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Summer Education for Kids: Fun Learning in Everyday Activities

Skip pricey enrichment programs and keep your child's mind engaged and growing with opportunities that lay groundwork for big benefits – and help foster development

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"We walk through the woods, and I've tried to draw their attention to different things," adds Jennifer Czajkowski, executive director of learning and interpretation at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Czajkowski has two sons, ages 15 and 18, and she's used moments like this to teach them about the world around them. The boys had a book about signs of spring – so, whether a particular kind of bird or tree, she'd have them identify Michigan's natural beauty.

Encouraging education

"I think what's really important is to enjoy the day – if you're at the orchard, the zoo, the art museum. Enjoy the day as you normally would," Sabella says. Be careful not to pack in too much. However, you can prep the kids. "Say, 'Hey, we're going to go to the DIA. What can you find out about it?" Sabella says.

Let your children search for information. And remember, it's all about what you do afterwards to remind them of the things they saw. "Try your own art experience based on one of the artists there," Sabella says. Or, next dentist visit, ask kids about a piece of art on display in the office. What piece of work does it remind them of from the museum?

Local enrichment

The DIA is just one of the many family destinations that can be fun and educational. It boasts loads of enrichment for little ones, including Eye Spy. The program, which began in 2007, gives kids a chance to engage with different works of art in the galleries. They are designed for kids in pre-kindergarten to age 9 to use, along with parents.

"Basically, in almost every other gallery at the DIA, there's a placard on the wall, and it invites kids to play the Eye Spy game," says Czajkowski. Kids encounter a poem or rhyme with a clue on the outside, lifting a flap to expose a visual clue from the piece of art. They have to look around the gallery to find it.

"It's a good thing for kids – (especially) young kids – to do in the galleries with their parents," Czajkowski says. And things kids see translate to a variety of school subjects, from foreign language to history. Diego Rivera's Detroit Industry Murals can be used to discuss industrial history, while Picasso could be a topic during Spanish class, she says.

The DIA's website features a guide with 10 things to do with kids. Eye Spy is No. 1, but other activities include lighting up symbols on an ancient Mayan chocolate jar in the Native American Galleries or seeing a life-sized video of masks in action in the African Galleries.

This list helps kids navigate the museum, and Czajkowski suggests letting them lead the way during your next visit – but help facilitate the experience. "Ask a few key questions about what they are seeing," she says, especially if they stop in front of a piece of art that has seemed to spark interest or enthusiasm.

Another sweet idea is a trip to the Morley Candy Factory in Clinton Township for free "Stop & Shop" tours (advance registration required). Sabella suggests printing info from the factory's website beforehand. It gets kids excited about the experience – and may even spur questions while they are on the tour.

The payoff

"These teachable moments are a chance for you to still engage with your child's learning," says Jordan Blough-Orr, parent-voice advisor and social media consultant at the Lansing-based Early Childhood Investment Corporation and mom to a 3-year-old son.

There will come a point where you may not be able to help with your kids' math assignments. But if you give them a budget at Cedar Point and they have to use math to add up items they want to buy, you've helped set groundwork through a real-life experience.

"This is a moment when you have a chance to teach your child something that is relevant to them in that second," Blough-Orr says.

If your child has $15 left after his ticket and souvenir purchase but wants to eat lunch and play a few games, it's up to him to figure out how much money he can allot for each.

"I'm going to buy this now, but what if I'm hungry later?" Blough-Orr says. This really gets them thinking. "It's cause and effect, where it's directly impacting your child positively or negatively." Yet both Blough-Orr and Sabella caution parents not to overwhelm kids with educational moments this summer.

"It has to be enjoyable, and it's really the memories," Sabella says. "The learning is going to take place and be memorable when they're having fun." Adds Blough-Orr, "It's also just a genuine interaction with your child."

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