The Sioux Empire…for Kids

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Becoming a dad means many learning experiences, not the least of which is finding creative ways to keep your kid’s hands out of the way during diaper changes. Yes, there are plenty less pleasant lessons, but there are also some incredible discoveries that come with this life-changing stage. I’m personally a huge fan of finding new places to go for my four kids.  Here are a couple of my favorites in and near Sioux Falls:

The Butterfly House and Aquarium

($45 for a 1-year membership, plus $10 per child) – Sioux Falls

A great cool day or hot day activity, the Butterfly House raises hundreds of tropical butterflies in an indoor climate controlled “flight room.” Very relaxing, but even more beautiful. They also have different aquariums filled of tropical fish, including corals, saltwater fish, freshwater fish, starfish, and seahorses. But even better are the touch tanks, which give visitors the opportunity to touch different starfish, sea cucumbers, urchins, sting rays, and sharks!

With constant changes as they expand, expect new experiences with almost every visit. They just added a prehistoric sea life exhibit with plenty of hands-on activities for littles. The Butterfly House also does outreach education and is hoping to open a jellyfish touch tank in the very near future.

Take an afternoon and see this place—you won’t regret it! You may get a butterfly to land on you if you’re gentle enough!

The Great Plains Zoo

(about $115 for a 1-year family membership) – Sioux Falls

If you’ve lived in or near Sioux Falls for any length of time, you’ve no doubt heard of the Great Plains Zoo.  While it may not compete with bigger zoos in Omaha and Minneapolis, it’s certainly nothing to scoff at.  The zoo houses rhinos, meerkats, bears, tigers, snow leopards, ostriches, zebras, giraffes, and a petting zoo, just to name a bit of the offerings.

It also includes the Delbridge Museum, an indoor taxidermy museum, which includes hundreds of different animal species, a couple aquariums and some learning centers. And if you want to see some of the other animals the Great Plains Zoo doesn’t have, the membership offers reciprocal benefits for zoos across the country (including our nearest neighbors and our furthest friends). They’re building new exhibits all the time, so it’s definitely worth coming back to!

On a regular basis, the zoo also rotates exhibits in and out of their indoor space, including exhibits on dinosaurs, activities for STEM learning, and other engaging opportunities, some at no extra cost for members.

South Dakota Children’s Museum

($105 for a 1-year family membership) – Brookings

Museums are cool, but nothing compares to a kid’s museum!  This place, housed in an old school building, offers miniaturized and fully-touchable versions of almost anything you could think of–a post office, a coffee shop, a grocery store, even a race car garage!  Even the youngest can have a blast here.  The water room is incredible, and there’s a paint and art center for older kids.

Outside you can find a river and small splash park, as well as a dinosaur dig area and full-size animatronic models of a T-Rex and a Velociraptor.  This is an absolute blast, and it can definitely provide a ton of entertainment for a long day.

If you’re into traveling to other cities with your kids, you can also purchase a reciprocal membership for an extra $30 that provides 50% admission discounts for other ACM-associated museums.

The Outdoor Campus East

(no cost to visit or participate) – Sioux Falls

If you’re into the outdoors and all that goes with it, this is an awesome place to bring your kids. If you’re anything but an outdoors person, though, it’s perfect. Kids can learn the skills they need to fish, hunt, camp, paddle, and explore. I’m of the latter group, so I knew I’d be no help on my own.

With incredible summer classes available to kids and adults alike, as well as weekend activities to get everyone in on the fun, The Outdoor Campus East is one of those resources that makes my kids happy from moment one. For years we only went into the building and walked around the paths outside, but this year we jumped into some of the classes.

The weekend offerings are awesome, including fishing (all of my kids caught their first fish!), archery (for all ages, even four-year-olds), and paddling (my 8-year-old had his own kayak!).

For an artistic, creative, and inexperienced dad like me, this was the best possible way to get my kids connected to the Great Outdoors without spending a fortune or worrying about not teaching them right. The instructors are right there with them, and the kids become independent and self-reliant quickly. My four-year-old was baiting his own hooks, reeling in fish, and taking them off the line on his own within an hour!

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