Get Kids Outside Making and Doing This Summer

A Big Pile of Fantastic Ideas to Get Kids Outside Making and Doing This Summer

By JESSICA LAHEY date published MAY 22, 2014

It’s May, time for teachers to revisit their bookshelves and think about summer reading selections. This year, I’m considering a different kind of summer reading for my kids, books that will inspire them to head outside and make, do and create. My younger son, Finn, likes these sorts of projects, and while I can provide him with scrap lumber, nails, a drill and some screws, he and I wanted to find some additional inspiration.

Judy Russell, our town librarian, enthusiastically joined in my research and helped me come up with some fantastic resources for inventing, constructing and making.

An excellent place to start, she said, is your local library. She pointed out that libraries have been ahead of the curve on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education and many of them offer construction classes. She also directed me to our local Makerspace, a sort of community center combined with tools and educators. We found a directory of Makerspace programs around the world, and many of these Makerspaces offer tinkering programs for kids.

Our library just acquired “The Art of Tinkering,” by Karen Wilkinson and Mike Petrich of the Exploratorium and its Institute for Inquiry in San Francisco, on the recommendation of a science teacher. This book offers a great way to start looking for beginner-level projects, as the required “tools” are commonly available in most households. The projects passed muster with my own 10-year-old maker, and most of them are projects he can tackle and complete on his own.

While he was excited about many of Ms. Wilkinson and Mr. Petrich’s ideas, Finn said what he really wants to do this summer is whittle and carve magic wands and wizard staffs. He acquired a new pocketknife recently, and he’s been itching to put it to use. I immediately thought of Gever Tulley, founder of the Tinkering School. His popular TED video, “Five Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do,” has nearly three million views, and is worth a watch. I picked up a copy of Tulley’s book, “50 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do,” and Finn was thrilled with it. The table of contents includes some of his favorite activities, including whittling, making rope swings, playing with fire, and map reading.

Ms. Russell also handed me a copy of Make Magazine, and directed me toward the book “The Best of MAKE (Make 75 Projects From the Pages of MAKE),” a compilation of the magazine’s best projects. The publisher, Maker Media, founded the Maker Movement as well as the Maker Education Initiative that sponsors Maker Corp sites at libraries, museums and schools across the country. These sites provide supervision by Maker Corps Members, mentors and instructors that guide and direct kids’ construction and innovation efforts, even in the summer.

A science teacher, Christine Mytko, chimed in with an enthusiastic recommendation for the book “Zero to Maker: Learn (Just Enough) to Make (Just About) Anything,” by David Lang, calling it an “essential read” for aspiring tween and teenage makers. “Lang reminds us all that we all have to start somewhere and that the maker community offers many collaborative opportunities to learn and have fun with makers of all skill levels,” she said.

By the end of my research frenzy, I had accumulated a large pile of books and magazines, and an extensive list of websites on making, doing and creating. I could not help noticing that the publishing industry has targeted dads as the consumers of these kid-focused project books and the primary makers, doers and creators in the family. As I am the keeper of the power tools in our house, I had to grit my teeth and push through my irritation in order to give the wide array of “cool dad” books like “Geek Dad,” “Made by Dad,” “Handy Dad,” “Be the Coolest Dad on the Block” and “Dad’s Book of Awesome Projects” their due. Good thing, too, because despite their dad-centric focus, this geeky, handy mom found plenty of cool ideas.

After many happy hours of research, Finn and I present our favorite books and websites, the resources we will use this summer as we tinker, build and create the projects of our dreams.

“Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun,” by Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen (Finn liked the section on forts and shelters).

“Made by Dad: 67 Blueprints for Making Cool Stuff,” by Scott Bedford (Finn thought the Godzilla skyline would be a cool addition to his room).

Built by Kids: The ABC’s of DIY,” by Timothy and Laura Dahl (we are particularly excited to build the tire see saw).

PBS Fun Summer Science Projects for Kids (homemade silly putty!).

Geek Dad,” by Ken Denmead and the affiliated’s project forum (we liked Poodle Soup’s newspaper geodesic dome and are curious how big we can go with this design).

“Tree Houses and Play Houses You Can Actually Build,” by Jeanie Trusty Stiles and David Stiles (we have our eye on the Hobbit treehouse).

Jessica Lahey is an educator, writer and speaker. She writes about parenting and education for The New York Times, The Atlantic, Vermont Public Radio and her own blog, Coming of Age in the Middle. Her book, “The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed,” will be published by HarperCollins in 2015.

Summer Matters: How Parents Can Keep Their Children Learning All Summer Long


JUNE 26, 2013

Because summer learning loss is cumulative over time, it leads to increased dropout rates among those students who have fallen behind.

Missing out on summer learning is as harmful to children’s physical health as it is to their academic health, because students who lack access to summer learning opportunities are less likely to be physically active and more likely to spend their days watching TV and eating junk food — and sedentary behaviors are contributing to America’s exploding childhood obesity epidemic.

