Educational holidays for families: Five great places for science

Science fairs sure ain't what they used to be.

Remember those old labs, filled with a musty fug, populated by bespectacled men in white coats? Nowadays, a scientist is (almost) as likely to be a woman using interactive displays to explain climate change, robotics or dark matter.

This engagement is especially important for older children, who know that STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – are crucial for the modern workplace. (The increasingly-common acronym is STEAM, which incorporates the arts).

So why not use family holidays to give them a head start?

This month's World Science Festival, held in Brisbane, is an annual event begun in New York in 2008. It transplants science from the lab to the streets, parks, and museums.

Here are five other science destinations that are open year-round:

1 QUESTACON

The National Science and Technology Centre in Canberra, recently won Australia's most prestigious national tourism award. It's Disneyland for geeks, featuring a Tesla coil, freefall slide and Fresnel lens. Taj and Grace still talk about the earthquake house three years after their visit.

2 MIRAIKAN

If you want to see ASIMO – a humanoid robot – plan a family trip to Miraikan, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Technologies in Japan. The Curiosity Field has child-friendly interactive exhibits, free of charge. This is one of the few museums in Tokyo with excellent English signage.

3 SPARK!LAB

Invention and innovation are at the heart of Spark!Lab at the Lemelson Centre in the Smithsonian, Washington DC. Tweens and teens will gravitate towards Q?rius, where they can conduct experiments. Hop in a hovercar or a solar coaster, courtesy of the ride simulators.

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4 THE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM IN LONDON

This museum is famous for its dinosaurs. But it also boasts the Darwin Centre's high-tech Attenborough Studio, where kids can connect with scientists and watch live shows. And it's all free.

5 HEUREKA

Many of the exhibits in Heureka, the Finnish Science Centre, need several people to operate, so it's ideal for families. Children will adore the basketball-playing rats, and the Moonwalk exhibit is truly out of this world.

With ever-evolving technologies, families are scrambling to keep up. So, what shall we call this bold frontier? Sci-travel? Tech-tourism? A STEMoliday?

Whatever you choose to call it, this is surpassing the desire for simple pleasures, especially among tweens and teens.

Forget about the swimming pool, theme park, or tours of crumbling ruins.

The family travel of the future is all about the modern-day science fair.

tracey.spicer@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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