Avoid the Summer Slump: Spend the Night With Wild Animals and 4 Other Cool Ways to Keep Kids Learning While School's Out

Engaging Activities to Stimulate Young Minds While School Is Out
This Junior Ranger scored her badge!

Kids thrive on cool. And let's face it, "cool" and "learning" don't often go together. During the summer lull, this is even tougher to come by. And while fun on occasion, there are only so many times you can go to the library, a book store, or a museum. And if you have a tween like I do, you know that trying to pull your youngster from a favorite electronic or video game console is like trying to pull a cat off its scratching post. So, "cool"  definitely has to accompany any instructional activity, particularly when school's out.

With this in mind, here are five top programs in the Greater Philly area that'll keep your youngsters entertained and intellectually stimulated.

1. Philadelphia Zoo Sleepovers
Tired of traditional sleepovers? How about spending a night where the wild things are? In addition to an overnight experience, participants of the Philadelphia Zoo's sleepover program receive admission to the zoo as well as select animal buildings. Additional activities include an animal presentation and an evening hike. Kids also get keepsakes to take home, including a souvenir patch and water bottle. Gates open for the sleepover at 5:30 p.m, and the zoo opens the following morning at 9:30 a.m. Three options are available, including two private overnight experiences for a minimum group of 35-45 participants, ranging from $70-$76 per guest. If you don't mind camping out with other groups, consider a general overnight sleepover. They are limited to 100 participants, and tickets run $60 per person. Meals are available for purchase onsite, though all guests receive a complimentary snack. Free parking is included.

2. Free Tech Workshops for Girls
Girls at the middle school level can get hands-on experience in STEM fields by attending one of the workshops conducted by nonprofit organization TechGirlz. Programs run select days throughout the summer in and around Philadelphia and last between 2.5-4 hours. Classes are offered in 3D jewelry design, website development, engineering, or coding, and registration is available online. Materials are provided, and many programs also include a snack. 

3. Observatory at Night
Kids and parents alike will enjoy this nighttime stargazing event, held once a month throughout the summer at the Franklin Institute, Plus, visitors can take part in other onsite activities, watch a planetarium show, or learn about astronomy through live presentations. Dates for Night Skies in the Observatory include July 10, August 14, and September 11, and the cost is $10 per ticket.

4. National Park Service Junior Ranger Program
Greater Philadelphia is home to several National Park Service sites that offer year-round fun and instructional programs designed for kids from roughly 6 through 12 years of age. Just visit the information desk and ask a park ranger for an activity booklet. Then have your children complete tasks, such as finding clues, answering questions about the site, and completing puzzles, and they can earn a badge or certificate for their achievement. Some area sites that take part in the Junior Ranger Program include Valley Forge Park, the Edgar Allan Poe House, and Independence National Historic Park.

5. Old City Storytelling Benches
With 13 locations throughout historic Philadelphia, Old City Storytelling benches are a great way to explore the city and get a history lesson or two at the same time. Some popular locations include Independence Visitor Center, Betsy Ross House, Elfreth's Alley, Signers' Garden, and Franklin Square (be sure to grab a SquareBurger when you get to this spot!). Kids can collect a star at each bench, and once they have all 13, they can receive a voucher for a free carousel ride at Franklin Square. Story times are hosted from June 12 - August 11, Tuesday through Saturday, from 11-4 p.m. From August 17-31, days of operation are limited to Friday and Saturday.


Photos courtesy of the author.

Philadelphia Zoo
3400 W Girard Ave
19104 Philadelphia , PA
Phone: 215-243-5275
39° 58' 25.518" N, 75° 11' 43.7244" W
Franklin Institute
222 North 20 St
19103 Philadelphia , PA
Phone: 215-448-1200
39° 57' 29.3004" N, 75° 10' 21.4536" W