Educational Summer Activities
Oct 24, 2012 Other 2010 Views
Just about any teacher or tutor will tell you that children who have sophisticated vocabularies for their age and who have background information about the world are at an advantage when compared to students with more limited vocabularies and background knowledge. This shows up in the classroom, especially in English and history, and it shows up on standardized tests. No amount of test prep for the SHSAT, ISEE, English Language Regents, or SAT can level the playing field for a student who hasn't been exposed to a wide variety of experiences, ideas, and words throughout life. Summertime presents many fabulous opportunities for fun, informal learning. Especially in a city like New York, the opportunities are nearly endless (and don't have to be expensive).
Reading books is often touted as the best way to learn new vocabulary- and it probably is. But, it certainly isn't the only way. Any activity that exposes a person to a rich selection of words in context is sure to be beneficial. In New York City, we're fortunate to have a surfeit of great theater available to us, but it can be very expensive, especially if you're taking a whole family. That's one reason that the outdoor, free theater we get in the summer is so exciting.
A large percentage of free summertime theater consists of Shakespearian productions, which can be intimidating. In general, seeking out comedies and tragedies (as opposed to histories) and reading a plot synopsis before you go are ways to make the shows more accessible.
Walking tours aren't just for tourists. If you look, you can find a tour catering to just about any interest. The beauty of walking tours is that you can learn about history, culture, art, and architecture while standing in the places where great events happened.
In New York City, tour guides must be licensed, but the test isn't very hard and some guides are far more knowledgeable and interesting than others. To improve your chances of getting a guide who tells stories that are true as well as entertaining, look for companies or individuals that are established and tout the educational qualifications of the guides.
Art museums aren't seasonal, but they do make great outings on a blisteringly hot summer days. Going to a museum and just looking at art is great, but it's also good to remember than many museums provide tours (often, these are included in the price of admission). Or, if you prefer, you can download an unofficial podcast tour for almost any exhibit. By reading signs and going on tours, you can learn a surprising amount about history as well as enjoying great art.
History and Science Museums
These are obviously educational and have the potential to be great fun. However, it helps to know your audience when choosing where to go. As of July 2012, Wikipedia listed 65 museums within the 5 boroughs of New York City that specialize in either science or history; virtually anyone can find something of interest. As with art museums, keep an eye out for docent-led tours or podcast tours to add context to your visits.
Sadly, the golden age of hobbies is over, but that doesn't mean you can't build a crystal radio, launch model rockets, or watch birds with your children. Developing real interest and expertise in a topic is one of the best possible ways to promote learning. Becoming an expert in a hobby is an especially good way for children to learn how to learn independently, which is a valuable life skill.
It would be a crime to value fun, summertime activities purely for their ability to help students get good grades and solid test scores. But, it's undeniable that as a tutor I see a strong correlation between students who lead culturally enriched lives and students who do well on the SHSAT, ISEE, and SSAT. The correlation is even stronger for the most difficult tests designed to identify gifted students such as the Hunter College High School admissions test and the SCAT. There isn't any downside to enjoying fun, enriching, educational activities as a family; increased academic success just happens to be a great extra benefit.