At each of its 31 area locations, the YMCA of Greater Houston pursues a mission to bring health, wellness, and personal growth to communities. Kids leap into activities ranging from swim lessons and youth sports to a teen Youth & Government program that stirs up confidence and leadership abilities in students, preparing them for mudslinging student-council campaigns.
Zumba, ballroom dance, and Les Mills group exercise classes shake up adult workout routines, as complimentary childcare frees up parents to pursue fitness goals. Meanwhile, adult sport leagues such as basketball and racquetball result in friendly competition and hyper-literate team names inspired by obscure philosophers.
Seven days a week, the Houston Museum of Natural Science cultivates knowledge with interactive exhibits that shuttle minds into such far-flung realms as tropical rainforests and outer space. Permanent exhibits house everything from the skeletons of brachiosauruses in the recently expanded Hall of Paleontology to a diverse set of artifacts spanning 6,000 years of history in the Hall Of Ancient Egypt. Housed inside three stories of glass, the museum's Butterfly Center teems with more than 1,500 winged wonders from around the globe, which frolic around a 50-foot waterfall, flutter through exotic plants, and—most amazingly—pull nickels from behind children’s ears. Visitors can also gaze skyward in the Burke Baker Planetarium, which casts more than 10 daily shows with curve-mirror projection technology. Eyes marvel at the planetarium's 30'x18' full-dome digital theater, capable of transporting families to the aurora borealis in the Arctic Circle or to the nougat-flavored center of a black hole.
Stomping Grounds Playland is many things at once. Part play center, coffee bar, and restaurant, its target demographic spans generations, all of whom should find plenty to do within its 2,000-square-foot facility. A play structure delights kids with obstacles and colorful tunnels, and an expanded toddler area keeps the youngest visitors occupied. To fuel this fun, the onsite Brewster's Café serves up kid favorites such as hot dogs and mac and cheese.
However, the café has even more options for adults—not to mention a dining area with free WiFi. Baristas pour cappuccino, organic chai tea, and specialty espresso drinks such as white-chocolate mochas. These caffeinated treats complement an array of signature sandwiches and salads. Stomping Grounds Playland also caters to parents with comprehensive party packages; party planners take care of everything, including food, activities, and all the paperwork required to receive a birthday wish.
Sports International's football clinics make MVPs of 7- to 18-year-olds in an intensive, small-group setting with instruction from college and high school coaching staff. The Steve Slaton two-day camp, running July 10–11 in Sugar Land, gives potential pigskin purveyors a comprehensive crash course in offensive and defensive skills from renowned Texans running back Steve Slaton, talented high-school coaches, and a mob of disgruntled footballs. Working in groups no larger than 10, nascent Heisman candidates perform many of the same drills taught by the Texans' coaching staff. Attendees receive a free camp T-shirt and souvenir autograph football but must provide, rent, or manufacture their own playing gear.
Sugar Land Gymnastics & Dance's expansive space is a patchwork of tumbling mats, balance beams, uneven bars, and other equipment. It's amidst this colorful collage that kids lay a foundation for lifelong fitness and future sports such as basketball, or basketball with backflips. Students are guided by a knowledgeable team of instructors headed by Executive Director Bryan Kiser, who has more than 25 years of experience with the Men's Junior Olympic gymnastics program, and Mei, the women's coach, whose more than three decades of gymnastics experience includes time as a competitor with the Chinese national gymnastics team. The staff splits kids up by age and skill level for recreational gymnastics, and those who decide to pursue their flips and tumbles more seriously can transition into Sugar Land Gymnastics & Dance's competitive program.
In addition to gymnastics, the staff teaches karate, dance, and cheerleading lessons. Seasoned instructor Bonita Jennings builds coordination and grace, transforming the pitter-patter of little feet into the structured patterns of dance styles such as tap, jazz, ballet, and hip-hop. When classes aren't in session, Sugar Land Gymnastics & Dance hosts birthday parties with activities such as rock-wall climbing and ziplining.
Sugar Land Dive Center’s store boasts scuba gear from brands such as Atomic, Oceanic and Sea Life, but their signature product is an intangible: a sense of confidence underwater. The PADI five-star dive center’s courses impart just that. After classroom-based instruction, the center’s open water instructors teach divers to breathe underwater and handle their complex gear by practicing in a pool. The program then culminates in a series of real open water dives, which result in open water certification more useful than its earlier incarnation, certification to open water that’s in an aluminum can.
Sugar Land Dive Center also teaches more specialized courses that can transform open water-certified divers into future rescue divers and PADI instructors. For a fusion of dive practice and vacation, students can also travel the world on international scuba trips, which whisk participants to locales such as Cozumel and Fiji.