A Children's Guide to North Louisiana
A Children's Guide to North Louisiana
By Rochelle Caviness - December 9, 2002
North Louisiana is know as a sportsman's paradise, and as a gambling capitol that rivals Las Vegas. It is also an outstanding family destination, with many attractions and activities that are extraordinarily well suited for children of all ages, as well as for children who are visually impaired.
Mardi Gras celebrations tend to have a reputation as adult only affairs. Bossier City, however, has taken great pains to ensure that their Mardi Gras celebration is suitable for participants of all ages. Bossier City is also the home of the Mardi Gras Museum of the Ark-La-Tex. This museum exhibits memorabilia, and floats from many of the krewes that participate in Mardi Gras celebrations throughout Northwest Louisiana. You'll especially want to check out the display on the Krewe of Barkus and Meoux - where the king and queen are always of an animal persuasion. This Krewe is organized by the Humane Society of Northwest Louisiana. While this museum does not offer many hands-on opportunities, the staff is dedicated and they offer an outstanding oral description of the displays. And I'm sure that if you explain that your child is visually impaired, they will take whatever steps are needed to make the visit a memorable one, if you give them some advance warning (just in case they are very busy). The museum does, however, organized hands-on educational programs that are offered in area schools.
Arts & Entertainment
Various plays and musical performances are continually being offered throughout North Louisiana. Most, if not all, of these performances are suitable for visually impaired children. To find out what performances will be staged during your visit, contact the convention & visitors bureaus for the areas you will be in. Links are provided at the end of this article.
North Louisiana is also home to a host of art galleries and museums, most of these do not offer extensive hands-on opportunities, with the exception of two: the Sci-Port Discovery Center and the Northeast Louisiana Children's Museum.
Sci-Port Discovery Center:
Located in Shreveport, this is a hands-on science center that will entertain and educate children of all ages. The center features an IMAX and Demonstration Theater. In all there are over 67,000 square-feet of exhibition space, with over 200 interactive exhibits covering everything from how the human body works to an exploration of the physical sciences. Of special interest is the Red River Gallery that focuses on science related issues unique to Northwest Louisiana, including the ecology and settlement of the region. Special events and demonstrations are held at the center throughout the year.
Northeast Louisiana Children's Museum:
This museum, located in downtown Monroe, offers young children a host of fun, hands-on learning experiences. They have a number of permanent, as well as rotating exhibits. One of the most fun, at least from an adult point of view is their new Bubble Works exhibit, where you get to make all sizes and shapes of bubbles. They even have bubble compartment that you can stand in and form a bubble around your entire body! This museum was designed for kids in pre-kindergarten through 4th grade. Examples of other permanent exhibits include the Kid's Café where kids get to run their own restaurant and Toddler Town for the "little ones." When you visit, ask if Stuffee is on display (he is not always on duty). Stuffee is a 9-foot tall stuffed doll whose internal organs are removable. He is a great learning tool, especially for visually impaired children.
Touchstone Wildlife & Art Museum:
You may also want to stop by the Touchstone Wildlife & Art Museum, located a short distance east of Bossier City. This museum features an unbelievable collection of over 1,000 mounted animals from around the world. While most of this collection is 'hands-off' they do have one display into which visitors are allowed to enter and touch the animals, which can make for a memorable experience.
A Smelly Experience
Flowers always have a large fan club, and I highly recommend that you take your kids to The American Rose Center, the center features a rose garden with over 20,000 rose bushes. This garden offers visitors an outstanding sensory experience - just watch out for the thorns! You might think that a kid would find that touring a rose garden was a big bore - you might be surprised at just how wrong you are. I was fortunate enough to tour the rose garden with a young lady whose delight in the gardens served to heighten my own enjoyment immensely. She had a great time smelling as many flowers as she could, trying to see which one smelled 'the best'. Least you think that her reaction was a aberration, let me assure you that their were a number of kids at the garden on the day of my visit, and they all seemed enthralled with the experience!
You should also plan on visiting the Fragrance Garden at the Barnwell Gardens and Art Center. This garden was designed specifically for the visually impaired and features a host of herbs and other 'odorous' plants that can be touched, and often identified by smell alone. Braille placards are available that describe each plant.
A Neat Treat
Biedenharn Museum & Gardens offers a 'neat' feature that is sure to delight families with young children. The museum and gardens are open, free, to the public, and they have a variety of puppet baskets available that you can borrow. These marvelous baskets were conceived by Elaine Smith, the museum's educational director. Each basket contains a book, and a series of puppets related to the various characters in the book. You can take the basket out into the garden, and while you read the book to your children, they can act out the story with the puppets! While you're at the museum, you can also the tour the house and gardens. There is also a bible museum located on the grounds. As well, throughout the year the museum host various hands-on activities for children.
You simply cannot go anywhere with children, without stopping by the local zoo. And you'll not want to miss the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo in Monroe. This is a great zoo to visit, in large part simply because the animals look and act happy. There are three ways to tour the zoo. You can simply walk around the zoo, or you can take the narrated, Bayou Safari Boat Ride through the zoo. There is also a train that you can ride throughout the zoo on. Each means of locomotion gives you a difference perspective of the zoos inhabitants and landscaping.
Currently there are over 500 animals in the zoo, ranging from Axis Deer and Ring-Tailed Lemurs to Chilean Flamingos and Baird Tapirs, who can only go to the bathroom in water. There is even a White Tiger, as well as a few African Porcupines, whose quills lack the barbs found in American Porcupines. If you look carefully around the outside of the cage, you might discover a quill from one of the African Porcupines. The animal population will shortly be expanded by the addition of the Louisiana Purchase Anniversary Exhibit. In honor of the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase, the zoo is currently preparing a new exhibit area that will feature animals indigenous to the Louisiana Purchase territory. Many new animals are expected to take up residence in this new exhibit. As well, some of the animals already in the zoo will be getting new and improved homes in the new exhibit, which is expect to open the Fall of 2003.
The Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo also offers a variety of hands-on educational programs that feature instructinal animals and touchable materials. These programs are normally arranged for school and other youth groups. However, if you will be bringing a visually impaired or blind child to the zoo, you may be able to arrange for your child to have an individualized tour of the zoo. Be sure to call the zoo well in advance of your visit to see if this can be arranged. In addition, the zoo is in the process of creating audio tours for visually impaired visitors, but as of yet when these tours will be available has not be finalized.
In short, there are a wide variety of family friendly activities available throughout North Louisiana. Many of these attractions will be of special interest to families traveling with a visually impaired child. To learn more about all that North Louisiana has to offer, contact:
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