Coolest and Smartest Summer Fun

How to entertain and educate kids during sunny days and breezy nights — and not break the bank

The lull of summer vacation — as much as our kids might like to chill out and waste time for hours on end — can actually cause “detrimental learning effects for many students,” according to a RAND report on education. Parents need to keep the kids physically and mentally engaged during summer break — without seeming like curmudgeonly taskmasters.

Camping at home in your backyard can be just as enjoyable and entertaining for the kids without the hassle (for you) and the expense (also for you).

A productive summer in which the children are stimulated and occupied will give them a head start in the fall when they return to school — but not make them feel as if they’re “doing work.”

These ideas are cost-effective, low-maintenance — and lots of fun for everyone in the family.

1.) Visit the nearest beach or lake.
Beach towns are full of activities that both children and adults can enjoy, with plenty of opportunity for adventure, including going biking on long, winding trails, building sandcastles, and going for a refreshing swim. Many public beaches offer free access and parking, but always do your research into family-friendly areas before you arrive.

The most popular beaches have endless options for family-friendly activities in the summer, even if it rains. Coupon books for water parks, educational aquariums, and fun dinner attractions can usually be found at welcome centers or hotel lobbies. In addition to popular tourist destinations, many state and national parks offer lakefront public beach access, for little or no cost.

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2.) Head over to the nearest children’s museum.
Now more than ever, parents are demanding sophisticated play places that make for shared experiences for their children. Local children’s museums are a great place for them to learn, develop, and explore. They can interact with other kids, develop a deeper curiosity, and learn through play.

Related: Our ‘Poor’ Old Summers

Many children’s museums offer interactive exhibits and hands-on activities that involve the arts, humanities, sciences, health, and nutrition — and don’t feel like drudgery but get the kids fully occupied and interested. Admission is normally priced at a family-friendly rate, but call ahead to see what admission includes.

3.) Set up a backyard campsite.
Who says you have to go somewhere to take your kids camping? Although it can be very fun to go camping at a state or national park, it can be expensive to buy all the gear you’ll need. Camping at home in your backyard can be just as enjoyable and entertaining for your kids without the hassle (for you) and the expense. You can invite the neighborhood kids and teach them all how to pitch a tent, learn basic survival skills, tell stories, or even start a fire and roast s’mores. It’s a feasible and affordable way to give your kids a mini stay-cation from the comfort of your own home and yard.

Yep, this is for real. A growing number of parents are enrolling their toddlers and preschoolers in foreign-language classes.

4.) Schedule cooking days.
Teaching the kids to cook can be an incredible learning experience, an opportunity to refine basic skills — and cost-effective compared to dining out. As child obesity rates continue to rise, exposing them to healthy foods in a positive way is critical, too. The key to cooking with kids is to make it fun.

Plan a day each week to pick out a recipe, make a list of all the ingredients you need, and then take your kids to the grocery to help shop. Whether you’re making homemade pizza or cooking breakfast for dinner, the sky is the limit. Children are very capable of following easy directions and many enjoy the opportunity to get creative. You can even follow up your cooking with a family movie for a little extra fun.

5.) Train together for local sports events.
Summer is the perfect time for fun events such as bike races, tennis matches, and 5k races. Search for a local event your kids will be most interested in, based on their ages and passions, and then head out to your neighborhood park for some training. Children of all ages need opportunities to burn off energy and it’s a great way to spend time together while getting some exercise. The American Heart Association reports that kids who are active experience  social, psychological, and physical benefits. Sporting events can teach them how to set goals, work toward achieving them, and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

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6.) Learn a new language.
Yes, this is for real. A growing number of parents are enrolling their toddlers and preschoolers in foreign-language classes — supporting recent studies that show speaking a second language boosts cognitive, memory, and listening skills.

Recent research published in Psychological Science suggests that even simply thinking in a foreign language helps people make quicker and better life decisions. As the second most-common language in the U.S., Spanish is a popular choice for many parents and one of the easiest foreign languages to learn. There are many free resources online that your kids can use over the summer to learn a new language.

7.) Join a local swim club or neighborhood pool.
Once school lets out for summer, the local or neighborhood pool is a popular place to be. Most kids love the water; it’s the perfect place to cool off from the heat. If your children are young and ready to learn how to swim, local swim clubs usually offer lessons from lifeguards at a low price.

Related: A Nurse’s Warning: Our Kids Need Exercise

Joining a swim team is also a great option to keep kids occupied and entertained all summer long. Organized sports, including swimming, promote team-bonding skills and competitive fun while encouraging physical activity. Community and neighborhood pools usually have lifeguards on duty during operating hours but safety should always be a parent’s first instinct.

8.) Check out your city event calendar.
Most cities offer an event calendar, provided by the Chamber of Commerce or local newspaper, that lists both free and paid events. There is usually a variety of entertaining events during the summer season, ranging from free festivals and farmers markets to art shows and cooking contests. Local plays are usually listed, too, along with dances, rodeos, day camps, and other activities sponsored by local businesses.

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