As much as we’d like to focus on academics, kids need downtime, especially in the summer. I’m not saying that they need to be complete couch potatoes, of course, but the summer is the perfect time to incorporate out-of-the-box learning ideas. Frame new activities as fun new experiences, even if it’s just a walk around the neighborhood. I find with my kids that if I frame something as “being my helper” they’re more inclined to participate than if I present it as a learning opportunity or just something we *need* to do. No matter what kids do, they will be learning something (but don’t tell them that).
First, the obvious.
Summer Reading Programs: Register early!
Camps: Find something that’s relative to their interest or that incorporates new activities.
Apps & Games: Math, Science, Reading, Coding and Animation apps are available for all ages. Board Games encourage good sportsmanship and other important skills.
TV: Put the closed captioning on; they will be reading along and probably won’t realize it!
Send mail to family and friends: Writing skills will improve and they will learn the proper way to address and mail letters.
Helping in the garden/yard: There’s plenty of nature to learn about in your own yard, or the garden of an apartment complex. Yard work teaches responsibility and pride in a job well done.
Cooking: Have them read the recipes aloud to you. Teaching basic kitchen skills early also encourages healthy eating habits.
Baking: At its core, baking is chemistry and math. But shhh, don’t tell the kids that while they’re licking the batter from the bowl.
Grocery shopping: Have them help you write the list, and then have them help you find the items at the store.
Have them pay for things at the store: If they’ve earned a prize, or if they’re choosing to use their birthday/allowance money, make them be the ones to pay for it. They will learn the value of money, how to count it, and will also be using basic customer/purchaser service skills.
Audiobooks: Using apps like Overdrive and Hoopla, plenty of audiobooks are available via iPads and computers to change it up a bit.
Start a kids blog: Edublog & Kidsblog have kid-friendly blogs. Other sites like WordPress have options, but must have a parental ok on file. Make sure you monitor kids’ blogs or keep them private.
Videos and interactives: National Geographic Kids and NASA Kids’ Club have great interactive websites that are full of videos and activities.
Snail mail: Ranger Rick, Highlights, and ZooBooks magazines are all still around, and most of them are available at the library. Groupon often runs specials for very inexpensive subscriptions of these kid favorites.
Science kits & Pinterest science projects: Most of these can be done with things you already have around the house.
Pinterest art projects and outdoor activities: Just don’t assume that everything will turn out the way it looks on Pinterest.
Sewing classes: Sewing is becoming a lost art, but it’s still a really important and valuable skill. Classes are available locally at craft and fabric stores.
Parish Recreation programs: From art to karate to dance classes, check your Parish Recreation Department bulletin for inexpensive classes and camps during the week and on weekends.
Neighborhood scavenger hunts: Short on transportation? Take a walk around and look for things identifiable by color, letter, or unique quality. Even simple games of I Spy can go a long way.
Geocaching: The GNO area has a ton of spots for this family-friendly activity.
Wildlife Refuges and National Parks: Jean Lafitte, Bayou Segnette, Bayou Sauvage & Big Branch are all within an hour drive of the GNO area. Using your phone, take a photo of the plant and wildlife species featured in the ranger stations or welcome centers. Create your own scavenger hunts and try to find these species while out walking on the trails.
Battlefields & Forts: Chalmette Battlefield, Fort Pike, and Fort Jackson are great places to take your kids for a little history lesson and to run around.
Museums: Bayou Country Children’s Museum in Thibodaux, Children’s Discovery Center in Hammond, Lynn Meadows Discovery Center in Gulfport, Louisiana Children’s Museum, CAC, Ogden, D-Day, and McKenna Museum of African-American Art all offer unique ways to discover arts & sciences within an hour of New Orleans.
Planetariums: Watch the stars at the Kenner Planetarium and in the Planetarium located inside the Luling Library.
Canoeing and Swamp Tours: Explore the swamps that surround us!
Ferry Rides: How many kids can say that they live so close to a ferry that goes across the mighty Mississippi? Make a day of the boat ride and the shops and galleries near the downtown and Algiers Point landings, or spend the day exploring St. Bernard or Plaquemines Parish,
Train Rides: You can take the Amtrak to Slidell for less than $20 a ticket.
Long Vue House & Gardens: Interactive outdoor activities and beautiful gardens are plentiful at this beautiful property.
Farmers and seafood markets: Here, kids can learn about our local natural resources, and also work on their math skills.
4-H and LSU Ag Center: Check their page for updated outreach activities in each parish.
Attending different places of worship: Whether it’s a different location of your same faith, or a visit to a completely different religion’s place of worship, learning about the traditions and beliefs of others makes kids respectful and understanding citizens.
Playgrounds in new neighborhoods: Kids are likely to make friends with other kids wherever they go. Take them to a playground in a neighborhood outside of your own to meet new people and explore new equipment.
Finally, do not discount life skills or street smarts opportunities, like safety in public places, observing or assisting with adding air to or changing tires. Caring for neighbors who need extra help, volunteer opportunities, and random acts of kindness build pride, confidence, and empathy. Make sure you throw a couple of lazy days in there for everyone to recharge.