Themed Experiences Make Learning Fun

Theme Artmuseum3

Summer is here! Take a break from the rush of school lunches, last-minute homework corrections and wardrobe battles. Instead, enjoy leisurely mornings while engaging your kids with themed, educational enrichment and soak up every moment of precious family bonding. The smiles will never leave your sun-kissed faces!

With just a little planning, it’s possible to plan a fun, educational summer the whole family will enjoy without breaking the bank. Take inspiration from professionals at preschools and camps to plan your summer — not week by week, but theme by theme.

“Themes provide a way to help children and adults be organized,” says Hayes Barton Methodist Weekday Preschool Director Amy Mattheis. “Whether a CEO or a mom of a household, you need to be organized, or things can get away from you.”

Pick Themes

Each week this summer, pick a theme to explore. Art, service, science — it can be anything. Choose topics that excite your kids and interest you. Mattheis encourages letting kids choose. “We forget how much of their day is dictated to them,” she says. “Giving them control helps them feel ownership and they will be more likely to be active participants.”

No matter what topics you or your kids choose, your local library can help. Louise Bishop, youth services manager at the Southeast Regional Library in Garner, says families can explore books with themes ranging from art to zoology.

“Our nonfiction children’s collection is very broad and should provide information for most of your family’s needs,” she says. “The library is a place to explore, to learn and to grow. It’s a parenting resource that should be used and enjoyed frequently.”

Here are some ideas to kick-start your theme creativity.

Art Week

Take a break from crafts and visit local art museums. Think your kids will be bored by (or might accidentally destroy) the art museum? Jan Kimosh, a local artist and retired art teacher says, “I think parents are more afraid of the art museum than kids are.” She encourages parents to check museum websites for family-friendly programs and ideas.

Kimosh encourages parents to keep it simple. Pick a favorite painting to sketch or snap silly photos of the kids recreating sculptures with their body.

“Give kids a bucket of water and a paint brush and they’ll ‘paint’ the driveway,” she says. “Make a chalk outline of their shadow and let them create funny faces. Summertime is a time for kids to open their eyes to see the world around them and notice colors, textures and shapes. Discovering the world around them will broaden their world view and help them discover themselves.”

Physics Week

Think physics is a little too advanced and, well, academic for summer? Forget the formulas and remember that physics is the science of how the world around us works. Interactive exhibits at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh often hold camps specifically geared towards physics. This is a great week for making airplanes and conducting “What will float?” experiments at the pool. also offers lots of fun ideas and examples.

Service Week

Service week provides a great way to live the values parents want their children to learn. Create a fundraiser, like a lemonade stand for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; make rainbow loom bracelets for hospitals; or give some of the art you made during art week to a nursing home.

Kara Mulligan, youth and outreach director for the Alexander Family YMCA in Raleigh, says the staff there often incorporates themes to “keep things new and exciting.” No matter the theme, the YMCA staff always try to incorporate good values. During a holiday week, they had campers gather items to donate and discussed charity.

“Kids might think it’s hard to give when the need around them isn’t obvious, but we can learn to be friends and be different, and also serve and give back,” Mulligan says, adding that kids often used their own allowance to buy items to donate.

Geography Week

North Carolina is the perfect state for teaching kids about geography. From the mountains to the sea and the sandhills to the piedmont, our state has it all.

Raleigh mom Audrey Gastmeyer travels with her two sons often during the summer. “We talk about the differences in the weather, the differences in the plants that we see and the difference in the land itself where the mountains come in,” she says.

It’s tempting on road trips to let the kids plug into electronics and tune out, but discussing the surrounding geography helps them notice the world around them.

“We are lucky,” Gastmeyer says. “We can actually see those changes in a pretty small amount of time and a pretty short distance.”

Dinosaur Week

The Museum of Life and Science in Durham, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh and Greensboro Science Center all offer in-depth dinosaur exhibits and provide enough entertainment for full day trips.

Take the kids to a park and ask them where a Tyrannosaurus rex would  hide? Which tree would a Brontosaurus love to eat? Don’t forget about library books. Ask thought-provoking questions during the day. While you are packing the pool bag, ask your kids if they can find any dinosaurs that can swim. In the car, ask which dinosaur would be able to beat you in a race. At the dinner table, ask how a dinosaur might eat. (Warning: That last question might get out of hand quickly.)

Amphibian Week

This year, 2015, is “Year of the Amphibian” in North Carolina’s state parks. Why amphibians?

“North Carolina is a significant hot spot for amphibian diversity,” says N.C. Parks and Recreation Education Specialist Sharon Becker. “In fact, our mountains are part of a region with the highest salamander diversity in the world!”

Schedules, ideas and educational resources for amphibians can be found at and include a “Dance in the Rain” page featuring activities and enrichment ideas for families.

“We will provide countless opportunities across our state for families to explore, learn, maybe get a little messy and ultimately have a fun adventure all in the name of amphibians,” Becker says.

Thanks to the libraries, parks, museums and the natural beauty North Carolina has to offer, your summer theme possibilities are limitless. Grab a journal or notebook for each child and start “theming!” You’ll be amazed at what they observe, and the journal serves as a ready-made keepsake of the great summer memories you all will create together.

Mandy Howard is a freelance writer and mother of three in Raleigh. She vetoed her 3-year-old son’s suggestion to have a potty-themed week.

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