Kelsi Somers, right, watches as her son Noah Somers, 5, creates a Ball Bounce project during a demonstration of science projects at St. Mark’s Preschool & Kindergarten on May 21, 2020.

Editors note: This story was updated on May 28, 2020

The school year is pretty much over for most Tucson-area schools by now. And with it went the remaining bit of structure remote learning provided families who are isolating at home during the coronavirus pandemic. 

If you're a parent who is now trying to figure out how to fill the days at home without school assignments or an awesome teacher to help keep your child engaged, especially while you work, you're not alone. Believe us.

We spoke with a couple experts to get tips for surviving summer at home and collected the many resources that have become available in recent weeks to help give you some inspiration. 

If you're looking for a camp be sure to check out the #ThisIsTucson Summer Camp Guide for in-person and virtual camps. 

Let your child lead the way

"It can be very helpful to have a one-on-one with your child and ask 'What do you want to learn this summer? What skills do you want to gain?' And then start to develop a schedule from that," says Rebecca Friesen, a doctoral student in the educational psychology program in the UA's College of Education who also homeschools her three boys. 

If you are planning to have your child continue working on academic programs during the summer she suggests doing the hard things in the morning and keeping it consistent to create a habit.

Friesen says being aware of your child's natural rhythm can help structure the day. 

For her kids, mornings are great for hikes and walks, downtime happens right after lunch, she reads aloud to them around 2 p.m. while they all sit down for a snack, and 4 p.m. is the time her kids need to be more active and expend some energy.

You're probably already attuned to what your child's current obsession is and there are lots of activities that can be done from home that tie into those interests says Noël Hensley, the education program coordinator for Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium; and director of UA Fusion Camp. 

"If you have a toddler and you know they’re obsessed with superheroes, you can certainly do a superhero theme, where one day you make a mask, and one day you make a cape and everybody role-plays on what they're conquering with their superpowers," she says.

Remember that summer is supposed to be fun

If your child is used to attending summer camps, there are a few things about the way a camp day is structured that can be applied at home to keep the day fun.  

"A lot of camp is doing a variety of things — from science to literacy to physical fitness — and engaging different parts of the brain. And including the body too from reading stories to kids, singing songs to outdoor exploration," Hensley says. "We really try and have a variety of things at camp so that when kids start getting idle we switch the activity fairly quickly so that it keeps them engaged."

Hensley suggests having a variety of options for kids, but don't feel beholden to them. 

"Be gentle on yourself," she says."Parents are not expected to run camps at home. It takes an entire team of people with months and months of planning and preparation to pull off camps and make them successful."

And if an activity that you really put a lot of time and effort into doesn't go as planned or doesn't quite spark your child's interest, don't be too hard on yourself. 

"You can maybe table that and maybe wait for another day or another week or maybe under a different timeline, in different circumstances maybe they would be totally into it," she says. "But there’s no sense in making a kid sit still and to force them to do something because somebody had the idea of how an activity is supposed to play out."

At camp, children are used to working in large and small groups as well as independently and having instruction from different counselors, something that can also be applied at home. 

"Think about what that looks like in your household and with parents and siblings and having different people take the lead at different times I think would be helpful," Hensley says. "So you have different people with different perspectives and different ways they might approach things. A nature walk with mom in the yard might be a different experience than a nature walk with dad, or big sister." 

Friesen says lots of learning can still happen while doing fun things. 

Playing Monopoly for example, helps with addition and multiplication. Or at dinnertime her family talks about how much it cost to make the meal and then does some division to figure out what the meal cost per person. 

"It's been a really fun kind of math problem and it's kind of like a challenge, like how cheap can we get?" she says. 

Even learning a new chore can be fun for some kids and take a task off your plate, Friesen says.

Boredom and independent time is OK

Lin-Manuel Miranda frequently talks about how being bored as a kid helped his creativity thrive. And we think things turned out pretty well for him. 

