These options don’t require a carpool – or spending a dime. Check out these amazing opportunities that can benefit your children – and you!
With another month of summer yet to go, many parents are wondering how and where to snag some last-minute (and affordable!) learning opportunities for their kids.
As part of the American Rescue Plan, $30 billion can be used for after-school and summer programs to help kids catch up, according to Aaron Philip Dworkin, chief executive officer for the National Summer Learning Association. “There should be and will be more opportunities for kids to partake in programming, like never before,” he says.
How you and your family take advantage of that will vary. What it should be for you and the children in your life is engaging, enriching and fun. If you’re not sure where to begin, look no further than the child in front of you.
“You’ve got to start where the child is,” says Amanda Alexander, chief academic officer at Scholastic. Allow the child to lead the way, she says, build off their interests and what you see they gravitate to, and go from there.
Here are some ideas to get you going.
For children 6 and younger
The energy, curiosity and joy with which young children explore and delight in the world around them is boundless. Every parent has a story about a child loving a cardboard box far more than anything ever inside of it; remember this the next time you think you need to buy something new or schedule one more activity.
Surround them – and OK, everyone in your family – with books that resonate with them.
“I think kids like books, just like adults, that they can relate to,” Alexander says. “Any sort of text-to-self connection that they can make I think makes books meaningful to children.”
Noting that children’s books “need to be about the world in which they live,” Alexander adds that sometimes there are some “uncomfortable” truths of our past with which we need to reckon. There are ways in which you can engage in conversation with children about these things that are developmentally appropriate, she says. As a parent, it would make sense to try to get ahead of that and help inform children’s thinking and processing around difficult conversations, rather than allow them to stumble upon it on their own, she says.
For inspiration, check out these resources:
- Language: Read tips, with information about what you can expect at various stages of language development, here.
- Outdoors: Find ideas about exploring nature with your child here and here.
- Music/art: Check out in-person and online opportunities for children 0-4 at the legendary Old Town School of Folk Music.
- Math/science: Explore “baking math” here and find questions to support your budding scientist’s discoveries here.
- Social/emotional growth: PBS provides resources on kindness and inclusion.
For children ages 7-12
“I think there’s a great chance to do skill-building around passions,” Dworkin says.
Summer also provides families a chance to be in a different routine and connect with each other in different ways, Dworkin says.
“Summer is a great time to make things happen,” Alexander says, noting that we’re not bound by the constraints of the traditional school day. Maybe it’s worth going outside and taking a hike at night and looking at the moon and talking about what’s happening outside, she suggests.
She also mentions checking out your local library to see what opportunities are available there. So many museums are also free, she says, or have programs that allow families to visit for free on certain days of the week. The National Summer Learning Association provides this tool to search for programs in your community.
For more ideas, check out these offerings:
- Language: Scholastic takes a look at language development for children between the ages of 11 and 13, and embeds a host of resources here; additional information is here.
- Outdoors: Find tips to create your own backyard fitness circuit course here and find scavenger hunt ideas here. You can use this handy tool from the National Wildlife Federation to identify native plants and butterflies in your midst.
- Music/art: The Kennedy Center offers myriad opportunities for children and adults; don’t miss their resources here. Check out what The Metropolitan Museum of Art offers here.
- Math/science: Check out NASA’s Kids’ Club here and dig into engineering here.
- Social/emotional growth: Stanford Children’s Health looks at how you can encourage your child’s social abilities here.
For children ages 13-17
As children get older, more summer camps may become options. Dworkin notes that for high school kids, summer learning can take the form of jobs and internships.
As children explore literature, Alexander says parents should serve as guides in terms of ensuring balance and genre. “You don’t want to suppress one’s reading journey or one’s literate life,” she says.
For more suggestions, look into these ideas:
- Language: Review this list of vocabulary words for high-school freshmen as well as 101 books for college-bound students from greatschools.org.
- Outdoors: Outward Bound, the YMCA and other groups offer opportunities to explore nature; support your teen’s inner activist when she organizes a neighborhood clean-up.
- Music/art: Smithsonian provides all kinds of resources to fascinate children and adults here; this dive into the cover art of Folkways Records is designed for those in high school and older.
- Math/science: Maybe it’s time to introduce your teenager to investing. Forbes offers a quick look at five apps to help teens start investing here.
- Social/emotional growth: Check out these ideas from the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley.
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