8 Common Attractions That Make Great DIY Summer Learning Opportunities

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You can bet there is a lot of information that you as an adult know and want to share with your children. But why just tell them when you can provide them with the chance to learn through experience while using you as a resource?

We’ve compiled a list of attractions, most of which can be found anywhere across America. Our goal is to help you make use of the ample chances for critical thinking and learning, while keeping learning opportunities fun and unstructured. More importantly, these open-ended experiences give students the chance to look at things in a new way, and even teach you something you didn’t know.

And when that happens, it empowers the learning experience and strengthens the desire to do similar activities in the future.

Top Tips For A Day On The Town With Kids

  • When choosing where to go, pick things YOU are passionate about. Your genuine enthusiasm has a good chance of making an even bigger impression.
  • Be flexible and don’t exercise too much control. Doing things like taking away cell phones could change their openness to the experience. Not to mention, cell phones can enhance learning.

So here are 8 attractions common to most cities, and how you can add education value before, during, and after your trip.

The Beach

Best for: elementary, middle school

Before: Involve them in the planning. Have them think critically about the right time to go, encouraging them to look for warm weather (or rain). If you have multiple choices, you can have them review beaches on Yelp and make suggestions. Direct them to compare distances and reviews, as well as make recommendations about safety and parking.

During: The low-hanging fruit for elementary and below is to have them spell words in the sand. Work on vocabulary by having them describe seashells, and improve reasoning skills by building an impenetrable sandcastle. With the older ones, challenge them to build that castle higher and wider. If you’re at a larger body of water, you can also question them on the reasons for the breakwater, and how a row of so many large rocks might have been built. Put them into the shoes of the lifeguard, and ask what they’d do in certain situations. If you have multiple children, let your older one explain water safety to the younger ones, or different strokes for swimming.

After: Hop online and have them Google remedies for sunburn. Whether you use them or not, you’ll both likely learn some interesting treatments.

State or National Parks

Best for: middle, high school

Before: Every park name has relevance to the sites within it or the history that occurred there, so start by having them guess what that name could mean. Older kids can take it a step further and research more detailed information about the history. Prompt them to find out the “story” behind the place, not just the dry facts they might go over in school. They can understand the relevance of where you’re going while learning about the lives and characteristics of the people who lived there before—some of which might hold true in their own lives.

During: Pay keen attention for signs of history, great examples include canyons showing thousands of years of rock layers, large rock formations created by glaciers, and trees that have grown to be hundreds of years old. If you’re hiking or camping, let them take leadership. Guide them in everything from navigating trails to putting up a tent on overnight trips. For younger children, start discussions on how the place might have looked 50 or even 100 years ago, testing knowledge on things like pioneers and Native Americans.

After: Engage them to critically think about the value of state parks and the utility they provide both for humans and animals. It’s a great chance to discuss biology and ecosystems. Involve their creative side through poems or short stories about their experiences, or put them in the shoes of someone who’d lived in the place long before.

Art and History Museums

Best for: middle, high school

Before: Have them visit the museum website and choose the things that they would like to see. Begin discussions on the different types of art, and even use some around-the-house materials to create some (trying for themselves might instill a deeper appreciation).

During: Challenge them to think about what the paintings and sculptures are made of—ask pointed questions to uncover the clues they used to figure that out. Lead a back-and-forth dialogue on what they are seeing in the pieces, using descriptive wording about the emotions you both feel. Also ask them what they can tell about the artist from their work—guessing at what they might have been going through, as well as their inspiration.

After: Have them pick an artist or piece to write a story about. Older students might be interested in looking up the value and history of some of the pieces they’d seen, which would sharpen research skills. This is also a good time to open a dialogue on the idea of culture with questions about how their life is different than people in other places, and what they saw in the art to support that.