With only 90 days of summer, every day a student is not participating in summer learning is a loss by every measure. Fortunately, there are numerous easy, effective and affordable ways that parents can help keep their children learning — and moving — all summer long, in ways that are as fun as they are educational. Better yet, all the resources they need to engage their children in summertime learning that can keep them academically and physically healthy are either at home or close to home.

Finding the Right Program First, parents can search for free or low-cost, high-quality summer learning programs in their local communities. Research shows that students who take part in high-quality summer learning programs that combine academics, enrichment and physical activity benefit from substantial improvements in their academic achievement, vocabulary and reading skills, social skills, work habits and attitudes, and readiness to learn.

To help determine whether a summer learning program is a high-quality one, start by looking for these six elements when assessing a program:

A program that broadens students’ horizons — by exposing them to new adventures, skills and ideas. These could be activities like going on a nature walk, using a new computer program, giving a presentation, visiting a museum or attending a live performance.

A program that includes a wide variety of activities — such as reading, writing, math, science, arts and public service projects — in ways that are fun and engaging. A program that helps students build mastery — by helping them improve at doing something they enjoy and care about. This could be anything from creating a neighborhood garden to writing a healthy snacks cookbook to operating a robot.

A program that fosters cooperative learning — by working with their friends on team projects and group activities such as a neighborhood clean-up, group presentation or canned food drive.

A program that promotes healthy habits — by providing nutritious food, physical recreation and outdoor activities.

A program that lasts at least one month — giving kids enough time to benefit from their summer learning experiences.

Family Fun Parents can also do a great deal to support their children’s summer learning through educational and engaging home-based activities that will help keep them mentally and physically fit, and ready to start the new school year with success. Here are five ways to get started:

Read to your children — or encourage your children to read — books recommended by their teachers, your local library and online summer reading lists. Sign up for your library’s Summer Reading Program, which offers incentives for summertime reading.

Visit free local learning resources in your community that are entertaining, educational and close to home, such as libraries, parks, museums, universities and recreation centers.

Play fun math and word games that turn everyday household activities into learning opportunities. For example, have your kids add up prices at the grocery store and challenge them to tally up the final bill. When going on drives, ask them to look for certain shapes, colors, letters or words on billboards and signs.

Ask your children’s teachers to recommend engaging, grade-appropriate educational activities that you can easily access online and download for free.

Get moving and get healthy. Turn off the TV, computer and video games (or at least put limits on screen time), and keep your kids moving with physical activities that also encourage learning. For example, organize a scavenger hunt that leads them around a local playground, park or museum.

With a little time, planning and creativity, parents can play an important part in making sure that every summer matters in advancing their children’s learning, health and well-being.

25 Cool Things Kids Can Learn Online (for Free!)

Links, videos, and instructions for really fun family projects.

With summer in full swing, lots of kids (and parents) are going online for ideas to keep busy. At Common Sense Media, we’re partial to activities that are a little, well, different. We’ve rounded up 25 unique things you and your kids can learn online (for free!) by a) watching a video, b) following instructions, or c) reading about a subject.

Note: Many videos include an advertisement at the beginning, and some websites might link off to other topics or sites that might not be appropriate for your kids. We suggest previewing or watching along with your kids.

Our Daughter’s Voices

See below for information on a series of workshops, for daughters and parents, related to relational aggression held at Positive Directions in Westport, CT.

While much has been said about boys and bullying, the more subtle aggression that girls demonstrate is still a mystery. In a society, which does not encourage girls to exhibit anger in traditional ways, aggression expresses itself in many forms, including exclusion, whispered insinuations, rumors and manipulation. This schoolgirl cruelty often has lasting consequences for girls, following them from adolescence into young womanhood and adulthood.

Author Rachel Simmons put a name to this hidden culture of girls’ aggression in her best selling book ‘Odd Girl Out’, in which she addresses how this phenomenon diminishes our daughters’ self esteem and how families and schools are affected.

In response to the concerns parents have expressed about this behavior, Positive Directions offers a series of workshops entitled Our Daughters’ Voices.

During four interactive sessions, participants can expect to explore:

  • What is relational aggression;
  • The relationship between voice and self-esteem in girls;
  • Characteristics of a healthy friendship & maintaining authentic relationships;
  • Understanding the difference between friendship and popularity;
  • Effective ways to identify and communicate feelings;
  • The connection between relational aggression and risky behavior;
  • Effective techniques for listening without trying to control;
  • Being a role model for your daughter.

For information on the scheduling of Creating Lasting Family Connections; Our Daughters’ Voices and other Positive Directions’ workshops in your area, please call:

203-227-7644 ext. 127

About Positive Directions:

Since 1973, Positive Directions – The Center for Prevention & Recovery, has been reaching out to individuals, families and communities in the Fairfield County, Connecticut area, providing treatment, counseling and education programs focused on the prevention of and recovery from substance abuse and dependencies.

At Positive Directions, our caring and professional staff offer counseling, support and Intervention services for individuals and families seeking treatment for alcoholism, drug abuse & addiction, problem gambling and other addictive behaviors. For adolescents, we offer Youth Evaluation Services designed to provide counseling, referrals and support to adolescents and their families.

Positive Directions also offers prevention programs that promote positive parenting and the prevention of risky behavior by teens and young adults.

