Lots of fun, free kids' activities

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I recently sat in on a principals meeting for a local school district and watched a video spotlighting the disparity in learning that can occur between kids with access to things to do during the summer months and those without access.

The video reported that over the elementary years, a child without access can fall upward of 1-2 years behind a child with access. And as a parent of two elementary-aged kids, it encouraged me to be purposeful in what opportunities I provide for my kids this summer.

The beauty of learning as a young child is that it can come in many forms, and the benefit for parents is that many of those opportunities are often free or relatively inexpensive. The following list is to assist parents in ideas that will reduce learning loss for their child(ren) over the potentially long summer months.

  • Fort Vancouver Regional Library: The library offers some great summer programs for free. A couple of our particular favorites are the "Read to the Dogs" program, which allows kids to read aloud to a therapy dog, and the "Reptileman." These programs are offered at all of the library's satellite locations.
  • The city of Vancouver offers a number of fun, free programs through its Water Education Resource Center, including a "Science in the Park" series and noon concerts. Also, remember that tours of facilities such as the Water Education Resource Center are free, educational and entertaining.
  • Portland Children's Museum offers a free first Friday event each month sponsored by Target.
  • The Portland Zoo also has its "Second Tuesday" events, where admission is only $4 on the second Tuesday of each month. Consider having your child do a little research about a particular animal, and reward that work with a trip to the zoo. Warning, lines can be long on these reduced-admission days.
  • How about a trip down to the farmers market to discover locally grown goods? Turn this easy trip into a learning experience by asking your child if they were to make something and sell it in a booth, what would it be? How much would they sell it for? Who knows, you might just get a little entrepreneurial mind started.

• One of the easiest ways to keep kids' minds engaged over the summer is to purchase workbooks for them. Walmart and the Learning Palace are just two places that offer a variety of these kinds of books. You will likely need to remind your child to pull out a sheet or two each day to work on. Try not to make it seem like "homework." Allow them to take the sheet wherever they want to work on it. Give them a clipboard and allow them to work on a sheet up in a tree or in a fort of blankets. Let them sit on the front porch in the sunshine!

Alternatives to day care

There are a number of other resources to turn to if you are a parent who has had it with your child spending endless hours in front of a screen (video games, TV, computer). You are only limited by your creativity. Check out ideas on Pinterest. Set up a neighborhood play day. Create a summer calendar of daily activities (exercise, learning, fun, chores) and remember even if you only stick to it 50 percent of the time, you're better off than if you didn't at all.

For working parents looking for a day care alternative, consider a number of great daylong/weeklong camps run through organizations such as One Team, Evergreen school district, Vancouver-Clark Parks & Recreation, and many more. Many of these camps offer a great blend of educational activities and fun game play, and focus on delivering opportunities for children to experience new things over the summer in a setting where they can meet new friends and keep their mind engaged in learning.

Also consider many of the sports camps available through providers such as One Team, Skyhawks, local high schools, and many more. While not necessarily educational, these camps do provide much-needed physical activity, and many try to weave in life lessons such as good sportsmanship, teamwork, togetherness, and more.

As a working parent, I understand the challenges that the summer presents both to the parent and the child. My greatest piece of advice to other parents is that taking the time to have some kind of plan is worth it. Your child deserves your help in creating an environment that balances the inevitable screen time you know you can't avoid, with the important aspect of summertime learning.

Memories are made during childhood. Let this be a summer where they laugh, learn, and play!

Eric Anderson is the co-owner of One Team, a company specializing in before- and after-school activities for elementary-aged kids focusing on getting kids active. Yearlong services include before- and after-school programs, as well as Winter Break, Spring Break, and Summer Break camps consisting of sport-specific camps and daylong/weeklong camps.