Zoos and Aquariums

Best for: elementary, middle school

Before: Create a game—an easy one would be a scavenger hunt of animals they can find during your trip. It could be simple, like using the names of animals, or more complex, like features (stripes, horns, and colors). If you have a child coming up on biology, you could freshen up on your mammals, birds, and reptiles to make it even more challenging.

During: Pay attention to common words on signs like mammal, predator, carnivore, and omnivore. Ask if they can identify common threads between them. You can also take some of the load off your own responsibilities by having them navigate the park for you.

After: On the ride home, test their memories. Ask them things like which part of the zoo a certain animal would be in. Or even what part of the world that animal would belong in, depending on how the Zoo was laid out. Over the next few days, incentivize them to write their own report on the animal. Give them full license to do what they want, whether it’s research and writing or illustrating.

Farmers Market

Best for: elementary, middle, high school

Before: If need be, they can help you figure out where to park. Talk to older kids about how the quality and price of produce varies at a farmers market from a grocery store. For other trinkets and goods, discuss why a business owner might choose to sell at a farmers market compared to other places.

During: Young children can work on counting pieces of fruit and identifying the rainbow of fruits and vegetables available. In larger markets, have them help you keep an eye on good prices as you walk along—you can divvy it up by item for multiple children. Older children can get a quick math lesson by helping you weigh produce and add up prices.

After: Discuss the differences between organic and inorganic foods. You can also introduce them to the idea of getting fresher food at the market and see if they can put together the logistics. Using all of those ingredients in a meal? There’s math to be done to figure out how much that meal costs total and per person.

Apple Orchards

Best for: elementary, middle school

Before: You’ll be in unfamiliar territory, which makes it a perfect chance for them to find interesting information about a new city or township. See what they can uncover online about the process of growing trees. For older kids, see if they can tie those concepts into things they’ve learned in biology and other science classes.

During: Give them a few dollar amounts to collect how many apples you can pick for a given price. Get into higher level math to have them figure out a way to estimate how many apples are on a tree, trees in the orchard, etc. They can also figure out how to identify good apples versus bad, always helping them to explore their thought process.

After: Incentivize them with sweets by having them look up recipes and helping with cooking or baking. Measuring and following directions are perfect tasks for children of any age.

Capitol Buildings and Court Houses

Best for: high school

Before: Have them research the purpose of the building you are going to (Wikipedia is a great place to start). If your older student is interested in art, design or architecture, from styles to artwork to influence, they’ll have a ton to explore online.

During: Pay close attention to the various rooms and objects within the building. These buildings see frequent remodeling and upkeep, which provides a great critical thinking point for identifying new additions (interior and exterior) to their original counterparts.

After: Insignia (flags and officials seals) are a common piece of government and courthouse buildings. Challenge your student to research them and their meanings. Recreating them is a great hands-on art experience, and they might be interested in creating a flag or seal for themselves. You can also discuss the symbols to uncover their meaning (the 13 stripes on the American flag are a good example) and what makes them relevant to your city or state.

Botanical Gardens

Best for: elementary, middle school

Before: The websites of some gardens will have interesting stats about the size and diversity of the gardens (Chicago’s is especially detailed), see if they can find any unique statistics. Squeeze in some math with calculations about the amount of plants, or have them compare what they’ve learned to the size of a state park, or even the Amazon Rainforest.

During: Colors are a great challenge for younger children. You can also have them work phonetically to read the various plant names as you walk throughout the gardens. Students who’ve taken higher science can try to identify the different parts of a flower, and even what role they serve.

After: Research how to make a garden, or if they are interested enough, actually make one! Even something as simple as growing a mint plant in a small jar could help them appreciate the act of nurturing life. Drawing portraits of flowers or trees they saw could be good for younger learners as you can recite the different parts of plants and test their memories.

Most importantly, make sure you encourage them to ask questions, and follow-through on looking things up, emphasizing those questions that you yourself don’t know the answers to. Tying learning experiences into real-life attractions is one of the best ways for creating a student thirsty for knowledge.

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