Thanks to our many readers who provided ideas on great places for summer learning and exploration.
Here are a few of their suggestions:
Exploring state parks
Take advantage of state parks as great places to learn about birds and wildlife.
“Want a summer vacation on a budget? I look up state parks,” says one reader, “and plan a trip each weekend to a different one. The week before the mini trip we check out books on local wildlife. First we check out books on bugs, and our trip will be focused on what type of bugs we find. Next will be birds…and at the next park we try to identify birds. If I know the park has lots of water I try to look up water creatures. If the park info states that there are a lot of plants then we focus on that. The kids love it, and it only costs us picnic meals and gas. Plus they learn a lot.”
A Florida mom writes about orienteering, the art of using a compass and map to find your way in unfamiliar territory. It’s a great way to explore the great outdoors and can be done at different levels of difficulty, individually or in groups. For more information on this sport, check out the International Orienteering Federation.
“We live in Florida and discovered Orienteering! Our 7-year-old son loves to read the map, orient the compass and lead the way! He is so proud of himself when we find a station (marked by a flag) and punch a hole in his card. They have different levels of difficulty, you can go alone or in small or large groups. I recommend sizing the group so that each child gets to find several flags on the course.
It’s always in a park so that you are really feeling like you’re accomplishing something — not just walking around trying to find flags in a certain order. We’re outside, with sunblock and bugspray and lots of extra water, getting good exercise and spending time together as a family.
We’ve been waiting for our daughter to get to an age where she can have sunblock and bug spray, too! (She’s not quite a year old yet so we’ll get to go this summer!) We enjoy looking at all of the trees and plants, wildlife and bugs. We sing songs, talk quietly, tell stories. We usually picnic while we’re there, although you can time yourself if you want to be competitive.
When our daughter is older we may split up into our own competitive group! Mom and daughter versus father and son, or mom and son versus father and daughter. Orienteering is so much fun and ridiculously inexpensive. We’ve paid as little as $3 for a map and $2 for a compass for all of us to go orienteering.”
An opportunity for future health care professionals
At the National Youth Leadership Forum on Medicine high school students can learn from professionals in the field all about medical careers. The 10-day forums, where students live in college dormitories, are held in a variety of locations around the country.
“My daughter was invited to the National Youth Medical Forum in Philadelphia last summer where she spent 10 days learning about the medical field,” says one reader. “It completely motivated her to keep her college goals in check. Of course the trip was a little expensive, but fund raising helped a lot.”
Local scout troop day camp programs
Many local scout troops offer day camp programs full of a variety of activities. Check with your local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts organizations to find out what is available in your community. Here’s what one mom had to say about her local boy scout day camp:
“I have two boys (ages 8 and 9) who participate in our local cub scout group. Each summer they attend a summer day camp in our county. It is a week-long program that allows the boys to come home at night. Each day is slam full of learning activities, arts and crafts, music, fun, physical activity and more. The activities also gives them credit toward their badge requirements. These camps are available all over the country.”
On a budget? Create your own summer program
Pricey summer programs may not be a good fit for your family’s budget. But with a little energy and creativity, you can create your own summer program. Here’s a clever suggestion from one parent:
“How about ideas on how to set up a camp right in your home for several families? They could each take a week and plan great play opportunities for their kids. Maybe one week could be “Pirates Week.” They could read The Magic Tree House, a book about pirates. The kids could build a ship from old boxes, learn how to talk like pirates (agh!) and make treasure maps. They could write notes to put into bottles. I can think of all sorts of cheap ideas to keep kids hving fun while learning and keeping their academic skills sharp. They need to be active and not bored on the street.”