Where to Find Educational Summer Fun in Your Community

Has summer just begun and you're already hearing your children unceasingly lament over their boredom? Perhaps you, yourself, are weary of seeing them zoned out in front of a screen with mouths agape, eyes glossy, and brains turning to mush. Summer vacation doesn't have to be like this! You want your kids to continue learning throughout summer break, and chances are that your community does too! Fun educational opportunities abound this season. When you begin searching for the right programs and workshops for your children, you'll be surprised to find how readily available they are. Quality day camps and extended-stay experiences are designed to reach age groups of various levels. Some camps and summer activities require a preplanned budget, but plenty of programs are offered for nominal fees and many are given for free. Find a program suitable for your children's interests with a quick and easy search of what your community has to offer.

Public libraries are great places to begin your quest for keeping children engaged with education this summer. Libraries often schedule summer reading programs for kids of all ages and often for adults, too! These programs usually include objectives, group activities, and extrinsic incentives. Kids may need to read a target number of books to be eligible for prizes. Sometimes the books must connect to a designated theme. Activities held at the library throughout the summer usually coincide with this theme as well. In addition to book discussions, young children may engage in crafts and games that connect to the books chosen for the summer reading program. Costs for participating in the programs are usually limited to library membership, which is most likely free for residents. Librarians fill summer reading programs with activities that inspire kids to keep reading throughout summer and a lifetime. Furthermore, libraries may be able to point you in the right direction for finding other summer learning opportunities for kids in your community. Stop by your public library to see what they have to offer your children or check out their website's events calendar and newsletters.

Next on your list of places to check are parks: city, state, and national. Look for information from your local parks and recreation department on your city's webpage. In addition to sports camps, you may find other programs geared toward your children's interests. Trained professionals and adult volunteers lead these kinds of activities. Sometimes, participants take field trips to area attractions.

If your children enjoy learning about animals and the natural world, search your state's website for nearby state parks. The Department of Natural Resources hosts a variety of naturalist programs for children at state parks' visitors' centers and interpretive centers. From stargazing to plant and animal identification, you will find many activities that focus on teaching kids about their environment; these are scheduled during summer and throughout the rest of the year, as well. Many states have special patch programs and junior ranger programs in place, too, and so does our National Park Service. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service and to honor its birthday weekend, free admission will be granted to all national parks from August 25 – 28. (See www.nps.gov for more information.)

Don't forget to check the event calendars at nearby museums. Many single-day and week-long workshops are an extension of what is housed inside the museum. Likewise, you will find a variety of programs offered by zoos. These types provide youngsters with opportunities to get up close to animals and see the work zookeepers put in behind-the-scenes. Typically, the summer programs hosted by museums and zoos cost more than those offered by parks and libraries. Generally, fees are posted online.

For specialized workshops, investigate what your local school district, community centers, literacy coalition, and colleges have to offer. One popular offering for aspiring actors is drama camp, which focuses on theater and performing arts. Many times, drama camps culminate with a special production performed for the public. Children interested in STEM careers (careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) may consider what is called NASA Ignite! or Space Academy, a summer camp designed a few years ago by NASA. This curriculum teaches students about life on Mars, robotics, weather, and rocketry by using hands-on activities. Another camp geared towards STEM skills is Lego Robotics, where kids design and program robots made from their favorite building blocks. As our reliance on technology has grown, so have the options for summer workshops that introduce students to computer programming. One more popular choice is often called Law Enforcement Boot Camp. Designed for older children, this camp puts participants through military training as well as training in crime scene investigations. There are even camps designed for children interested in commercial banking. You may be surprised at what your community has to offer!

While summer is a break from the school routine, it should not be a break from learning. Take advantage of what your community has to offer your children during the summer vacation, but keep in mind your children's interests. Those hosting workshops and camps stress to parents that they should not force their children to attend if they won't be interested in the content.