As we’re winding down this unusual school year and head into an even odder summer of staying close to home, we wanted to share a round-up of some fun, family-centered resources we’ve encountered that feed learning but are still fun and engaging for everyone. Not surprisingly many of these activities require going outside and we understand that even that can be difficult for families. But just opening your window to the world and listening to the sounds, watching for birds or insects, looking up at the passing clouds or watching the moon and stars come out, can be a reconnection to nature.
We encourage you to experience these activities with your children – being together has healing power and right now we can all use an extra dose of good health! This may turn out to be one of those rare moments in time when we make precious family memories. One thing is for certain, your kids will remember this time by how you rallied together as a family.
Things to do outside
Visit your local 4-H, YMCA, or Extensions Services online portals. Many are offering their usually “camp” activities for the summer but have adapted most for virtual learning. They’ll give you a blueprint for fun outdoor activities that don’t require a lot of space or equipment. Some may ask for a small donation but most are free or offered on scholarship.
Try Tinkergarten (tinkergarten.com). This is mostly geared to preschoolers and elementary schoolers and you can search by age, activity, and timeframe. They have some fun hands-on activities that build all kinds of skills for fine motor to movement.
Don’t forget good old-fashioned summer fun – sprinklers and water play; blowing bubbles, sandboxes, watching the birds and bees work in your garden, laying in the grass and looking for cloud shapes, and drawing on the sidewalk with chalk.
Or, get a little more active and resurrect the badminton, croquet, bocce ball, or wiffle balls for a fun backyard game that gets everyone’s blood pumping. When possible, pack a snack and go for a nature hike – most state park trails are open for hikers as long as you take proper social distancing precautions.
Indoor Fun for Rainy Days
This is definitely the summer to pull out the board games and puzzles – set up a corner in your home where the game can be left out and choose a game that all the kids can enjoy. Try Cadoo, Quelf, Monopoly Deal (a fun, card-base version of Monopoly). For older kids, pull out the strategy games – Risk, Catan, or traditional Monopoly and Clue.
Recreate day camp at home. Many of our kids use summer to get away from home but also learn a new skill. Whether it’s language, music, outdoor skills, or sports, we can recreate those experiences at home. As mentioned above, many camps are offering virtual lessons this year – take advantage of those classes. It will keep your child in the routine of online learning and he or she won’t lose valuable skill-building time that camp brings.
Grab the blankets and couch cushions and build an indoor fort or if you have a small pop-up tent, set it up and stuff with pillows and blankets for a fun hideaway perfect for stories and giggles. Don’t forget a few stuffed animals, flashlights, and snacks!
Try a little kid-friendly yoga – a great stress reliever and resilience building activity. Try this fun Youtube channel just for kids (Cosmic Kids Yoga).
Virtual Art, Music, Museums, and More
You can still go exploring and the Discovery Channel has you covered (www.discoveryeducation.com). From farm tours to the tundra expeditions to high tech projects, you can go on a virtual field trip and see behind the scenes of whatever interests your kids.
While our kids have probably had enough of virtual learning for now, bookmark this site: www.khanacademy.org for later in the summer. When the kids are ready to refresh their skill sets in all subjects, check out the wide resources and easy to complete lessons. Search by age, subject, and difficulty level.
Music? Art? Acting? Media? Every art endeavor your kids love (or want to learn more about) is covered in these mostly free offerings from the Kennedy Center (www.kennedy-center.org/education/artseducationathome). Kicked off by Mo Willems’ Lunch Doodles series, they have an ever-expanding list of big name artists offering fun activities in their craft. (Hint, this is fun for grown-ups too!).
Go Museum Hopping! Most metro museums are offering free virtual tours (but they still appreciate a donation). Google has gathered links to hundreds of popular museums offering virtual tours (www.artsandculture.google.com). Another great place to check is our National Smithsonian museums (www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution). They have just about anything you’re looking for from fashion to space to geological oddities.
For a truly out-of-this-world storytime, check out these great “Story Time from Space” videos of kids books read by actual astronauts in space (www.storytimefromspace.com)
Lend a hand for a crowdsourced science and nature study. From birdwatching to deep sea camera footage, scientists need your help to identify and categorize hours of video footage or report from your own observations in natures. Check this site and choose a project you can all help with: www.zooniverse.org/projects
Summer nights were made for exploring! Get out the flashlights and headlamps and head outside looking for the “creatures of the night”. Listen for owls, crickets, and frogs; watch for blinking fireflies; and you might even get lucky to see a bat swooping around catching mosquitoes.
Look up at the night sky and watch the movement of the stars and the change in the moon. If you live in a big city, try to venture out past city lights to more dark sky – your kids will be amazed by how much brighter the stars are.
Create your own outdoor movie theater. Move your flatscreen out to the deck or hook up a projector and have a fun movie night. Bring out big pillows and blankets, stock up on the snacks, and have your very own movie marathon.
Don't forget to have snacks ready to fuel your adventure! Check out our selection here.