It’s no surprise that children remember field trips long after they’ve forgotten their school textbooks.  I’m always on the lookout for extracurricular excursions to enhance my daughter’s education. During a recent trip to the Finger Lakes, I discovered some small town museums that have a big impact on learning but are also a lot of fun for the whole family.

Rockwell Museum, Corning NY

Artemus bursting out at the Rockwell Museum – photo by Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom


The next time your kids complain about going to a museum, you can tell them there is scientific evidence that proves it will make them better students.   After a visit to a museum, kids remember historical details better, develop empathy for other cultures, have sharper critical thinking skills and feel creatively inspired.

Corning museum of glass glass blowing

Glass cupcakes at the Corning Museum of Glass look good enough to eat! – photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

Corning Museum of Glass

At the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York, your kid’s brains will get quite a workout because art, history, science and innovation are all rolled into this one impressive museum.  Without a doubt, the most popular feature is the museum’s live glass making demonstrations.


Enthralled multigenerational and multicultural audiences watched as expert glassmakers create works of art before their eyes. The kids in the audience especially loved the cameras (the same kind NASA uses) that film inside the ovens showing the glass heating up to crazy temperatures.

Photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

Photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

Corning museum of glass

Glass design is harder than it looks but so much fun – photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

The only thing more fun than watching glass blowing is trying it out first hand at the Make Your Own Glass Studio.

Here, families can make their own glass creations to take home.  The process is totally safe and you get to wear some fashionable safety gear.  I chose to make a flower because it was more difficult but saw children as young as five making Halloween pumpkins.

I’d recommend a visit to the museum early in your trip to the area because the glass needs to cure for least 24 hours.  If you can’t be in town that long, don’t worry because the museum can ship it to your home.

Corning Museum of Glass

Glass blowing demonstration at Corning Museum of Glass

Can’t keep America contained at the Rockwell Museum

You know when you walk up to the Rockwell Museum that it is going to be a little different.  Bursting from the building’s front façade is a fiberglass bison named Artemus, created by artist Tom Gardner

Inside, the museum tells the story of the American experience. Many of the works of art and historical artifacts are created by and about Native American life, which fits perfectly with elementary, middle and high school social studies and history curriculum.

Rockwell Museum, Corning NY

Photo by Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

To keep the museum relevant and fresh to the community, the museum brings in guest artists and curators. While visiting we saw the 40 for 40 exhibit featuring Brooklyn artists, Steven and William Ladd.  The brothers took pieces from all over the museum and grouped them in a new way to create different and surprising narratives.

Rockwell Museum

Photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling Mom

Arnot Art Museum has art that children love

This museum was the biggest surprise to me. Housed in an elegant Greek revival building that was once the home of its benefactor, Matthias H. Arnot, it looks like a typical museum. When you enter the main gallery it is filled from floor to ceiling with classical paintings and you think,  “oh another museum donated by some rich dead guy who loved stuffy old paintings.”

Then you step into the next room. Light and air hit your senses as you move from room to room filled with American contemporary art.   Since children have no preconceived notions about what art is they are more open to modern art than most adults. From the most realistic and recognizable to the abstract, each image had a unique narrative to spark the imagination.  For younger kids, the museum’s scavenger hunt for details in the museum also helps to see details you may not notices during a self-guided tour.

And the best part, admission for children under 18 is free.

Arnot Museum

Photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling

Mark Twain’s Study

The Mark Twain Study and Exhibition Room at Elmira College in Elmira, NY is filled with literary and social history. For literary fans, like me, visiting his study is a big thrill and a perfect opportunity to introduce children to his works and his history.

Mark Twain Study

Photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling

Mark Twain Study Elmira NY

Photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling

Places where there is literary history but not much to interact with, I encourage my daughter use her imagination to think what it would be like to be a writer during that time in history.  It was easy to imagine Twain neé Sam Clemens, writing The Adventures of Tom Sawyer with a big cat on his lap.  Twain was a big cat fan and the study has a couple of doors made just for his furry friends.

The grounds of Elmira College are picturesque with Victorian buildings, green lawns and a small lake.  Cowles Hall houses the Mark Twain exhibit with photographs and artifacts from Twain’s life.  The school chapel is lined with stained glass that depicts local history and there are two panes with Twain and his wife Olivia.

Mark Twain stained glass

Sam and Olivia – photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling

The College has its own unique history that makes it worth a visit.  It was one of the first colleges in America to grant degrees to women that were the equivalent to those granted to men.  It is never too early to get your children interested in college.

Watkins Glenn State Park

Watkins Glenn State Park – photo: Angela Tiffin, History Buff Traveling


After feeding little brains during intellectual field trips to museums, I always follow it up with a little nature time. The Finger Lakes have a lot of options for families who want to get outdoors.

  • Water activities are a favorite for my family. Kayaking with Southern Tier Kayak Tours along the “gentle” Chemung River is a great way to experience nature and wildlife in the area without needing much paddling experience.  Our guide Aaron also fit a little biology lesson in so learning doesn’t stop here!
  • Sailing on Seneca Lake aboard a 1926 John Alden Malabar VII Schooner called True Love is not exactly exercise but kids get plenty of fresh air and adults get to sip Atwater Vineyards Rosé and everyone learns about sailing.
  • Hiking in Watkins Glen State park is an experience that you’ll not soon forget. With 778 acres, 200ft cliffs and 19 waterfalls, kids will never be bored.


How Kids Get Smarter in the Finger Lakes