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Unique Destinations Offer Children a Fun and Educational Experience

Summer is here, and among the usual camps, trips to the pool and visits to the local theme park, deciding on original places to take children during the summertime can often be difficult for many parents. If there’s a way to link vacation activities with what children learn in school – history, geography, math, the environment, technology – all the better.

Dr. Rick Bavaria, senior vice president of education outreach for Sylvan Learning, North America’s leading provider of in-center and live, online tutoring at home to students of all ages, grades, and skill levels, suggests the following destinations that mix summer is learning with fun. Each of the suggested Summer Learning destinations below has a tie-in to school subjects such as science, history, and technology, and also offers opportunities for some great back-to-school stories to share with classmates!

The Newseum, Washington, DC

A well-planned family field trip to a museum can yield all kinds of benefits and fun. The Newseum, the “museum of news” in Washington, D.C. is highly interactive, has lots of fascinating exhibits that will appeal to all ages in any family, and covers all facets of news, from up-to-the-minute headlines to sports, to the most intriguing stories of the past.  You can even be a television journalist on the set of your own news program.  Additional benefit: some of the best views of famous Pennsylvania Avenue and the Capitol in town!  Make sure you have your cameras ready

Tip for parents: Ask kids to recount their favorite news stories and then talk about the historical period in which they occurred.

Alcatraz, San Francisco

If you’re visiting San Francisco, a trip to Alcatraz gives you an up-close and personal view of the infamous penitentiary where bad guys like Al Capone spent years of their lives. 

Alcatraz is on an island from which it was considered “impossible to escape,” so learning about various escape attempts is especially exciting for kids. 

There’s plenty of history to learn about – the Native Americans’ takeover of the island in the 1970s is particularly interesting – and plenty of things to do. 

Get “locked up” in one of the prisoner cells, roam the island, and visit the mess hall.  The boat ride from the city is fun, too.  Windy, though.  Hold onto your hat

Tip for parents: Do some “research” ahead of time to learn about infamous Alcatraz prisoners, so you’ll feel like an expert when you’re there. Ask your children to come up with their own story of “an adventurous escape!” after they’ve visited Alcatraz .

The Art Institute, Chicago

Kids love the Art Institute’s renowned collection of Impressionists and Post-Impressionists – especially Van Gogh – as the art is especially accessible and familiar to them.  There are also other world-famous, iconic paintings like American Gothic and Nighthawks that everyone will recognize. 

Visit the website ahead of time, find in the “Pathfinder floor plan” section the sights you don’t want to miss, and learn about some other exhibits you may not know about.  Pay particular attention to the buildings themselves – the new modern wing, for example, offers breathtaking art as well as views of the city. 

Tip for parents: Get some inexpensive post cards of your favorite works of art.  Put them in an album.  Ask your children to imitate their style or use them as a starting-off point for your own style.

Sports Arenas

Kids enjoy summer travel centered around visiting major sports arenas in the U.S. and around the world.  Many children enjoy putting together photo albums of their visits to baseball and football pro sports stadiums, college arenas, and even overseas sites for soccer and cricket.

They collect tee shirts, jerseys, pennants, and other memorabilia.  Kids of all ages particularly enjoy sports arenas and learning about games, the players, and the history associated with these places.

Tip for parents: Sports arenas are ideal places to encourage learning about math, statistics, geography, and local history.  You don’t need to point out to kids that they’re doing “school stuff,” though.

Hershey’s Chocolate Museum, Pennsylvania

Hershey’s Chocolate Museum in Hershey, Pennsylvania will make your mouth water.  Who can resist a museum of chocolate, on Chocolate Avenue, no less?  Learn about chocolate’s history, its manufacture, its fascination.  There’s even a Chocolate Lab for hands-on learning.  Yum! 

Tip for parents: Use what you learn at the Chocolate Museum when you get home.  Create some tasty chocolate recipes of your own.  Don’t forget to share!

State parks

Most state parks have lodges and cabins you can rent.  Spend some family time in beautiful natural surroundings.  Hike, swim, fish, or kayak!  Tell scary or funny stories around a campfire.  Learn about local plants and animals.  Take pictures and make maps of your adventures.  Keep a family nature journal, recording the activities you’ve had, and the interesting plants and animals you’ve seen.  Discuss environmental issues.  Google your state’s name and “state parks” for lots of information and suggestions. 

Tip for parents:  Keep a family journal where each person contributes something every day or so – a poem, a sketch, a few sentences about how the experience reminds you of something.  One page per day, that’s all.  This journal will become a family keepsake.

Outdoor concerts

Most communities, cities, towns, and states have summer music programs, many of them free.  Concerts range from old-fashioned Sousa marches and patriotic music to more contemporary sounds. 

Local colleges, universities, music schools, and even high schools often have free concerts – good practice for their musicians, good listening for the community.  Google your state or community and “outdoor concerts” to learn about times, prices, and venues.  Teach each other about your favorite kinds of music, share memories, talk about favorite performers. 

Tip for parents: Everyone should pitch in to plan a picnic, the menu, the makings, the packing.  Use math – how much to make, how to measure, how to make sure everyone has enough.

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