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Family destinations combine learning, fitness and serious fun

Four-year-old Francesca Falsone got her first hands-on lesson in yoga this week – mostly while intertwined with her mom, Teresa – on a patch of dry grass at Canalside.

The Falsones were among more than 30 participants, mostly mothers and daughters, in Jody Quinn’s weekly family yoga class, which takes place Tuesday mornings on the old Aud swath of city waterfront.

“I practice yoga avidly and she’s always asking to come with me,” Teresa Falsone said of her daughter, “but there’s not a lot of places you can do it together. This is a great place to do it, outside, downtown, with all this new stuff around.”

The Falsones, Buffalo natives who live in Santa Monica, Calif., are spending the summer in Western New York with family. Like many parents in the region, Teresa Falsone looks to immerse her daughter during the weeks to come in the best that Buffalo summers have to offer in terms of fun and lessons she can build upon.

Experts say she’s on the right track, that the “summer slide” – in which school-age children lose some of the knowledge they gained the previous school year – is real, and that parents and communities need to provide educational summer opportunities to prevent the following trends:

• Children generally lose two months in math comprehension skills during the summer and low-income kids lose two to three months in reading, according to the National Summer Learning Association. That can cause cumulative learning setbacks, especially for low-income students, by fifth grade.

• Children gain weight two to three times faster in the summer than during the school year, which suggests they are spending too much time in front of the TV, computers and in other sedentary activities, according to Ohio State researchers.

Children who spend more time reading and in hands-on learning activities are better prepared for the next school year, according to several large-scale research studies.

“Study after study has shown that summer reading has helped to maintain, and in fact advance, education levels, reading skills and vocabulary,” said Mary Jean Jakubowski, director of the 37-branch Buffalo & Erie County Public Library System.

The great thing about these sultry days in Western New York is that several of the region’s family destinations instill both fun and education into their lineups. Also great: many of these activities are either modestly priced or free.

Here are five nearby summer destinations that can help families enjoy quality learning time together.


(44 Prime St.;

Sara Cowan also had her hands full during this week’s family yoga class. She went through her series of planks, downward dogs and other poses with sons Parker, 11 months, and Cole, 4, below and atop her, as daughter, Ava, 6, made a bracelet alongside them.

“We visit Canalside at least three or four times a week and take advantage of everything from the art space to yoga to the library days,” said Cowan, who lives in the Elmwood Village. “We just love it down here. It’s such a great resource for families to do something outside, right on the waterfront, no charge. You just can’t beat it.”

Almost all family related programs at Canalside are free and run through at least Labor Day.

Worth the trip

Buffalo River History Tours ( These tours ($19 for adults, $12 for children) and Silo City grain elevator tours ($29/$17) depart almost daily from the Boardwalk.

Creative Families at Canalside: Young Audiences of WNY leads dance, music and theater programs from 10 a.m. to noon Mondays on the Great Lawn.

Explore & More at Canalside: Themed games, activities and crafts for the whole family, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays on the Canal Lawn, are hosted by the East Aurora children’s museum scheduled to move to Canalside in 2018.

Fitness classes: Include Exercise Like the Animals at 9 a.m., Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays; Family Power Yoga at 11 a.m. Tuesdays; and Kidding Around Family Yoga at noon Wednesdays.

Future Sounds of Buffalo: Youth summer concert series starts at noon Mondays.

Summer reading: The Buffalo & Erie County Library System hosts the “On Your Mark, Get Set, Read!” storytelling and craft program from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays, Great Lawn; EPIC Storytime, 10 a.m. to noon Wednesdays, Canal Lawn.

Science in the City: Buffalo Museum of Science and Tifft Nature Preserve staff present hands-on programs from 2 to 4 p.m. Fridays (except July 22).


(1200 Fuhrmann Blvd.;

This 264-acre urban wildlife refuge, 3 miles from downtown, includes a visitor center and 5 miles of hiking trails. Families interested in a hike or bike can tackle activities here and at Canalside by using the Ohio Street trail or Canalside bike ferry (, the latter of which costs $1 each way. The preserve is open daily, year round, until sunset. Staff encourages visitors to take a cellphone photo of the trail map posted at the visitor center and wear appropriate footwear and long pants while hiking, in case you brush up against an unfriendly plant.

“The trails make for a very easy walk, so it’s good for all ages,” said Meghan Dye, Tifft experience manager. “You’re definitely going to see birds and there’s a high chance of seeing a deer. Walking into the marsh, there are frogs, turtles, water snakes and lots of waterfowl hanging out there. There’s lots of work our ecologist has done, most recently some habitat improvement projects in the marsh that are very visible. There is signage about that.”

Worth the trip

Insectival: Celebrate all things bugs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Includes an outdoor insect safari, crafts and a chance to taste earthworm jerky. Suggested $7 donation; register for 10 a.m. and noon tours on-site.

Sky’s the Limit: Tifft and nearby Buffalo Harbor State Park join forces from 1 to 4 p.m. July 22 for air, wind and flight-themed activities. Includes kite flying demonstrations. Free.

Weekly guided tours: Wellness walks take place from 10 a.m. to noon Thursdays; Trek Tifft walks from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Sundays. Call 825-6397 to confirm walks will take place. $2 donation appreciated.


(Middle Block, Old Falls Street;

Chelesa Presley, of Batesville, Miss., and her family spent this week on the American side of Niagara Falls. On Tuesday, she, husband Julian and their children Ciera, 16, and Jensen, 12, visited the Cave of the Winds and Maid of the Mist in Niagara Falls State Park, and meandered Old Falls Street, a mostly cobblestone stretch between the state park and Seneca Niagara Casino. They stopped on the middle block of Old Falls to play giant-sized chess and checkers.

