Free and Cheap Summer Enrichment

Like many parents this summer, brochures for enrichment opportunities have filled my mailboxes, both US Mail and email. There are academic and non-academic camps and seminars, sports teams, theater, dance, and music classes. Sometimes it feels as though it is necessary to sign kids up for multiple organized enrichment activities to avoid having them fall behind peers and classmates.

This summer for a variety of reasons, we have steered clear of the organized, pricy options. Instead we are finding enrichment activities for gifted kids that are free or at least very inexpensive. Summer is half over so this is a good a time as any to list the activities we have found thus far.

There are two ways to visit museums for free in the Twin Cities this summer. First off, we are lucky to have some major museums and attractions that are always free to the public. The ones we have explored this summer are Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary, the Weisman Art Museum, and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. The Hennepin County Library Museum Adventure Pass also offers free admission to local museums (and the zoo) through the end of summer.

Public Transportation
Like many suburban kids, mine rarely if ever use public transportation. This summer (once the heat wave breaks) each of the older kids will be responsible for planning a trip to and from a destination chosen by me. For example, my daughter will need to plan an expedition to the Mall of America for us. This will take us on at least one bus and one light rail train ride. She will be responsible for checking schedules, matching them up, and making sure we can make the connections both to the mall and home from the mall. The plan is to leave enough time so that if she accidentally takes us on the wrong bus or we get off the train at the wrong stop, there is time to recover before nightfall.

Cooking & Menu Planning
Given a set amount of money, say $25, each of the older kids will need to plan, shop for and cook a healthy meal for the entire family. Ideally they will do the shopping all by themselves but I’m still working out the details on this one.

I dug out my old sewing machine, gave the kids a basic lesson on how it works and bought a bunch of scrap fabric for them. We might get some simple patterns later. For now they are just experimenting with stitches and making pockets.

Exploring the local park
In the spirit of Free Range Kids, more and more we are pushing the kids to head out to bike and explore the local park.

Recently my oldest has started volunteering at a nature center, feeding and watering the critters. He loves it and is getting far more animal experience than he would taking a general nature class designed for kids his age. If your child has a strong interest in an area but is too young to officially volunteer for an organization, he or she may still be able to volunteer if you also sign on as a volunteer and your child works under your direct supervision.

Although kids can learn a great deal in officially organized activities, I feel that they learn different things or at least in a different manner when they are directly in control. Too often these days the adults are telling them what to do, where to go, and what “fun” activity will come next. By putting the kids in charge of their own enrichment activities and letting them approach them in their own way, at their own pace, I’m hoping they will build both executive function and critical thinking skills. At the very least maybe by the end of summer they will be able to cook a meal and read a bus schedule, useful knowledge no matter where life takes them.

Science Museum Mississippi Class

SMM Conservation Ideas
Conservation Ideas

Nathaniel recently check out one of the classes offered at the Science Museum of Minnesota for homeschoolers. It was on the Mighty Mississippi. He learned about the Mississippi and factors that affect the health of the river. Together the students built a model aquatic habitat. Then they brainstormed on what can be done to help the environment and slow global warming. My favorite ideas are algae art that can also clean the house and self-powered, bioluminescent lights.

The Mississippi supports a vast variety of species. In order to demonstrate this and emphasize the interrelatedness of different species, they created a food web.

Finally they were able to observe live macro invertebrates.

Food Web

The class was paced nicely and gave the students time to ask questions and show their knowledge without the instructor worrying about lost time. Nathaniel came away from the experience feeling that he had a real opportunity to delve into biology and environmental conservation. Biology is one of his passions and he has been reading complex biology books for years. I am impressed that the Science Museum was able to design a class that worked for a student his age with his higher than average scientific background.

Pottery Painting Art

The kids and I took and impromptu trip to Color Me Mine today to choose and paint some pottery. This trip counted as an art project for the two boys who are currently homeschooled and a fun diversion for my daughter. She is enrolled in an alternative school for gifted kids. The school is not in session most Fridays which gives us a great deal of  flexibility to go on field trips and take advantage of other learning opportunities. (More on the kids and what I’ve learned about various school options in later posts.)

Color Me Mine is a pottery painting and glazing shop. You pick your piece of pottery and then grab a table and paint glaze on your piece using their supplies. The cost is the price of the pottery you selected plus a studio fee for the paint and the use of the brushes, stamps etc.

It took us about 20 minutes to select the perfect pieces of potter. Natalie selected a flower-shaped box, Nicolas went with a rabbit storage container, Nathaniel chose a frog mug, and I choose a dog mug. We then settled down to painting. The staff was great about stepping in with ideas and help, especially for Nicolas who really wanted his rabbit to be perfect. The glazes are all watercolor so it is fairly easy to use a sponge and water to wipe off mistakes and start again.

We were there around three hours. Long enough to see another family come, paint, and go. The kids really didn’t want to leave. Watching the kids paint it was obvious why some typical elementary art projects frustrate them. Clearly they wanted to take their time. Elementary schools rarely have a full hour to devote to an art project, much less three hours. This can cause stress for gifted kids that may naturally have longer attention spans. Add in their desire to have the finished product flaw free and professional-looking and you have a perfect recipe for “transition problems” and emotional meltdowns.

They wanted their creations to fully reflect their visions. If they were told how each piece should look when done it would have greatly diminished their creative spirits and enjoyment of the project. Walk through any elementary school and look at the art on the walls, especially for the younger grades. Notice the similarity of the pieces. Because art is used to teach everything from colors to cutting skills to how to follow directions, kids are told exactly how to do most projects and what they should look like when finished. For kids with strong, internal, artistic sensibilities and drives, typical elementary art projects must feel stifling.

Today the kids got to take their time and act in accordance with their own creative visions. Of course, they won’t really know how close they came to the images in their heads for another week. Our pieces need to dry, get dipped in clear glaze, dry again, and finally get fired in the kiln for a day. Once the pieces cool we will be able to to take them home. Stay tuned to see the end results.