The Ploys of Summer


School’s out, and . . . What’s that? Oh, sorry. Guess it’s hard to concentrate with all that joyful shrieking coming from your kid’s room.

Even though your little scholars may not crack a textbook all summer, the quest for knowledge shouldn’t end.

Teachers say kids who stay mentally spry over summer break start their school year at a psychological and academic advantage over their vegged-out peers. And parents know that an intellectually stimulated child is less likely to suffer late-summer burnout (“I am, like, sooooooo bored!”).

Good and true. But savvy parents also know that to suggest an “educational outing” to a kid recently sprung from school is to incite a torrent of tortured sighs and rolled eyeballs. Which is why a parent or guardian needs to use creative thinking (and a little spin doctoring) to slip learning into a child’s summertime fun.


To help out, we’ve assembled a sampling of local venues, events and a few Web sites that can encourage academic exploration.

(Note: Most items listed here are $5 or less. Those that exceed that amount are indicated with a $.)

Literature and Creative Writing

* As a kid, I remember the joy of plunking into a comfy, avocado vinyl chair (am I dating myself here?) at my local library and burrowing through a stack of books. It was a real charge to see my name on the list of that week’s Reading Champs.


Summer readers get more than satisfaction now. They get loot. At the Orange County Public Library system’s 27 branches, for example, the Summer Reading Program offers goodies up to and including theme park passes to encourage reading in kindergartners through sixth-graders.

Some branches also have a preschooler/parent “read-to-me” series, or a special program for teens that lets them assist younger readers. In addition to their usual children’s story times, a number of OCPL branches offer free shows by professional puppeteers, storytellers and magicians.

* Book retailers get in on the game too. Barnes & Noble and Bookstar stores are hosting a nationwide Summer Reading Safari. Grade-school children who read and write a brief summary of nine books earn a free paperback from a store-selected series.

The stores also host reading clubs and story hours, including a new series at the Huntington Beach store for hearing-impaired children. At Borders Books and Music in Mission Viejo, professionals from the South Coast Storytellers Guild perform classic folk and fairy tales, as well as international stories.


* Younger children may enjoy interactive poetry by the inventive Adventures in Poetry group, performing in July at Pearson Park in Anaheim.

* Internet cruisers can get tips on writing and writing contests, read stories and even post book reviews and poetry through several sites, including Cyberkids and Cyberteens online magazines (

Science and Math

* While you’re waiting for the Discovery Science Center to open in the fall in Santa Ana, you can check out Launch Pad, its satellite facility in Crystal Court in Costa Mesa. Recommended for ages 5 to 12, the facility has interactive exhibits and a changing calendar of kid-friendly science demos, plus a keen gift shop loaded with games, kits and books to encourage at-home exploration. One adult gets in free with kid’s admission of $5.


* Kids as young as 2 can learn about the great outdoors in programs at the Oak Canyon Nature Center in Anaheim Hills. In South County, you can explore family and youth programs at Rancho Mission Viejo Land Conservancy.

* Kids can discover life under the Pacific Ocean at the new Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific opening this weekend. The venue, which will showcase more than 500 species, will also offer workshops and classes. $

* Closer to South County homes is the Orange County Marine Institute on Dana Point Harbor. The educational facility caters to school groups but is open to the public, offering cruises on its research vessel ($), marine-lab open houses and tours of the brig Pilgrim.

* A number of Web sites are designed to make math fun and challenging through games and brain-teasers, including Mega Mathematics (


Social Studies

* Historic Mission San Juan Capistrano is a pretty place to catch up on early California history. Docents--many in period costume--are happy to answer questions and offer guided tours. On the last Saturday of the month, kids can relive California’s Gold Rush days by panning for pyrite (a.k.a. fool’s gold) as part of the mission’s Living History program.

* One admission ticket ($2-$6) buys entry to the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art and the interactive Bowers Kidseum in Santa Ana. Both venues are hosting some low-cost educational programs, including the Latino Music Festival concerts in the Bowers Courtyard ($) and free drop-in art workshops and international stories at Kidseum.

* Care for a game of presidential rummy? Cruise the gift shop at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library & Birthplace in Yorba Linda, and you’ll find card games, board games, books and paper-doll sets that teach about the workings of government and the history of American government.


You can stop there, or buy an admission ticket and cruise the exhibits, then tour the tiny, wood-frame house where Nixon lived as a boy. The Nixon Library hosts a Revolutionary War Living History Encampment on July 4 and 5 that features mock battles, storytelling, demonstrations and music. $

* Kids can also learn more about U.S. government (and maybe dash off some e-mail to the prez) by taking a virtual tour of the White House. Visit and jump to a White House for Kids newsletter too.

* Children’s games teach about the traditions and practices of many cultures in the upcoming “Games People Play” exhibit at the Children’s Museum at La Habra. The interactive show opens June 29 and runs through Sept. 6.

* The Just for Kids series at Pearson Park Amphitheatre hosts a tuneful lesson in American history with “Music Born in America,” a children’s concert July 3.


* The Children’s Page at WombatNet ( can send you reeling into hundreds of different study areas, on topics from the United Nations to NASA.