- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 10, 2005

Summertime presents interesting quandaries for many families, and home-schoolers are no exception. While other families may wrestle with questions of child care, camps and synchronizing vacation times, home-schoolers often are deciding whether to continue schooling through the summer, taking on special projects, or to do some traveling.

Unlike families with two incomes and no time, home-school families are often cash-poor but time-rich. We may not be able to afford the steep payments for special camps or elegant hotels, but by using a bit of intelligence and imagination, we can enjoy wonderful adventures nonetheless.

Here are a few ideas for summer activities that will increase learning but won’t break the bank:

• Volunteer as a family. Many organizations need help, and volunteering is a great way to trade your time and skills for the chance to experience new things. Community gardens, parks programs, tutoring projects, swimming safety programs, arts and crafts classes, and even wildlife preservation efforts are always looking for volunteers. You may want to have a miniresume ready to send to organizations for each person volunteering, explaining what skills each can bring to the project.

• Switch children. Friends in distant locations can do an informal home stay, sending children to others’ homes for a period with the agreement to take the other families’ children at some time as well. This allows children to find out about other areas or countries, learn about how others live and create deep friendships.

Make sure the children are ready, however, and that both families have the same expectations. I would not appreciate hosting a child who wants to be pampered and entertained, and I would expect my child to help out as a full-fledged family member at any home visited. Also, don’t ever send an unwilling child just to get him or her out of your hair. A good rule of thumb is that the child should help earn the money to take the trip. A child who isn’t willing to work for it probably won’t do well.

• Scavenge for freebies. All summer long, dozens of activities go on that don’t cost a thing. Bird-watching groups, musical performances, lectures, book clubs, poetry jams, theatrical shows and many other events take place. Check your local paper, cable channel public-service listings, and church bulletin for announcements. Transfer interesting ones to your calendar. You’ll be surprised how varied and exciting a schedule is available to you once you look.

• Make money. Summer is a good time for income-producing activities, especially if you tailor your services to others’ needs. People need pet-sitting, mail collection, lawn maintenance and other tasks performed when they are on vacation. Teens can baby-sit and tutor. Neighbors may pay for window washing, car washing, walkway sweeping or gutter clearing.

Help your children learn to see the jobs that need to be done and learn that providing those services can earn cash. Just keep an eye on the safety and financial arrangements — you may want to be present when the children are paid and make strong rules about never entering anyone’s home without you or another trusted adult present, working in pairs or groups, calling home frequently to report in, etc.

• Be a tourist in your own town. Have you seen the museums, historical sites or natural wonders of the place where you live? Most of us haven’t. I know I visit those places only when visitors come to town. Take a picnic and spend the day in a place you normally just rush past. Go at off hours to avoid the crowds. Take an evening drive as a family and stop somewhere you have only seen from a distance. Allow yourselves to experience the riches all around you.

My recipe for a great summer is to have goals, create activities and do things in unusual ways — and to do most of it as a family. Turn off the video games, unplug the television, take off the headphones and walk outside the door. You’ll be surprised by how much you can experience when you get out of the box.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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