Whether they’re wannabe biologists or budding engineers, there are low-cost things to do to stimulate their brains.
Kids may not be cracking the books during summer vacation, but that doesn’t mean learning has to come to a halt.
Keeping kids minds and bodies active during the summer is a sure way to stave off the dreaded “summer slide,” when academic skills seem to atrophy during the summer months. The problem is particularly pronounced for low-income students, and 46 percent of Maine students qualify for free and reduced meals during the school year, an indicator of poverty.
According to the National Summer Learning Association, low-income youth lose two to three months in reading while their higher-income peers make slight gains. Most youth lose about two months of math skills in the summer.
In Maine, there are plenty of things to do that feel like vacation, but are guaranteed to help kids learning and thinking during the summer. And many of them don’t cost a dime.
It’s worth noting that learning can happen anywhere, anytime. If you are cooking – and who isn’t cooking? – have your child help with the measurements, or talk about the science of cooking. Have them go through a cookbook and pick out a dish, or even plan an entire menu, for the family.
Have a backyard garden or a windowsill herb garden? Have your young scientist map it out and identify what is planted there. Give them a ruler and have them track plant growth or document which plants grew fastest and hypothesize why.
If you want to hit the road, there are no shortage of great places to visit that will spark creativity and curiosity.
Budding naturalists need go no farther than the seashore or mountain path. For a guided outdoor experience, check out your local Audubon Center, where activities include interactive lectures at the centers, nature walks and kayaking in the Scarborough Marsh. Set your child up for the “lesson” by asking them to document three things they saw or experienced that they didn’t know before the trip. For more information, visit maineaudubon.org.
If summer means the shore, the Mount Desert Oceanarium in Bar Harbor offers touch tanks, on-site teachers and even phones for listening to whale songs. They also have a lobster hatchery, where eggs are removed from the females and raised by the staff. Set amid marsh ponds, your young explorer can make a day of it with a walk along the marshes, picnicking on site. Contact the Oceanarium at theoceanarium.com for details.
There’s also a way to get out on the water and study lobsters. Sign up to be a lobsterman for a day with Lucky Catch cruises, which offers a 90-minute cruise on a working lobster boat out of Portland harbor. Visitors can try their hand hauling the traps and learn the lobster lingo, so they know a hardshell from a shedder. For more information go to luckycatch.com.
For dedicated landlubbers, hit some Maine farms. In addition to week-long tuition campus, Wolfe’s Neck Farm in Freeport has multiple drop-in programs filled with age-appropriate activities and a chance to see a working farm in action. Programs range from “Farm Explorers” for children ages 3 and under to “Wagon Ride To the Past,” for ages 12-18 and adults. Other programs allow children to help out with chores. Go to wolfesneckfarm.org for details.
At Pineland Farms in Gray, there are cheese-making demonstrations in the creamery, tours of the working dairy and poultry barn and other farm exhibits. Find more information at pinelandfarms.org.
For budding engineers, visit the Boothbay Railway Museum, where they show visitors what “vintage Vacationland” looked like, with examples of steam engines and automobiles that will make you think you’ve stepped back in time to the coast of Maine between 1850 and 1950. More information at railwayvillage.org.