Give those brains a jump start for the new school year by taking your little ones to learn about science, sturgeon, swifts, Portland history and heavy machinery. The following activities are sure to lift the summer brain fog and offer a dose of serious fun. Read on to take a peek at a few of our favorites educational outings around Portland.

photo: OMSI, courtesy Joshin Yamada via Flickr Creative Commons

Oregon Museum of Science and Industry
With a massive space, that includes a planetarium, movie theater, submarine and pop-culture-savvy exhibits, OMSI is typically one of the first places that comes to mind for those looking for brainy activities in Portland.

The museum houses five halls and over 200 interactive exhibits and labs, including Earth Hall, Life Hall, Turbine Hall, a science playground for the six and under set, and labs on life science, watershed, chemistry, physics, technology and paleontology. Just a sampling of the activities at OMSI include programming a robot, feeling an earthquake, building an aqueduct, safely mixing and pouring chemicals, making flubber, and playing at a water table and massive sand area. In addition to constantly changing the activities at individual labs, OMSI also offers a rotating main exhibit.

1945 SE Water Ave.

 photo: Bonneville Hatchery, courtesy USFWS Pacific Region via Flickr Creative Commons

Bonneville Hatchery
The hatchery could either be part of a larger day trip, complete with a hike in the Gorge, or you can just make that your destination. The park-like setting is definitely picnic worthy, and the staff can tell you and your budding scientist all about the fish. It’ll cost you a quarter to feed the rainbow trout, and you can head down to the special “house” made for hatchery star, Herman the sturgeon, a 425-pound, 10-foot, 70-year-old behemoth. Those visiting in October or November will get the added bonus of watching millions of salmon spawning. The hatchery is free to visit, and the self-guided tours make the atmosphere pretty laid-back. The hatchery is open daily (except for Thanksgiving and Christmas Day).

70543 NE Herman Loop
Cascade Locks

Vaux Swifts at Chapman Elementary
Every September, the Chapman Elementary school grounds come alive at dusk as thousands of Vaux Swifts swirl and chatter, pouring into the chimney to roost at night, as they prepare for their long migration to Central America and Venezuela. To get in on the action, arrive at least one hour before sunset and bring a picnic blanket and snacks. Weeknights will be less crowded, but there is usually plenty of space on the grounds for everyone. Most nights, Audubon Society of Portland volunteers make themselves available for impromptu education sessions. Free parking is available at Montgomery Park and after 5:30 p.m. at Selco Community Credit Union. Be sure to bring a piece of cardboard for sledding down the steep, grassy hill.

1445 NW 26th Ave.

photo: Oregon Rail Heritage Center, courtesy Mobilus in Mobili via Flickr Creative Commons 

Oregon Rail Heritage Center
If your family is more geared toward machinery than biology, the Oregon Rail Heritage Center might be your new favorite place.This working museum allows visitors to roam among vintage steel beasts as they are serviced and rebuilt, lending the place a bit of the energetic vibe that kids love. There are also docents available for guided tours, as well as a kids’ play area, rotating exhibits and a gift shop. Hands-on learners will be excited to climb aboard a caboose and are encouraged to explore the interior. While the museum itself is free to visit, those who come on Saturday might consider bringing $5/person to ride the Oregon Pacific Railroad passenger train on a short, 45-minute round trip to Oaks Bottom Park. The center is open Thursday through Sunday.

2250 SE Water Ave.


photo: Pittock Mansion, courtesy Glen Bledsoe via Flickr Creative Commons

Pittock Mansion
Got a little local-history buff on your hands, or maybe a fledgling architect? Then how about a stop at Pittock Mansion for a peek into Portland of the past as well as one of Oregon’s most influential pioneer families? Built in 1914, the mansion was the residence of the founder of the Oregonian newspaper, Henry Pittock and his wife Georgiana. The palacial estate is now held in public trust by the City of Portland. It’s free to park at the museum and the grounds are free to tour, offering stunning views of the city as well as Mt. Hood. Those who want to tour the 22-rooms of the mansion can do so by purchasing tickets ($10 for adults, $9 for seniors 65 and up, $7 for kids six to 18, and free for children under six), with guided and self-guided tours available. The Renaissance Revival architecture is complemented by period furnishings, many of them the original belongings of the Pittocks themselves. The museum is open daily 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. between September and June and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. between July and August.

3229 NW Pittock Dr.

Where do you go when you want a kid-friendly activity with a little bonus brain boost? Let us know in the Comments section below.

— Ty Adams and Suzie Ridgway

Your daily dose of joy and connection
Get the Tinybeans app