Do-It-Yourself Enrichment Programs

by Lucynda Koesters

It's summer break and your kids have exhausted all of their planned activities: swim lessons, soccer camp and the library's reading program. There are several more weeks of break, no money left for camps, and you're wondering what to do with the little darlings the rest of summer.

There is hope for families with too much time and not enough money. Breaks from school are a great time to set up a home-based, low-cost enrichment program for your school-age kids. The activities can be structured and implemented any time your children have two or more weeks available. A successful program will begin with your child's interests, followed by a period of research and study, and culminate with a hands-on project selected and carried out by your child.

Step One: Determine your children's interest areas

Ask them what subjects they are interested in. If they could pick anything in the world to learn about, what would it be? Does your seven-year-old like to help in the kitchen? Is your sixth-grader fascinated with ancient Egypt? Ask your children to pick one topic they'd really like to explore. Have them pick a subject in which they have a strong interest and have not studied in school. With a topic selected, you are ready to begin planning an enrichment curriculum.

Step Two: Obtain Study Materials

The starting point is your local library. By placing a few parameters on your child's library usage, you can help them begin to meet their learning goals. Let them begin by selecting books, videos and computer software in their chosen topic. Have them look for videos on their topic. There may even be encyclopedia-like software in their chosen field available to take home.

Step Three: Set Aside Research and Study Time at Home

The next step is to set a schedule of study periods for the next week or so. An hour a day, at the same time each day, offers most school-age children a manageable time for quiet study. Younger children may not sit for an hour - a parent may need to be involved in reading to a younger child and exploring pictures and other materials for a shorter period of time each day. Let your children decide how much time to invest each day and what time of day to set aside for study. This way, the child has a vested interest in carrying out the schedule.

Step Four: Plan a Hands-On Project

To culminate the children's study, let them create or perform a hands-on project in their field. Some examples include creating a poster explaining what they've learned, going on a field trip (visit a farm, local historic site, museum, etc.), doing an oral report to the family, performing a show (create and sell tickets and concessions), choreographing a dance, creating a computer program or a piece of art, building a doll house (use architectural concepts), etc

Idea Starters

Here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Kids' cooking - If your child is interested in cooking, let them select a "theme" such as historic cooking (cooking on the Oregon Trail), "fun food" snacks and meals, exotic fruits, desserts, etc. There are hundreds of children's cookbooks available; most have large, colorful photos so the children can see how their selected recipes will turn out. Let them research cooking methods, origins of ingredients, costs, etc. Their hands-on project may entail planning a shopping trip for ingredients, cooking a recipe or two at home with a parent's assistance, and holding a tasting party for family and friends.
  • Perform juggling, yo-yoing, or magic acts - The library has many books on these subjects. You can find videos in these areas also. Many resources explain how to perform tricks, what materials are needed, and in the case of magic, how to build the necessary props yourself. Assist the children in learning stunts that will amaze their friends and family. When they've mastered a set of skills, have them plan a show for their hands-on project. Let them send out hand-made invitations to family members and create their own props and decorations for a half-hour show. Offer or sell popcorn and candy to audience members.
  • Study history - Pick an American history period such as The Civil War, or an ancient period such as Ancient Egypt. Let your child pick a period in which he's interested and has not studied in school, or an area that perhaps wasn't covered in depth in school. Select a book that gives an overview of the period and is written on your child's grade level. Break down the study portion into parts, according to the book's chapters (have your child read one or two chapters a day and complete the introductory study within a week or two). Have him take notes and present his most interesting or fascinating facts to the family. Hands-on projects could entail visiting historic battlefields, museums or other sites, performing a dramatic reenactment, or creating a colorful time-line poster. The sky's the limit here. Let your child select a project he'd have fun working on.

Other ideas:

  • Learn sign-language
  • Study puppeteering
  • Enhance creative writing skills
  • Study life in foreign countries

The sky's the limit - enrich your children's lives with minimal costs and build skills to last a lifetime

Lucynda Koesters is the author of Finding Your Way Home, How to Become a Successful Stay-at-Home Parent

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