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Mom Tips: Summer learning opportunities

Summer is right around the corner. Have you made any plans?

Many of us still think of summer as a dreamy time: no school, no plans and nothing to do but relax. But the reality of summer -- at least at my house -- is far different. We're BUSY in summer! There are baseball games and camping trips, plays and summer school classes, library excursions, and simple stay-at-home days. The learning never stops!

Want some fun ideas to keep your crew learning over the summer? Try these resources:

National Parks. This summer, the boys and I are going on our very first road trip. My youngest is currently infatuated with the Titanic, so we're headed to the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. That's about 19 hour drive from home, though, and 19 hours is a long time to drive with 4 boys in the car! So we're breaking the trip up. On the way, we'll stop at Indiana Dunes National Park, as well as Mammoth Cave National Park. In Tennessee, we'll camp at Great Smoke Mountains National Park.

I'm going to leave plenty of time to explore in each park, because I know that my boys learn best through physical activity and experimentation. Besides, what good is a night in a national park if there's no time to explore?

The National Parks website has a ton of information and resources about each national park, including which parks are open to camping and what other attractions are available. (The Mammoth Cave section, for instance, includes information about cave tours.) You can even find suggested reading lists for some national parks! I know my boys won't read everything on the list, but you can bet that I'll check out a few books from the Indiana Dunes reading list!

State Parks. State parks are another fabulous, low-cost resource. In the past two years, the boys and I have camped at three or four of Wisconsin's state parks. We enjoy camping, hiking, biking, swimming and fishing, but we also really appreciate the more formal learning opportunities offered by many state parks. The Wisconsin State Park website, for instance, has a list of nature programs and events offered in that state's parks -- and many state parks have some kind of junior ranger program that allows kids to earn badges in exchange for learning about the park.

The Library. Almost all libraries offer a summer reading program that includes a reading incentive program (designed to keep kids reading through the summer) and special activities. We've seen concerts, plays and storytellers at our library, and look forward to more fun to come this summer.

This year's theme is "Dream Big! Read." If you want to get a head start, visit the Collaborative Summer Library Program website, which includes a comprehensive bibliography of books, websites and audiovisual materials that illustrate the theme. Reading some books together beforehand might get your kids charged up for a summer full of dreaming and reading!

Summer School. When I was a kid, summer school was strictly a remedial thing. No one wanted to go to summer school, and rightfully so. But nowadays, our school district offers such an amazing array of classes during the summer that most kids want to go to summer school!

My youngest, for instance, is signed up for phys ed fun, co-ed basketball and wrestling (Can you tell he likes to move?). My 11-year-old is taking two baseball-related classes. All total, three of my four kids will be taking two to four classes a piece during the four-week summer school session -- for a grand total of $3.00.

Not sure if your school district offers summer school classes? Call and ask. Many districts now offer some kind of summer programming, and most of them welcome homeschool and online-only students.

4-H. My kids aren't in 4-H this year, but I still think it's an amazing program. Our county 4-H club hosts summer campouts, as well as day camps for younger kids -- and you don't have to be a 4-H member to participate. 4-H programs also sponsor interested educational tours and give kids a chance to learn by doing. Most 4-Hers also make projects for the county fair. In years past, my kids have made cookies, recycled crafts, homemade jewelry and fishing-related projects.

Not sure if 4-H is right for you? Talk to some 4-H families at your local county fair, or call your county extension office.

What learning activities do you have planned for this summer?