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Take a STEM-Themed Summer Field Trip

Photo Credit: Face to Face by Christos Tsoumplekas. Licensed under CC By-NC 2.0, via Flickr.

Are you looking to shake off the summer doldrums? Do you want to keep your kid excited about science, technology, engineering, and math during school break? Escape your normal routine by planning a STEM-centric day trip or weekend excursion.

Do you want to introduce your kid to animals both gigantic and microscopic? Consider a trip to one of the 2,400 animal exhibitions around the country. Of particular note are the 232 zoos or aquariums across the U.S. accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. This accreditation means that the animals at these institutions receive excellent care, at a standard higher than required by law, and that the institutions themselves are engaged in species conservation activities. 

If your child is more interested in plants than animals, head to a botanical garden or arboretum to learn about native and exotic species of flora.

If you want to combine an exploration of both plants and animals, nature centers offer the best of both worlds. Many state and national parks and seashores have nature centers where they hold educational programs, run junior ranger programs, and host exhibitions on local organisms and natural history. They may hold BioBlitzes or engage in other citizen science efforts in venues as diverse as swamps, caves, islands, and mountains. Another option may be to visit a working farm near your community that is open to the public. This can allow your child to consider the role of agriculture in today's world.

Would you rather spend some time in air conditioning? Take a trip to a science center or museum or to a planetarium. Science centers and museums often place a high value on hands-on activities, letting kids experience phenomena for themselves, rather than just observing it passively as they might at other types of museums. Natural history museums may place more emphasis on traditional exhibitions, but still offer exciting displays, including dinosaur fossils, butterfly exhibitions, and IMAX documentaries. If your child is resistent to science education, consider visiting children's museums and discovery centers for a more wholistic hands-on experience that still emphasizes innovation and scientific enterprise. Planetariums are theaters centered around astronomy and space science, often providing exciting video simulations projected overhead on a dome. Some planetariums and observatories may hold viewing nights when the public can come use the telescopes to get a closer look at the night sky. Finally, maker spaces can be a fun way to engage budding engineers, entrepreneurs, and innovators. These spaces can be found at venues as diverse as libraries, shopping malls, and museums.

If you're looking to save money, it may be worth a call or visit to your public library. Often, they've purchased passes to nearby museums, zoos, and science centers that can be borrowed, just like other materials, to allow community members to visit these venues for free.

If a trip isn't in the cards, you can plan STEM-related fun without leaving home: Find a park or yard and do a Bioblitz. Or set up a quest through Active Explorer for your child to complete in the neighborhood. It's free to download and can be customized for kids to complete on mobile devices. If you have access to a roof or park, you can stargaze or chart the phases of the moon.

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