Turn summer camp into a learning adventure. In past years, your son or daughter might have ventured into the wilderness for a week or two swimming, hiking and sleeping in a cabin. This year, think of the camp experience as an opportunity to build knowledge and skills. By visiting the American Camp Association's Web site at www.acacamps.org, you'll find camps that focus on academics, performing arts, languages and more. You can also find camps geared to children with special learning needs and physical limitations, and you can search in terms of your desired location, price tag and the length of time your child would like to participate. One note of caution - many camp programs are booked by the end of May, so it's important to start your search as soon as possible.
Prepare for a brighter future by giving back now. Most people choose volunteer activities by following causes that are close to their hearts - working with elders in a retirement home or at a community food bank, for example. But teens who engage in meaningful and sustained volunteer work are also building credentials for admission to top colleges. Many colleges, in fact, actively seek out students who have engaged in volunteer work and service learning experiences. Your teen may identify volunteer opportunities through local charities or mentoring programs, or by visiting the Corporation for National and Community Service's Learn and Serve Web site at www.learnandserv.gov, or the AmeriCorps site at www.americorps.gov.
Go to school at a local museum. Many young people loved the movie Night at the Museum, in which dinosaurs, wax figures and toy soldiers came to life. While the film is pure fantasy, its underlying message is that museums don't have to be hushed galleries where young people merely gaze at exhibits. Educators working at museums know they're competing with television, the Internet and recreational activities, and are consequently creating programs that are interactive, educational and uniquely suited to the interests of young people. You should therefore check the Web sites of your local museums to see if there are educational programs that appeal to your child's interests.
Look beyond the books at your local library. Many libraries also offer summertime and after-school learning opportunities. In fact, many are true resource centers that offer a wide array of educational and cultural activities. Your child can participate in group learning projects, learn a foreign language, build technology skills and more. Young children in particular can have a lot of fun participating in storytelling activities, while teens can often use libraries to learn about colleges and universities and the steps that need to be taken to qualify for admission.
Encourage ambitious independent learning projects. If your child enjoys writing and storytelling, consider journaling activities. These can be as simple as keeping a diary or more inventive tasks such as using prose, photography and illustrations to chronicle summertime activities such as family trips or camp. If your child is especially visual, consider using a loose-leaf notebook that enables individual pages to be taken out and posted in family-friendly areas such as the kitchen or playroom.
Scientifically-minded students can find many exciting "science fair"-type projects through books at their local library and through Web sites that specialize in sharing this type of information. One of the most comprehensive sites is "Science Fair Central," offered by The Discovery Channel at www.school.discovery.com/sciencefaircentral. Another great offering comes from the American Federation of Teachers, which publishes a "Summer Learning Calendar" that can be found at www.aft.org/calendar.
Students who enjoy mathematics can test and strengthen their skills through Figure This! (www.figurethis.org), Created by The National Science Foundation, this initiative features engaging mathematics challenges that are designed to be completed by children and families together. While they tend to be "fun," the challenges are also an effective primer for the rigorous mathematics that most students will be required to master in school.
Your child might also enjoy the Sudoku puzzles that are published in many newspapers and available in book shops. They offer a challenging and fun way to build mathematics, organizational and critical thinking skills.
Turn to teachers and school counselors for help. After spending many months with your child, teachers and counselors can be good sources of information on summer learning activities that tie into your child's interests and aptitudes. Talking with these educators can also give you great ideas for summertime learning opportunities that strengthen your child's grounding in "the basics" and expand horizons and expectations for the year to come.