Thanks to the readers who shared their ideas for low-cost learning activities for summer. Read on and start your summer planning!

Pack a lunch and go explore

“I am the mother of 3 children, 2 are still at home, ages 16 and 8,” writes California mother Tyler Laughlin. “Last summer I would get home from work around noon and every day the kids were watching videos or on the computer, after they did their chores of course, and I got tired of it.

“I decided to make Tuesdays, my day off, our day to explore things in our county and surrounding counties, thinking that there were so many things to see except the mall and stuff. Our first trip was to the zoo which was only 45 minutes away. We packed our lunches to save money and spent the whole day for almost nothing. We also went to the beach, which there are lots of in Sonoma County, packing our lunch again. (It) didn’t cost us anything except fuel.

But all of this helps to regain our sense of being a family and what is in our community. I am real excited about this summer, already planning trips and looking forward to spending time with my kids.

“I found a great book at the bookstore, Fun Places to Go With Children in Northern California, which I am busy picking places to go this summer. National parks are also a good idea, they usually have maps of all sorts of historical places to visit and teach our kids what was around our community before we came.”

Park and recreation departments

“Check into your local city recreation activities,” a mom from El Cajon, California, writes. “You may be impressed.” She says her 4-year-old son attends three-hour classes twice a week, with a different theme for each week. The classes visit the fire department, the library and do art projects, she says.

“Also check into co-ed sports that run year around in your area. It’s fun for the kids and the parents. One more thing is check into swimming lessons and your local public pool. That is fun once again for both parent and child.”

A New Jersey mother of three, ages 4, 8 and 12, writes:

“Since they are of varied ages, I usually pick places to go where each one can do something. Public parks usually have one day per week that is admission free. In my county, we have one that has a zoo and a playground. They offer many programs for children of all ages and most of the time they are a nominal fee or free. The zoological society runs the zoo and the children don’t even realize that they are learning.

I usually take notes and on the days that we don’t go to the zoo we make up games from what they remembered from that visit. A local or county phone book can tell you where such parks are and phone numbers to contact them.”

Catholic school specialty camps

Another mom says that she’s found relatively inexpensive leadership and music camps for her daughter in Catholic high schools “Check your local Catholic schools directory for information,” this mom advises.

Don’t forget the library

The library is a tried-and-true resource for a mother of two from Cleveland, Ohio, who writes that she and her children “test one another on what the book is about.” This Cleveland mom also does art projects with her children that they give to hospitals to display in the halls.

Volunteer opportunities

Other parents talked about helping their children find volunteer opportunities. A mom of a boy, 14, and a girl, 16, says she looks for volunteer options for her teenagers so they can learn, as well as fulfill community service requirements at their school:

“I scour various organizations that need volunteers as places for my kids to learn some skills as well as earn volunteer hours,” she wrote. “A great example is the local zoo. They are always looking for volunteers to help with the animal nursery, docents, as well as feeders. This is a great opportunity for kids to learn all about wild animals while having fun.

“Every summer, public schools in the area offer reading and math classes for elementary aged kids. This is a great place for my kids to volunteer to work with kids, and earn much-needed volunteer hours. Another great place to volunteer is the animal shelter. A ‘no-kill’ facility is best for children, and this again provides a wonderful learning experience.”

Stamp out summer ‘brain drain’

Finally, a mom and fourth-grade teacher reminds us that it’s important to integrate learning into everyday life, particularly in the summer: “Whenever my children and I are in the car, one of our favorite things to do is play math games. With a kindergartener and a third-grader, counting by multiples is always fun. Another game we play is taking two- or three-digit numbers and finding out what comes before, what comes after, what is the largest number you can make, what is the smallest number you can make…games like that. Nothing stressful, nothing has to be bought…what is most important is taking the time to actually talk with your children.

“From there, you can ask them why did you get this number, why did you get that number… which actually encourages them to verbalize and sequence their critical thinking and problem — solving ability (a useful skill on state assessments).”

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Updated: May 16, 2019