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.

Museums
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.

Sewing
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.

Volunteering
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.