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How to keep kids educationally engaged over the break

Published December 27, 2012 12:58 pm

Academic success • Kids who create informal learning environments do better in school.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The presents are unwrapped, the stockings unstuffed, and most kids still have nearly a week before they go back to school.

Keeping kids entertained is necessary, but it's also important to keep them educationally engaged while away from school.

"What I see is as a really important educational use of break time is spending time learning together as families," said Lisa Thompson, manager of public programs for the Museum of Natural History of Utah. "Some of the most powerful learning happens when kids and parents are learning together, exploring things together. Kids' curiosity and passion are sparked, and they develop interests that are sparked and that they can pursue in a formal academic environment in school."

The natural history museum is offering programming every day from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5 from 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. that focuses on exploring the natural world through sound. It culminates on Saturday Jan. 5, when singers from Utah Opera will perform songs from their upcoming performance Florencia en al Amazonas at 1 and 3 p.m., and scientists from the National Center for Voice and Speech, who will have hands-on ways to share their newest research findings.

All of the activities are included in daily admission prices, which are $11 for adults, $9 for youth ages 13 to 24, $8 for kids 3 to 12 and free for those under 3.

On the other side of town, the Clark Planetarium has a host of free activities to do, ranging from arranging a solar system to see planetary effects on gravity to walking on a moonscape and the surface of Mars. The planetarium has a quiz online that parents can download before coming to the planetarium, and everyone in the family can scavenger hunt for the answers throughout the exhibits.

"You can come here and kill a few hours with your family," said Seth Jarvis, director of the planetarium. "Come down and try to make sense of the Foucault Pendulum. I never can."

Several educational movies that range in topic from orangutans to the Hubble space telescope to black holes also play in the IMAX and Hansen Dome theaters, with admission prices of $7 for everyone before 5 p.m., and $9 for those over age 12 after 5 p.m.

Jarvis also emphasized the importance of learning outside the classroom.

"Informal science education is hugely important to how well students can retain and synthesize their formal science education," he said. "Students who do that with their families outperform their peers who don't."

Family engagement is something librarians at the Salt Lake City Public Library also emphasize.

Liesl Johnson, early literacy and children's program manager, says there are a couple of simple concepts to encourage a home learning environment. First, she emphasized the importance of engaging kids in conversation and explaining the world around them. She also said for young readers, it's important to point out letters on cereal boxes or ask them if they recognize words on billboards.

"Playing with your kids is one of the most simple things to do to encourage a learning environment," she said. "Play really helps develop storytelling skills, and it helps with imagination and creativity."

For older kids, the main branch of the library is featuring a free Worlds of Fantasy exhibit that has sets and costumes from a fan film about Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series that was shot in Utah.

Donnae Tidwell, a librarian who focuses on teens, said staying engaged is a mindset. She pointed to the book, "Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun" by Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen. In it, the authors showcase ways to tinker and explore in any environment that help someone pursue their interests.

Toward the south part of the valley, the Living Planet Aquarium in Sandy has a special holiday display where the electric eel makes the lights on a Christmas tree flash each time it emits an electrical impulse. There are also are daily talks about the various animals and feeding times as well. The aquarium's online calendar shows when which animals will be fed, and what discussions will take place.

"We always have a presenter out during these daily activities, telling people what's going on and educating them about the species," said Angie Hyde, director of public relations and marketing.

Admission is $9.95 for adults, $8.95 for seniors, students and military members, $7.95 children ages 3 to 17 and free for kids 2 and under. Tickets purchased online save $.50 per ticket.

At Thanksgiving Point's Museum of Ancient Life, children can become paleontologists and even take home their own fossils through programs offered through Jan. 2 from 11 a.m to 7 p.m. It's $2 for the molding/casting ($1 for Thanksgiving Point members) and $4 for fossil prep ($2 for Thanksgiving Point members), where kids get to pick their own 50-million-year-old fish fossil to work on and take home. Admission to the museum is required, and is $10 for adults, $8 for children ages 3 to 12 and seniors 65 and older, and free for children 2 and under.

"It's a very inexpensive activity that kids love because they get to play with a real fossil and learn about paleontology in a fun way," said Britnee Johnston, communications manager.

Also, there is a Tales for Tots activity every Tuesday at the museum and every Wednesday at Farm Country at 11 a.m. The storytime creates hands-on storytelling adventures for children with different stories told each time, and it is usually followed by a craft or activity.

The Farm Country area is open every day except Sundays and Jan. 1 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $5 per person, and free for kids 2 and under, but includes a wagon and pony ride. Also, each day at 4 p.m., kids can try milking a cow.

"A lot of kids have fun learning about agriculture at Farm Country since we have a lot of hands-on activities like milking a real cow, our soil to market activities and meeting dozens of animals here," Johnston said.

smcfarland@sltrib.com

Twitter: @sheena5427 —

Look to the sky —or under the sea

Clark Planetarium

110 S. 400 West

385-468-STAR (7827)

Free admission

IMAX and Hansen Dome shows are $7 for everyone before 5 p.m., and $9 for those over age 12 after 5 p.m.

Open 10:30 a.m. to about 10 p.m. every day.

Living Planet Aquarium

725 E. 10600 S., Sandy

801-355-FISH (3474)

Admission is $9.95 for adults, $8.95 for seniors, students and military members, $7.95 children ages 3 to 17 and free for kids 2 and under. Tickets purchased online save 50 cents per ticket.

Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day

Natural History Museum of Utah

301 Wakara Way

801-581-4303

$11 for adults, $9 for youth ages 13 to 24, $8 for kids 3 to 12 and free for those under 3.

Open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended hours to 9 p.m. on Wednesdays.

Salt Lake City Public Library Main Branch

210 E. 400 South

801-524-8200

Free admission

Open Monday-Thursday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and closes Friday and Saturday at 6 p.m. Sunday, open 1 to 5 p.m. Closed New Year's Day.

Thanksgiving Point

3003 N. Thanksgiving Way, Lehi

801-766-5030

Museum of Ancient Life admission is $10 for adults, $8 for children ages 3 to 12 and seniors 65 and older, and free for children 2 and under. The molding and casting is an additional $2, and the take-home fossil prep is an additional $4.

Open on Dec. 31 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with regular hours every other day from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The Farm Country area is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., admission is $5, with cow milking at 4 p.m. daily.