“We’ve enjoyed it so much we’ll be back next year to do the Canadian side,” Chelesa said.

Families are finding that new attractions in the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area – which runs along the Niagara River between the falls and Lake Ontario – provide enough family fun to stretch several days, said Susan Swiatkowski, marketing director for Old Falls Street USA.

Interactive games and crafts are available daily in the Old Falls Street Middle Block. Free Family Fun adds karaoke and crafts to the mix from noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays through August. Flicks on the Falls movie night takes place from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. Thursdays.

A trio of jet boat options lay further downriver in Lewiston and Youngstown, and the Niagara Power Project Power Vista recently revamped its exhibits during an $8.2 million renovation.

“It’s a wonderful way to spend the day, especially for those who live in Western New York and only see Niagara Falls on TV,” Swiatkowski said. “Bring your kids. They might not have gone on a field trip this year. Things are changing here.”

Worth the trip

Adventure Pass ( Canadian side features Classic, Nature and Plus packages, starting at $55 (Canadian; U.S. dollars are worth about 30 percent more in Ontario). Stops for the Nature package include a Hornblower Cruise, Whirlpool Aero Car, Floral Showhouse and Butterfly Conservatory that contains more than 45 species of butterflies.

Discovery Pass ( Shuttles take you to the Niagara Adventure Theater, Aquarium of Niagara, Cave of the Winds, Niagara Gorge Discovery Center and Maid of the Mist. Cost, including admission to all five sites, is $45 for adults, $34 for children ages 6 to 12 and free for children 5 and under. Tickets available online and in Niagara Falls State Park.

Aquarium of Niagara (701 Whirlpool St.; Touch tanks, seal interaction, penguin feedings and behind the scenes tours are almost daily family fare. All aquatic mammals here have been rescued and presentations focus on their stories, as well as the need for environmental stewardship. Buffalo Animal Adventures visits at noon and 2 p.m. Thursdays and Sundays through Labor Day so visitors can meet new animals (for an additional $4). Admission runs $13 for adults, $9 for children ages 3 to 12 and free for children 2 and under. Special events include late hours on Fridays July 22 and Aug. 26 that end with watching fireworks from the second-floor deck and an All-Star Aquatic Camp Aug. 22-26.

Discover Niagara Shuttle: The National Park Service launched this free, hop-on, hop-off shuttle this year to move visitors to 12 destinations in the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area – though you have to download tickets at Stops include Old Main Street, the Niagara USA Official Visitor Center, Third & Old Falls streets, the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center, Aquarium of Niagara, Niagara Arts & Cultural Center (the NAAC), Niagara Falls Train Station, Whirlpool State Park, Castellani Art Museum at Niagara University, Niagara Power Project Power Vista, Lewiston Business District, Lewiston waterfront, Youngstown Business District and Old Fort Niagara.

Niagara Falls Culinary Institute (28 Old Falls St.; Offers adult and kid’s cooking classes through August.

Niagara Gorge Discovery Center (200 Robert Moses Parkway North; Includes exhibit on the history and geology of the mighty cataracts; connected by a footbridge to the Aquarium of Niagara. Admission costs $3 for adults, $2 for children ages 6-12 and free for children 5 and under.

State Parks hiking tours (register at 282-5154): Gorge trail hiking maps available outside the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center. Free Niagara Falls State Park tours include Niagara Rocks!, 6 p.m. Friday; Schoellkopf Power Plant tour, 5 p.m. July 29; family bike tour, Aug. 7; and Goat Island Adventure Walk, Sept. 2.


(1020 Humboldt Parkway;

Permanent exhibits – including a new one set to open next weekend – 3-D cinemas and a mix of special programs have transformed this historic museum during the last decade. Interactive features abound for both children and adults interested in exploring key aspects of science. Admission is $11 for adults, $8 for children 2-17 and free for museum members or children under 2. Annual family membership starts at $65, about the cost of general family admission for two visits, said Jackie Jonmaire, marketing and public relations director.

Worth the trip

Yum! is not about food – it’s about YOU: This new exhibit about the impact of food on human health opens next Saturday. A “Get Moving” calorie-counting spinning wheel and a food scanner that spits out the health benefits of common food products is part of the learning experience.

Makeshift Lab: Among museum workshops, this one is for the tinkerers among us. Topics include robotics, circuitry and 3-D printing.

Summer Discovery Camps: Topics for those ages 5 to 12 include Science of Sports, Green Science and the Magic of Math. Cost for four-day camp is $168; register on the website.


(Central Library, 1 Lafayette Square;

“Reading is about getting the brain moving,” said Jakubowski, the Buffalo & Erie County libraries director. “It’s fun. It’s exciting.”

All 37 branches have special programs and activities this summer, Jakubowski said. Schedules are available on the website.

Worth the trip

Library on Wheels: For the first time in a dozen years, the library system has a bookmobile on the road. The new one features laptops, a portable classroom and a changing selection of roughly 3,000 books. It’s also a Wi-Fi hotspot. To find out where it will head next, visit the library website.

Mayor Byron Brown’s Reading Rules: Visit a city library to learn more about this summer reading challenge.

On Your Mark, Get Set, Read!: Children can register at their local library as part of this statewide initiative. Prizes are given for reaching milestones.

Summer Online Reading Challenge: Adults and teens are encouraged to read books and post reviews on the library system’s website. Prizes, including a Kindle Fire HDX tablet Reader, will be awarded.


Inside: • Books packed with educational family fun ideas, Page 10 • More family activities, Refresh Community Calendar, Pages 15-16