Positive Directions is a state licensed out-patient treatment center, and as an independent, non-profit and non-sectarian agency, Positive Directions guarantees client confidentiality and the promise that no one seeking help is turned away for lack of funds.

Girls Leadership Institute Summer Camp

Overview – GLI summer camp. This is the place where you can be real.  At GLI, you live in a dorm with roommates and spend your days in fun self-discovery workshops, playing wild theatre games, sharing stories in small groups, making films, playing sports, and enjoying evening activities like extreme scavenger hunt or mask making. Every three days, there’s a field trip to a high ropes course, lakeside, or arts event. Girls come away from GLI with the confidence to be themselves and build lasting friendships. GLI helps you gain skills to face the challenges life throws your way.

Want to learn more? Please check out our video, read the FAQs, look at the photos, and read what alumnae girls and parents have to say. Still have questions? Please call us at 866-744-9102 Ext 2. We will be happy to talk to you about GLI and put you in touch with an alumnae family.

GLI Summer 2013 will be at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, MA!

 for Summer 2013!

June 22, 2013 – July 12, 2013

Entering Grade 6: Session A (June 22, 2013 – July 2, 2013)
Entering Grade 6: Session B (July 2, 2013 – July 12, 2013)
Entering Grade 7
Entering Grade 8

July 15, 2013 – August 4, 2013

Entering Grade 9
Entering Grade 10, 11 or 12 — First time at GLI
Leadership for Life — For GLI alumni entering grades 10 – 12

Sacred Heart Greenwich Summer Enrichment Program

Our Summer Enrichment Program is offered to girls entering grades Preschool – Grade 12 in the fall. It provides students with engaging, hands-on learning experiences and offers a wide variety of options to choose from. Our goal is to stimulate curiosity and open young hearts and minds. Our learning sessions are all participatory and allow for creativity and collaborative work.

We offer programs in the following areas: music, dance, drama, athletics, arts & crafts, chess, vocabulary, creativity, yoga, fitness, Native American history, mosaics, clay, French language and culture, swimming, broadcast journalism, labyrinth design, computer programming, crochet, photography, journalism, field hockey, tennis, fun with DNA, canning and jam making, cooking, quilting, watercolors, robotics, soccer, basketball, astronomy, musical theater, lacrosse, volleyball, intro to the Middle School, creative writing, forensic DNA science, poverty – awareness and action, shadow a professional, non-fiction writing, service learning trip to Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, online PSAT prep, online English.

Should Cell Phones Go to Camp?

Should Cell Phones Go to Camp?

by Regan McMahon | May. 30, 2012 |

When your kid’s summer camp tells you to just pack the essentials — swim suit, sunscreen, sleeping bag — a cell phone is usually not on the list. In fact, it’s generally on the “What Not to Bring” list. But for parents, staying in touch with our kids feels essential, and some find it’s not so easy to break the habit.

A couple of summers ago, we sent our daughter to a two-week sleep-away surf camp in San Diego with a group of girls from her school. A few weeks before departure, the girls’ parents got together and someone brought up the camp’s no-cell-phone policy. One mom told how the previous year she snuck one into her daughter’s duffel bag anyway and the girl got busted and had her phone confiscated. But the woman bragged that she was going to do it again this year.

Apart from sending a dubious message that it’s OK to break the rules, the mom didn’t seem to understand the reasoning behind the rule.

As explained on the camp website, experience has shown that phone calls from home intensify homesickness: “One of the valued outcomes of camp is learning independence. Calls home would detract from that important goal. In rare circumstances, due to behavior or severe homesickness, our staff will contact you.” The statement adds that “cell phones cannot be with campers for security and privacy reasons.”

The camp also forbids bringing other electronics, such as MP3 players and electronic games, explaining, “Camp provides children a chance to live without electronic devices.”

But if the kids can unplug, why can’t we? Since we can all admit the cell phone is more for us than for them (kids aren’t the only ones with camp jitters), here are some tried and tested tips from recovering camp moms. You will get through it.

  • Remind yourself why your kid is going to camp. You’ve sent your son or daughter off for a new experience, and for a reason. Having your kids spend time with their fellow campers rather than texting friends back home will ensure a more valuable camp experience.
  • Dear Mom, connect the old fashioned way. You may miss hearing your kid’s voice, but nothing beats a letter from your sleep-away camper telling you about new friends and new experiences at camp. And for your kid, nothing beats a letter from home with news of familiar places and people, filled with expressions of love and “We miss you.” For parents of day campers, you can hear all about your kid’s exciting day when you’re together again — on the ride home or at the family dinner.
  • Seeing is believing. If you mainly want assurance that your kid’s having a good time, you may be able to see for yourself if your camp posts camper photos daily online. Our camp did, through a service called Ask if your camp offers a similar service, or suggest that they do.
  • If you’re on the fence, check the rule book. You’ll usually find cell phones on the “What Not to Bring” list. Abide by the rules, and if your kid has a problem and needs to get in touch, the camp will facilitate a phone call. You can always call the camp office or ask to speak to your kid’s counselor to ease your mind.

Original article