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By the time summer rolls around, we’re all beyond ready for relaxed schedules, later bedtimes and more time for family fun and exploration. But how do you ensure the lazy days of summer don’t lead to learning loss for your kids? The key is to keep them engaged with activities that go beyond making sandcastles and playing Marco Polo (though that’s important, too!). The trick is to see summer as a chance to really dig into subjects that’ll carry over to the next school year.

“Summertime is a perfect time for kids to take a moment to reflect on topics that interest them, and dive deeper into learning more about a particular area or subject,” says Liza Hards, director of auxiliary programs at The Elisabeth Morrow School in Englewood, which offers its own Summer Explorations program. “For example, their science class may have only spent a week or two on environmental studies, but they want to know more. Summertime schedules and better weather provide opportunities for field trips and outdoor activities [that] deepen appreciation and understanding.”

Read on for some fantastic ways to combine summer learning and fun that you’ll enjoy as much as your kids.

EXPLORE NATURE

From building your own mason jar terrarium to playing in a local stream, there are plenty of chances to get outside. The Watershed Butterfly Festival (thewatershed.org) in Pennington on August 3 combines beauty, fun and environmental learning.

TRY SOME CODING

We all want to limit screen time in the summer, but places like Code Ninjas (codeninjas.com) will teach your kids actual skills like video game building, coding, problem solving and math. At iD Tech (idtech.com), which hosts courses at nine NJ universities and colleges, kids can learn to code their own games, robots, laptops and apps, plus learn engineering, visual programming and more.

GET SCIENTIFIC

Places like STEAM Works Studio (steamworksstudio.com), located in 12 NJ towns, offer camps that encourage exploration of science, math and art. The Liberty Science Center (lsc.org) offers countless opportunities to try hands-on exhibits plus it has an awe-inspiring LSC Giant Dome Theater where you can catch a science-themed flick.

BECOME PHOTOGRAPHERS

Kids can have fun anywhere if you designate them as the photographer. By using a phone or an actual camera, your child will get a new perspective on his or her surroundings. Bonus: Prints make for great summer souvenirs.

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CRACK OPEN A BOOK

Summer is the perfect time to read with the kids while also encouraging them to pop open a book on their own. Most libraries offer summer reading programs that’ll motivate your kids to make reading a daily activity. “The main objective of our summer reading program is to encourage children and teens to spend time reading every day over the summer and to develop a love of books and a lifelong habit of reading,” says Mimi Bowlin, youth services librarian at the Princeton Library. “Participants receive prizes as an incentive to keep reading, and our staff is prepared to offer suggestions on what to read next.” The theme for Princeton’s 2019 summer reading program is “A Universe of Stories,” chock-full of enrichment activities related to astronomy and space. Check your local library to see what they have planned.

TRAVEL NEAR AND FAR

Whether you’re planning a trip to a far-flung destination or just taking an overnight trip to a nearby campground, kids benefit from being in new, unfamiliar environments. Give your child the chance to help plan a vacation. Have fun searching online for quirky summer road trip destinations and check the map together for an impromptu geography lesson.

INSTITUTE FAMILY GAME NIGHT

Gather around the table once a week for a family game that’ll spark healthy competition. They’ll have so much fun they won’t even notice they’re learning. My First Bananagrams is a great one to start with.

DO SOME GARDENING

Give your child gardening gloves and a watering can and get dirty together. There are so many great veggies and herbs you can grow in the summer, and your kids will be more likely to eat them when they participate in the process. A visit to Rutgers Gardens (rutgersgardens.rutgers.edu) allows kids to learn about different plants—and it’s free!

HAVE FUN WITH FOOD

From picking fresh berries and asparagus at a local farm to grilling in the yard, summer is a great time to explore new flavors and teach kids where their food comes from. The Farm Cooking School (thefarmcookingschool.com) in Titusville offers a summer camp for kids who love to cook and are interested in nature, farming and the great outdoors. At HealthBarn USA (healthbarnusa.com) in Ridgewood, kids can learn to grow and cook their own food.

LISTEN TO THE MUSIC

Free music events are abundant in the summer. From the beach to the park, kids can catch classical, jazz and rock n’ roll jams. Music appreciation increases focus and attention, so come September, your little one will be ready for school. Summer is a time for trying new things, making new friends and delving deeper into interesting topics. With a little effort, you’ll find there are always opportunities for learning when you explore the world with your child.

—Ronnie Koenig is a freelance writer and mother of two living in Princeton. Follow her on Instagram @ronniekoenig.