'escapes' for families during spring break

Many families will have some extra time together this week, with preschools, universities and everything in between officially on spring break.

All that togetherness can be a terrific opportunity -- really. From the great outdoors to the fine arts, North Texas has plenty of ways to reconnect with the kids (whether they're 5 or 15), challenge perspectives and give everyone something new to talk about at dinnertime.

Take a hike.

With more than 20 miles of hiking trails, wildlife sightings and plenty of picnic spots, the Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge is a natural destination for families of all ages who want some fresh air. The week of spring break, the center has kid-friendly activities planned daily, from the bison feeding hayrides (Tuesday and Thursday) to Canoe Fest (Wednesday, limited to kids 5 and older).

Where: Fort Worth Nature Center & Refuge, 9601 Fossil Ridge Road, Fort Worth. 817-392-7410; www.fwnaturecenter.org

When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily

How much: Admission is free for kids under 3, $2 for ages 3-17, $3 for seniors 65 and older, and $4 for adults. Special activities may cost an additional $3-$12 (call ahead to register).

Go to the (children's) opera.

The Fort Worth Opera's Children's Opera Theatre will present comic adaptations of The Three Little Pigs and The Billy Goats Gruff during spring break. Targeted toward the pre-K through fifth-grade crowd, with short run times of about 45 minutes apiece and both works sung in English, these performances make for a friendly introduction to opera. Bring one nonperishable item for the Tarrant Area Food Bank to The Three Little Pigs for a free ticket to The Billy Goats Gruff.

Where: Scott Theatre, Fort Worth Community Arts Center, 1300 Gendy St., Fort Worth. For tickets, call 817-731-0726 or visit www.fwopera.org.

When: The Three Little Pigs at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday; The Billy Goats Gruff at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Friday

How much: $5

Stop and smell the flowers.

Dallas Arboretum's annual Dallas Blooms festival, or Fiesta de las Flores, runs through April 11; among the tulips, poppies and more, you'll find a 12-foot-tall Ferdinand the Bull topiary, inspired by the gentle children's book bull who'd rather smell flowers than fight. Monday and Tuesday mornings, through April 6, offer art and music activities for young children, a petting zoo and a professional photographer and silhouette artist. Strollers and picnics are welcome.

Where: Dallas Arboretum, 8525 Garland Road, Dallas. 214-515-6500; www.dallasarboretum.org

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily

How much: Admission is free for children under 3, $7 for ages 3-12, $9 for seniors, and $10 for adults. On-site parking is $7. Discounted tickets are available at Tom Thumb Stores, Capital One Banks (for Tuesdays) and the Dallas Arboretum Web site (for Wednesdays).

Check out the science museum.

Through March 21, preschool-age visitors to the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History can enjoy a planetarium show, One World One Sky, with Big Bird and Elmo. Teenage and adult museumgoers might like to see Avatar in the IMAX Dome Omni Theater, through April 22. And on Sun-Earth Day, March 20, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the museum will celebrate our planet's relationship with the sun with activities like solar cooking, safe solar viewing and a solar-panel demonstration.

Where: Fort Worth Museum of Science and History, 1600 Gendy St., Fort Worth. 817-255-9300; www.fwmuseum.org

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily

How much: Admission is free for children 2 and under, $10 for ages 3-12 and seniors 60 and older, and $14 for adults; movie and planetarium show tickets are $3-$12. Call ahead for discounted combination tickets.

Chase butterflies.

While you shouldn't actually chase them, your eyes will dart after the colorful, fluttering wings in this live exhibit of tropical butterflies from around the world, held in the Fort Worth Botanic Garden Conservatory. Admission is scheduled in 30-minute intervals (no strollers allowed). Choose a sunny day -- that's when the butterflies are most active. Bring your camera, and perhaps a picnic to enjoy on the Botanic Garden grounds before or after you take in the exhibit.

Where: Fort Worth Botanic Garden Conservatory, 3220 Botanic Garden Blvd., Fort Worth. 817-871-7686; www.fwbg.org

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, through April 4

How much: Admission is free for children under 3, $6 for ages 3-12, $8 for seniors 65 and older, and $10 for adults. Use your Star-Telegram Press Pass to purchase up to four half-price adult tickets.

Hit the rails.

This weekend is the last chance to catch Thomas the Tank Engine at the Grapevine Vintage Railroad. The Day Out With Thomas event includes a 25-minute train ride behind a full-size Thomas the Tank Engine and enough related activities to fill your morning or afternoon after the ride. Have your kids outgrown Thomas? Grapevine-to-Stockyards Spring Fling train rides are scheduled for Monday through Sunday of spring break; they include on-board activities and give passengers two hours to explore the Stockyards before returning to Grapevine.

Where: 705 S. Main St., Grapevine. Thomas tickets will need to be purchased on site; for more information, call 214-428-0101 or visit www.dallasrailwaymuseum.com. For Spring Fling tickets, call 817-410-8136 or visit www.grapevinetexasusa.com.

When: Thomas: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. March 13-14. Spring Fling: departing at 1 p.m. March 15-21

How much: Thomas: $18 for ages 2 and up. Spring Fling: Free for kids 2 and under, $10 for ages 3-12, $18 for ages 55 and over, and $20 for adults.

Get on your boots.

Head to the Stockyards today for Cowtown Goes Green ("green" as in St. Patrick's Day), with pony rides, a petting zoo, games and contests with Radio Disney, live Irish music and Fort Worth Herd CowCamp, where kids can get hands-on roping lessons. Stick around for the 4 p.m. Fort Worth Herd Cattle Drive, followed by the Cowtown Goes Green Parade.

