Parents and experts agree that finding educational experiences over the summer helps prevent the loss of academic skills while children are on break. Studies have shown that elementary students’ performance typically falls by about a month during the summer.
The Graham family from Elkridge works hard to combat that — but in a fun way.
Most summers, the Grahams hits the road, traveling everywhere from Florida to Canada for vacation. But with two boys ages 7 and 9, it’s not always a relaxing, sit-on-the-beach or beside-the-pool kind of trip.
“Whenever we go somewhere new, we try to get into local museums, historic parks, or art centers and theaters to hopefully make it an interesting experience,” says mom, Tracey Graham.
Graham and her brood have visited a glass art gallery in Florida, stopped by roadside stands in Canada to taste maple treats, and even toured the steam engine room during a boat cruise in New York.
The boys also read and use academic websites to help prevent “summer slide” and to help them continue learning over the summer, Graham says.
“It’s a really good reinforcement of learned skills, and the boys love the format, as well as the rewards,” she says.
To fight the slide, here are some educational field trips, websites and reading programs to explore in between your trips to the pool, playground and park this summer.
Field trips to promote learning
Exploring hands-on historic and science-based sites can help students retain science and social studies skills learned during the school year, as well as spark their imaginations. Here are a few spots that fit the bill.
As one of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum’s two locations, the Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va., is home to thousands of space and aviation artifacts, including the space shuttle Discovery and a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird — the world’s fastest jet-propelled aircraft.
The museum is also home to Smithsonian TechQuest, an alternate-reality game for children ages 10 and older. In June, players become an astronaut-in-training for a future trip to Mars. In July, they become aerobatic pilots, completing challenges related to the center’s artifacts.
The center also has an IMAX theater, a planetarium, hands-on science exhibits, and special events like “Innovations in Flight” on June 18, when up to 50 aircrafts are on display for visitors to explore.
14390 Air and Space Museum Parkway, Chantilly, Va.
Cost: Free admission; $15, parking per car before 4 p.m.
Hours: 10 a.m.-6:30 p.m. through Labor Day
Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine
The defense of Baltimore’s star-shaped Fort McHenry in 1814 inspired Francis Scott Key to write the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Here, families can learn about the national anthem, explore the fort, join park rangers for flag changes, and witness fife and drum performances and canon and musket demonstrations.
Kids can also participate in the Junior Ranger program, which celebrates the National Park Service’s 100th birthday this year with an activity book filled with park service and fort-related questions and challenges. When the booklet is complete, children receive a ranger badge.
Park Ranger Shannon McLucas recommends families allow at least 45 minutes to tour the fort and two hours to complete the junior ranger program.
2400 East Fort Ave., Baltimore
Cost: $10, adults and teens 16 years and older; free, ages 15 and younger
Hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. through Labor Day. Visitor center and star fort close at 5:45 p.m.
The refuge is the nation’s only National Wildlife Refuge established to support wildlife research. Located in Laurel, it is home to a range of wildlife and habitats, including the scarlet tanager bird, more than 150 bee species, the eastern red bat and miles of watersheds and forests.
Most visitors start at the South Tract’s National Wildlife Visitor Center — the largest science and environmental education center in the U.S. Department of the Interior. Here families will find interactive exhibits that feature everything from endangered species and life cycles to migratory bird routes. The center also has hiking trails, wildlife management demonstration areas and a gift shop.
Throughout the summer, the center hosts special children’s programs, including “Kids’ Fishing Day” June 11 and “Wildlife Conservation and Recreation Day” Aug. 13. The North Tract is home to about 20 miles of roads and trails, where families can hike or bike together.
South Tract, 10901 Scarlet Tanager Loop, Laurel
Hours: South Tract Visitor Center, 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Closed Thursdays and federal holidays. Trails and grounds open daily sunrise to sunset except federal holidays.
Port Discovery Children’s Museum
Spend the day learning about food, fashion and music from a South Korean kid’s perspective or immersing yourself in farm life at Port Discovery Children’s Museum in Baltimore.
“Heart and Seoul: Growing up in Korea,” the museum’s newest exhibit, focuses on South Korean culture through the eyes of five modern-day Korean kids. Features include a Korean apartment, where children can try on hanbok (traditional Korean dress) and learn the traditional bow, and a Korean classroom, where children learn how to speak and write the Korean alphabet and play the janggu and buk — traditional drums.
While there, families can also check out “Here We Grow,” an interactive exhibit focusing on the people, science, technology and history of farms. Among the activities: sorting eggs using sound, sight and color; working at a farmers market; building farm tools; and milking a cow.
35 Market Place, Baltimore
Cost: $14.95, ages 2 and up; free, members and children younger than 2. Admission drops to $2 the third Friday of each month at 4 p.m. and the museum stays open until 8 p.m.
Hours: Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun., noon-5 p.m. through Labor Day
Click next below for educational websites and aps.
Photos courtesy of Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Fort McHenry and Port Discovery.