By Anna Pearson, Ella Roberts, and Sarah Bakeman
Whether you’re looking for a tropical farm to explore, a miniature train to catch, or a manatee yoga session, the sunshine state is a hub for both fun and education. Here are a few helpful hints for parents and teachers looking to switch up their daily routines.
ECHO Global Farm
Located in North Fort Myers, ECHO is a non-profit tackling food insecurity at its source – teaching and innovating agricultural techniques for struggling small-scale farmers internationally. Explore seven geographically-themed settings on the Florida farm, showcasing crops, agricultural techniques, and animals worldwide. With one of the largest collections of tropical food plants in the United States, students will learn unconventional yet effective methods of growing these crops in less-than-ideal conditions.
Discover how simple technologies can improve food, water, and shelter for millions of people on the Appropriate Technology Village Tour. Learn how sand can be transformed into water filters, manure into energy, and bicycles into power tools. See firsthand how ECHO uses simple solutions to change lives. After the tour, stop by the Bookstore and Nursery for more resources on implementing these methods in your classroom or at home. Tickets are available online for both farm and Appropriate Technology tours Tuesday through Saturday.
Railroad Museum of South Florida
Operating out of a Railroad-Depot style building in Fort Myers, the Railroad Museum of South Florida educates about American locomotive history. The museum features an authentic brass steam locomotive bell (that visitors can ring), a locomotive simulator, and model trains representing a variety of American eras, but the experience doesn’t end inside the building. Outside, museum-goers can take advantage of a miniature railroad system. The train brings visitors on a mile-long ride around a lake and through the park’s north end. Along the track, there’s more to take in than just natural scenery.
The park has four full-size crossing signals, a 100-foot tunnel, a waterfall, an operating windmill, a 20-foot trestle bridge, and a pedestrian bridge. The locomotive experience is made even more immersive by scale-sized villages along the train’s route, their architecture depicting local Southwest Florida communities as they appeared in the 1950s. Tickets are available online for train rides, and group rates are available for trips in advance.
The Shell Factory
Celebrate over 80 years of fun in North Fort Myers at this Southwest Florida family entertainment destination. The Shell Factory gift shop is home to the world’s largest collection of seashells and shell specimens. There is something for everyone with unique one-of-a-kind gifts from all over the world. With both indoor and outdoor activities, visitors will have hours of fun. After shopping, stop by the Southern Grill for something to eat or head over to the Fun Park to rock climb, soar on the Eagle Zip-line, cool down by the lagoon, or putt around at the miniature golf course. The nature park features over 400 animals, a dinosaur-themed park, a playground, a picnic area, and an outdoor butterfly garden. Entry is free (except to the Nature Park), and parking is free. Different large-group packages are available, but pricing varies for each activity.
Kowiachobee Animal Preserve
This educational non-profit preserve in Naples is home to more than 130 animals, including big cats, reptiles, and nocturnal animals. The Kowiachobee Animal Preserve offers guided tours of its facilities and community presentations at schools, daycare centers, college groups, and more. The unique preserve allows for students to get up close and personal with exotic and endangered animals, learn about them from experts in animal conservation, and customize educational experiences to match the learners, no matter what age. The animals help students learn about science, biology, conservation, extinction issues, and animal responsibility.
KAP has been in operation for over 15 years, with more than 25 years of experience in animal conservation and related issues. Their mission is to educate community members of all ages about the steady decline of exotic and endangered animals. Tours must be booked by calling ahead and are free to attend, but donations are welcome.
The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature
Found in Bradenton, The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature is the largest natural and cultural museum of Florida’s Gulf Coast. Exhibits cover everything from fossil evidence of Florida’s earliest animal residents to local history and creativity. The Bishop Museum of Science and Nature is open for exploration Tuesdays through Sundays and features a digital Planetarium and the Parker Manatee Rehabilitation Habitat for visitors. The museum’s online calendar displays various upcoming events, including gentle yoga with manatees every Sunday at 11 a.m. and Tales Under the Tree at the Bishop every Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.
The Bishop’s mission is to ignite a passion for nature and science to transform their community and the world. They strive to inspire curiosity, build connections, and create impactful experiences. Admission is free for Florida teachers, and tickets are available online for students, chaperones, and guests. There is no maximum group size, and fun for all ages!
Whether you want to keep your family learning or plan the next classroom adventure, Southwest Florida has plenty of indoor and outdoor opportunities to ward off boredom. Hopefully, these have sparked your interest in the many destinations Southwest Florida offers.