Don't tell your kid's school I said this, but The Works museum in Newark is a great excuse for playing hooky.

We used a scheduled day-off from my son's school to make the trek east, and it was clear that avoiding crowds is a good strategy for making the most of this small gem of a kid-centric place. It's loaded with hands-on exhibits inside a converted factory, and I could see how easily it could get crowded. But when you have room to move, it's learning nirvana.

The Labs on the ground floor are the real stars - more than a dozen learning stations, each aimed at teaching scientific principles like centrifugal force, heat exchange or magnetic fields.

There are (usually) printed explanations about what's being taught but I noticed that, while the parents read these explanations, the kids rarely did. Instead, they just barreled right into the hands-on activity, which was designed well enough they still ended up learning something. Ha!

The Invent Lab (open from 10:30-11:30 a.m. and 1:30-3:30 p.m.) is especially awesome. Kids don't so much invent things as they take apart stuff and, boy, do they love doing that.

My son spent a good 45 minutes taking apart an old jet printer, while Volunteer Mike explained what the parts were and why appliances aren't built as well as they used to be (I think that was the economics lesson).

The upstairs displays have more of a history bent. There's a big section devoted to a mastodon discovered near Newark in 1989, plus a replica of a woodworking factory and shops from a century ago.

Other buildings on the block-size property house a restored railway car, classrooms and The Grill restaurant, which had reasonably-priced food (the Daily Special sandwich with chips and drink went for $5). But there's ample space, inside and out of these buildings, for eating your own packed lunch.

Getting there via State Rt. 16 on the north side is dicey because of construction (it's supposed to be completed before December), so call before you go and ask for driving advice.

The staff is genuinely friendly and chatty. And you can't beat the price: $7 for most adults and $3 for most kids (or free if you have a membership with COSI or any other ATSC museum). Plus parking was free, both in the lot or on the street.