Summer vacation is here; most kids are ecstatic and can't wait for their long-awaited vacation from classes.  Unfortunately, many families struggle with plans and ideas of how to keep their kids entertained and busy during summer break.  More importantly, how do we keep their brains and imaginations active? Although many families take a traditional vacation together, the remaining weeks of vacation time may be wasted in front of the television or computer. However, with a little planning and supplies, it's easy to create memorable, project-based learning activities your kids will love.  These projects use "real-world" problems and applications to teach kids and teens how to become a creative problem-solvers.  Because these projects are fun and exciting, many of the lessons will stick around much longer than basic homework facts do.  


Regardless of age, every child loves a good treasure hunt. "Geocaching" is a fun and educational activity that combines GPS skills with a natural sense of treasure-hunting adventure.  David Ulmer, a computer consultant, created this GPS adventure to test the reliability of the first GPS satellites.  He hid a small container in the woods of Beavercreek, Oregon, and recorded the GPS coordinates.  Next, he uploaded them to a GPS-user website and challenged fellow users to find his stash, calling it "The Great American GPS Stash Hunt."  Within just two days, two other GPS users tracked down Ulmer's stash and continued the hunt with their own "hidden treasures." By September 2, 2000, "Geocaching" became a world-wide phenomena.

If your child is hungry for some summer adventure, consider signing them up as a "geocacher."  By creating a secure user identity, they gain access to hidden stashes that could be nearly anywhere.  After joining the Geocaching community, they receive "secret" coordinates to track down with a basic GPS or GPS-enabled phone. This is a great way for you both to explore you hometown and even the state.  If you plan on going for a summer vacation out-of-state, your child can still hunt down stashes wherever you go.  Geocaching is a fun and challenging tool for developing GPS and mapping skills--something extremely valuable as they age and mature. The sense of adventure this activity gives will definitely encourage your child to get out and explore their surroundings. 

Weekly Meal Budgets

Although as parents we may hate having to sit down and plan weekly meals and budgets, this is one of the best ways to help our kids learn the value and power of money and budgeting.  Over the summer, make it a point to involve your preschooler or preschooler in weekly meal plans.  Engage their interest by allowing them to pick some of their favorite meals and foods.  

After selecting the foods, use a meal planner or budget template to organize for the week. Beside each item, help your child estimate an appropriate price.  Calculate an overall price budget range for each meal or the week overall. 

Take your child shopping with you and begin searching for the foods on your list.  Your child might be surprised at just how pricey certain items are, especially if they estimated a lower price.  Challenge them to find the best bargains to stay within the budget.  After shopping for the week, compare the receipt and budget. Did they stay within the right range?  Were they able to save any money?  If they did go over, see whether they understand what they could do differently next time.  Allow your child to help with the budget at least several more times.  Each time they'll improve their budgeting and shopping skills as well as gain a better understanding of how money works.  

Edible Chemistry

Many kids dread chemistry problems and fear their difficulty.  Although there are some challenging aspects, this subject is rich with real-world problems and applications.  By using a few chemistry-based recipes, you can show your child this subject's value and reduce some of their anxiety. They'll be surprised at just how easy and interesting many of these chemistry concepts really are. Some of the funnest and tastiest recipes include:

Homemade Computers and Coding

If your child loves computers and technology, using summer vacation to build their own "mini computer" is by far one of the greatest ways to grow their love and understanding of electronics. Computer kits such as Raspberry Pi allow kids to go through each step of creating a miniature, working computer. 

After learning some of the basics behind computer design and function, coding in the next step in the learning process.  Helping your child learn how to "speak" computer is a huge way of building a foundation for future success in a technology-driven world. Classes and local programs are great methods for teaching beginner coding skills. By giving our children access to technology skills early on, we're giving them the tools for future growth in computer science. 

Growing the Ultimate Garden

Gardening isn't always the first thing we think of when searching for summer activities.  Many kids think of it as messy or boring, particularly if they live in busy, industrialized cities.  However, agricultural science is still an exciting field full of research and discovery.  Scientists are faced with the growing issue of feeding a crowded world with the healthiest plants possible. Bring this issue home with a project-based gardening challenge.  

"Dare" your kids to find the best way to grow plants.  Peas, beans, and tomatoes are some of the best and easiest plants to grow.  Set up the challenge using either an aquaponics, hydroponics, or basic garden soil environment.  Have your child use at least two of these methods for comparing their results. After constructing your garden system with your child, plant the seeds or sprouts and keep close track of their progress. After your plants have grown, examine which method gave the best results.  What plants seemed healthier? If using a harvest plant such as tomatoes, which growing method gave the most produce?  By showing your child what it takes to produce food, they'll grow a greater interest in agricultural science and how it applies to them. 

Building a Body

Even younger children should be exposed to project-based learning.  These activities stay in their memory much longer and grow their curiosity.  For younger middle-schoolers and kindergartners, help them increase their knowledge and interest in anatomy with some "build-able" body parts. By constructing accurate large-scale models of different parts of the body, they'll get a better idea of how their own body works as well as how they should be taking care of it.  Some of the best "build-able" parts include:

Although summer vacation should be full of fun games and relaxation, take some time to plan and build some memorable project-based activities together with your child.  Regardless of age, project-based learning is the best way to instill real-world knowledge and curiosity that is guaranteed to stick with them for years to come. 


Method Schools offers a for-credit summer school for high school students. It's tuition-free, and features UC and NCAA-approved online courses.