School is starting to creep closer for a lot of us. Maybe summer is starting to feel a bit tired as well. You might be searching for an idea to add some fresh life into your time off while simultaneously kicking your children’s brains back into the learning gear. So have I.

In general, my kids surprise me with their interest in museums and historical sites when we go somewhere new.  Touring these virtually seems like the perfect solution. But even they aren’t all that intrigued by the amazing virtual tours being offered right now.  I think the virtual version lacks context that helps build interest in a place. So, how can we build these great tools into our lives and get kids interested in participating? You can add context around the learning by giving your days or weeks or months (if you have them) an entertaining theme. Not just any old theme but something that captures their interest and gets them thinking.

Younger kids will love something simple like a favorite animal theme. If you choose an elephant you can:

  • Read a book that features an elephant as a character and one that’s non-fiction
  • Watch a live cam of an elephant
  • Learn about Africa and Asia or the individual countries that are home to elephants
  • Find famous art with those animals in it
  • Try walking like an elephant every time someone can work the word into a sentence
  • Draw elephants to display on your wall
  • Create a comic showing the elephant going about its day with its friends

Let’s say your kids are currently focused on the man-made side of things. My son obsessed over all types of things! You can:

  • Build a model engine
  • Take a virtual tour of a transportation museum
  • Launch a rocket
  • Read books like “Good Night Construction Site” followed by a non fiction book showing all of the different construction vehicles
  • Use tin foil to see what designs makes a boat go faster or further in water
  • Try to run as fast as a golf cart, race car, and bulldozer

Middle-schoolers still retain a bit of that loyalty to the things they love, so are likely to respond to themes that include them or something that piques their curiosity. Pick a broad, more expansive topic, that won’t remind them of school, like aliens. You could:

  • Research what we need for life or where others could live. Then debate whether or not there could be life on other planets
  • Click onto one of NASA’s live cams that cover the International Space Station or Mars Rover
  • Read accounts of other people who think they encountered aliens. (The Battle of LA is an awesome topic that explores the history of World War 2, the little known fact that we were bombed after Pearl Harbor, and the possibility of aliens.)
  • Design your own alien or spacecraft according to what they’d need. Build and test a prototype if you can!

For teens, any theme would need to be deeply complex and intriguing. They’re probably not going to follow along just because you ask. I love the idea of exploring the super intense and dramatic friendship of famous artists Van Gogh and Gauguin. You can:

  • Read first hand accounts of the friendship from Gauguin’s journals that feel like a soap opera script
  • Find both of their art in museums including the portraits they did of each other
  • Create your own self-portrait or one of a friend
  • Try your hand at painting
  • Cook and eat French food
  • Learn about and discuss the tragic effects of mental illness

These ideas are just spring board for you to find what your child will most enjoy. Make sure you get into the theme as well, not only to make the experience more complete and genuine for your kids, but to add a little sparkle to your days, too!