Wednesday through Friday, the petting zoo and Fort Worth Herd CowCamp (and daily 4 p.m. cattle drive) will be back for more spring-break fun.

Where: Stockyards Station, 130 E. Exchange Ave., Fort Worth. 817-625-9715; www.stockyardsstation.com

When: 1-5 p.m. today; 11:30 a.m. Wednesday through Friday

How much: Free

Sightsee on a Segway.

Parents with teenagers can get a new perspective on Fort Worth's Cultural District and Botanic Garden while taking in the sights for two hours on a Segway personal transporter. Tours, scheduled through the Museum of Science and History, depart from in front of the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame twice a day, Fridays through Sundays. The tour begins with a 20-minute lesson; riders need to weigh at least 100 pounds and be 14 or older.

Where: National Cowgirl Museum, 1720 Gendy St., Fort Worth; for reservations, call 817-255-9540 or visit www.fortworthmuseum.org.

When: 10 a.m. and noon Fridays and Saturdays; noon and 2 p.m. Sundays

How much: $59; reserve your spot at least 24 hours ahead of the tour.

Scream over to Six Flags.

Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington is open all week for spring break, and 2010 season Play Passes are the same price as an adult ticket. While there are plenty of thrills for older kids, younger ones will love the Looney Tunes USA area; check the park's Web site for a complete list of rides and their height requirements. Have a drama queen in the family? During spring break, the park is hosting a daily 5:15 p.m. Ridiculously Long Lasting Scream Contest.

Where: Six Flags Over Texas, 2201 Road to Six Flags, Arlington. 817-640-8900; www.sixflags.com

When: 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. today and Monday through Saturday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. March 21.

How much: Admission is $31 for kids under 48 inches and $49.99 for taller kids and grown-ups; the Play Pass, good all season, is $49.99; and the Season Pass, which includes a few extra perks (such as guest tickets and coupons), is $59.99. (If one visit a year is enough for you, check the Web site for discount tickets.) Parking is $15 a day or $45 for the season.

Brave the zoo.

Many a Fort Worth mama swears off the zoo for the week of spring break because of the crowds, but this year there's a new draw that makes it even harder than usual to resist: the Museum of Living Art (MOLA), a reptile and amphibian complex that opened this month. Among MOLA's more than 850 animals is a 15 1/2-foot-long saltwater crocodile. To make parking easier, the zoo will offer a Safari Shuttle Zoo Trolley, Monday through Saturday, from the T's downtown Intermodal Transportation Center (1001 Jones St.; 817-215-8600 or www.The-T.com; the round trip is free for kids under 5; $1.50 for big kids and seniors, and $3 for adults).

Where: Fort Worth Zoo, 1989 Colonial Parkway, Fort Worth. 817-759-7555; www.fortworthzoo.com.

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily

How much: Zoo admission is free for kids 2 and under, $9 for kids 3-12 and seniors, and $12 for adults. On-site parking is $5; cash only. Wednesday is half-price day.

Explore the Dallas Museum of Art.

Saturday is the Dallas Museum of Art's WFAA Family First Day, with free general admission and activities for preschoolers (experiencing a texture quilt) and big kids (sketching with artist Solange Mariel). From Tuesday through Friday, the museum continues its family-friendly plans with art activities, story times and an interactive family tour.

Do you have a BlackBerry-addicted teen? The "Lens of Impressionism" exhibit runs through May 23, with a separate admission fee that includes an audio tour you can access with a Wi-Fi-enabled phone -- bring your own or borrow an iPod Touch from the museum.

Where: Dallas Museum of Art, 1717 N. Harwood St., Dallas. 214-922-1802; www.dallasmuseumofart.org.

When: 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. today; opens 11 a.m. Tuesday through Friday. The museum is closed Mondays; hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. The museum is open until 9 p.m. Thursdays.

How much: Free general admission today and half-price admission to "The Lens of Impressionism" today only. General admission is free for kids under 12; $5 for students; $7 for seniors 65 and older and military personnel, and $10 for adults. Admission to "The Lens of Impressionism" is free for children under 12 ($6 for audio tour); $12 for students, $14 for seniors and military, and $16 for adults.

Be an early bird at Fossil Rim.

Fossil Rim is 55 miles southwest of Fort Worth; go for the park's scenic 9.5-mile drive that allows visitors to watch and feed wildlife like antelopes, zebras and more; look for the two baby giraffes born this winter. Today through March 21, the park opens at 8 a.m.; early birds who pay their entrance fee before 8:30 a.m. will get a free bag of feed (and a head start on the crowds). Consider packing a lunch in an easily accessible part of your car as it can be very slow getting to the Overlook, a pit stop halfway through the route.

Where: Fossil Rim, 2299 County Road 2008, Glen Rose. 254-897-2960; www.fossilrim.org.

When: Spring hours begin Sunday. Cars are admitted from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Today through March 21 only, Fossil Rim will open at 8 a.m. Visit the Web site for store, cafe and Children's Animal Center hours.

How much: The entrance fee is free for children 2 and under; $13.95 weekdays or $16.95 weekends for ages 3-11; $16.95 weekdays or $19.95 weekends for seniors 62 and older; and $20.95 weekdays or $22.95 weekends for adults. This week only, the Crack of Dawn 8 a.m. guided tour in an open-air vehicle is $29 per person (discounted from $38).

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