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An Idea-a-Day Summer Enrichment Calendar


Q. I'd hate to look back over the summer and realize that all my boys did was laze around and watch TV. How can I make sure their precious summer time expands their learning, even though I want them to have a lot of fun experiences and "down time," too?


Starting around April 1, you should "schedule" some kind of enriching activity or experience for every day of the summer. They absolutely do not have to cost a cent, but of course, some of the more elaborate ones will cost a ticket price and gas to get there. The typical public school district is now spending $50 per pupil per day on the operating budget alone, or about $9,000 for a 180-day school calendar. You most probably can't match that . . . but you don't need to. Most of the best summer learning is free, or possible to do for pennies. Examples:


n       Hang an old sheet on a clothesline, fill squirt guns with washable tempera paint, and let your child "squirt" a picture, then read about artist Jackson Pollock.


n       Collect toilet paper tubes, and have your friends and family do the same, so that your child can make a really long tube, connecting the sections with duct tape, and taping the top of the tube to the gutter of your house onto your driveway (making sure the finish line is in a safe place and not out onto the street!), then "racing" with different sizes and weights of balls to predict which will win. Then study the principles of physics that created the results.


n       Building an aqueduct system out of gravel on your driveway the way the ancient people handled water. Then check out a library book about Babylonians, Egyptians, Mayans or other ancient cultures to learn more about their methods of agriculture, construction and industry.


There's more: concerts in the parks or shopping centers . . . Q&A about organic farming, natural pest control and nutrition with vendors at the local farmers' markets . . . museum and zoo trips . . . even matching up with a good, old-fashioned pen pal for lots of writing experience, only to save the cost of a first-class stamp, use email!


If you plan ahead, you can create wonderful summer enrichment on any kind of a budget. How to find out what's available? Ask your neighbors, friends and family. Your newspaper might publish a special section of ideas for summer learning or camps that you can use. Go online and check out the websites of area museums, state parks, performing arts organizations and so forth, to find activities that are free or offered for a reasonable price.


Type up your list, or write it on your family calendar. Buy a set of star stickers, and let your child place a sticker next to each one that you actually get done.


You might want to buy a book with "kitchen chemistry" experiments or simple science experiments you can do with household items. You could also buy a "learning to draw" type book for your child to use. Garage sales and bookstores are great sources to browse.


As you do your vacation planning, work in a few experiences that will teach your family something, and not just be amusing or relaxing. For example, if you go camping near a lake or river, there's usually a state fish hatchery nearby that probably has exhibits and tours. If you're going to be driving across country, you can check out a book from the library on geology for your child to observe buttes and canyons and so forth.


In a typical district with a traditional school calendar, your child should have around 75 days of vacation. That may seem like a lot. But if you spread out the activities between reading, writing, math, science, history, the arts, exercise, volunteering, gardening, and all the rest, you may find that you have more ideas than you have days in which to do them.


Homework: Our sister website,, has published a daily enrichment calendar for summer 2008 in the Omaha, Neb., area. Take a look at those ideas and see which ones you could copy in your neck o' the woods.


By Susan Darst Williams Learning on the Go 02 2008

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