Summertime in Austin gets H-O-T. Usually around mid-July, I struggle to come up with things to do with my kids that don’t involve water or dark movie theaters. Determined to enter this summer with a plan that both shakes up our lackluster routine and sneaks in some learning, I uncovered these fun and educational activities to try.
Go back in time at Pioneer Farms, a nearly 100-acre working farm featuring three fully restored 1800s farmsteads and three historic sites. Self-guided walking tours will have children learning about history, science and nature without even realizing.
Take advantage of the Bullock Texas State History Museum’s H-E-B Free First Sundays and explore the museum and special family programs offered most first Sundays of the month from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. Special programs the museum will offer from June 12 – Aug. 9 include Make It Tuesdays and Sense-sational Thursdays, drop-in family programs held from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. The programs are free with membership or exhibit admission and are suitable for all ages.
Visit the LBJ Presidential Library on the UT Austin campus to learn about the life and times of former President Lyndon B. Johnson. Exhibits are visually interesting and will keep even younger ones engaged. After exploring the library, you can have some good old-fashioned fun with a human log roll down the nearby grass hills.
Learn from Mother Nature at the Lady Bird Wildflower Center’s Nature Nights, held Thursdays from 6 to 9 p.m. in June. Nature Nights are free events that explore native plants, animals and the ecology of Central Texas with interactive presentations, expert-led hikes and nature crafting for the whole family.
The Austin Nature & Science Center offers free indoor and outdoor exhibits and is open daily during the summer. Don’t miss the live animals and birds of prey, as well as digging for bones in the dino pit!
Pair a trip to Zilker Park with a stop at Splash!, an educational exhibit located near the Barton Springs pool bathhouse. Kids can learn about the history of Barton Springs and the Edwards Aquifer through a number of interactive stations.
Take the kids spelunking and visit one of the nearby caves, where you can learn about stalactites, stalagmites and the fascinating geological history of our area. Innerspace Caverns in Georgetown, Longhorn Caverns in Burnet, and Natural Bridge Caverns in San Antonio all offer spectacular learning opportunities.
Take the Honey House Tour at Round Rock Honey. Held on Saturdays, the one-hour factory tour gives an overview of hives and harvesting methods. Kids will get a behind-the-scenes look at the tanking process, taste some honey and take photos wearing beekeeper gear.
Another tour high on my list is the Austin Energy Power Plant Facility Tour. This employee-led tour will teach how electricity is produced and transmitted via high voltage power lines. Tours must consist of at least five people, and all must be in grade 4 or higher. Arrange tours at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit a fire department to learn about fire safety and how our community’s brave first responders handle emergencies. The Austin Fire Department will accommodate visits for small groups. To arrange a tour, contact the Public Education Office at 512-974-0290.
All Austin-area libraries offer reading programs, and most host additional educational activities during the summer, such as Tween StemLab, chess lessons and Chinese language story time.
BookPeople is a great place to cool off during the summer and to prevent that summertime reading slide. Arrive early to get a spot at the 10:30 story times on Tuesdays and Saturdays. The book retailer also offers the 5 Book Dive Summer Reading Challenge for readers in grades K-12.
Head a short way out of town to Cedar Creek’s Dinosaur Park, where life-size replicas show skin and color variations, helping kids better understand what these reptiles looked like when they roamed the earth. Signs posted along the dinosaur trail provide even more information about each animal.
The Thinkery is an obvious summertime destination. After all, the name screams using your brain! Still, kids won’t know that they’re learning about things like fluid dynamics in the Currents room; the impact of color, light and shadows in the Light Lab; or simple machines in the Innovator’s Workshop – they’ll be too busy having fun.
The internet can also be a handy resource for summertime educational fun. A quick Google search of “fun science experiments for kids” turns up a plethora of suggestions. I’m putting those in my back pocket for the days when we just feel like staying in.
Hopefully, with these new adventures ahead of us, we’ll avoid defaulting to screen time and have some fun learning a thing or two. Bring it on, summer!
Alison Bogle is an Austin-based freelance writer and mom of three.
Photo courtesy of The Bullock Museum.