Both Hensley and Friesen agreed that the entire day does not have to be structured or planned out for your child, and that letting them have some independent time to entertain themselves is good for sparking curiosity. 

"Give them materials and let them have at it," Hensley says. 

Maybe you give them an idea, if they're really interested in space you could suggest they build a rocket, or you could just keep things open-ended and see where their own imagination takes them.

"Their classroom is so structured that very rarely do (kids) have that open ended time. You know, just have it at, if this is something you’re interested in go ahead, just go. And very rarely do they have that time in the classroom," Hensley says." That is the upside to this, giving kids breathing room to see what they are interested in and what they can accomplish on their own."

The materials don't even have to be elaborate, Friesen says. 

"A lot of parents I know, their kids will just use the recyling," she says. "You know, the toilet paper rolls or whatever, just to sort of have materials on hand for creating things. Somebody called it a maker space, which I really love that title. Have this little maker space where kids can make whatever comes to mind."

It's during this independent time that Friesen gets her own work done. 

"I do think it's important to say, 'you know what, after lunch, it's my work time and you need to have a quiet time that you can do independently' if they're of age and can handle that," she says. "I don't think you have to entertain your kids (all day), I definitely think structure all day is exhausting." 

Use your resources

Still feeling like you have no idea how you're going to survive summer?

Luckily, there's an abundance of resources and ideas right at our fingertips. 

"If we did not have the ability to search on the internet and help support us with that, I think a lot of parents would be up a creek right now," Hensley says. "So the fact that we’re able to search a variety of things and get tons of resources and a lot of them for free, I think we’re pretty fortunate that that’s the case for us currently."

Hensley says the "Storybots" show on Netflix and the Go Noodle website are really popular among campers and camp staff. And, the team at Flandrau is keeping an updated list of different resources for learning and doing science at home from local and national organizations. 

Friesen was interviewed by UA News earlier in the spring and she compiled a list of her family's go-to websites for online learning. Her kids are huge fans of audiobooks and Curiosity Stream, a streaming service for documentary films. 

Over the last few weeks so many UA departments and community organizations have made resources available online for kids to learn and have fun while being at home, we collected many of them below and will add to the list as we learn more. 

Virtual Camps

These Tucson organizations are offering virtual camps this summer:

Chinese Cultural Center

Girl Scouts of Southern Arizona

Camp Cooper

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Tucson Summer Music Program

UA STEAM and Math Summer Camps

Playformance Online Summer Camps

Reading and writing

• The UA Poetry Center has tons of poetry and creative writing lesson plans and activities for kids in kindergarten through 12th grade available online. And, they have turned their popular monthly family program, Kids Day, into a virtual experience. 

 Make Way for Books — has launched a bilingual app for families to access books and activities and to tune in to storytime online. 

• The Pima County Public Library has a collection of digital audiobooks for kids that you can access for free if you have a library card. You can also access so many other learning resources to help boost math, science and social studies skills, learn a new language and find thematic reading lists for kids, tweens and teens using the library's website. The library is also offering curbside pick up for books, so your kids can keep crushing those reading goals all summer long. 

• Worlds of Words compiled this list of resources and books about pandemics and epidemics for young adults. You can also go on a virtual tour of the Worlds of Words space here

• The UA Museum of Art has a series of writing activities for high school students inspired by 17 pieces of art in the museum's collection. 

• Lots of local organizations are hosting online storytimes, we rounded up several of them here

Science

• Flandrau Science Center & Planetarium has put together a collection of science resources for parents and teachers to use for learning at home. The page includes arts and crafts activities, educational videos, NASA's learning resources and videos produced by Flandrau staff to teach kids about space. 

• The Arizona Water Festival, a program that's part of the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension has gone virtual. The program is hosted annually and typically includes hands-on activities for youth to learn about water issues including groundwater, watersheds, the water cycle and conservation. The water festival has put together a website with videos to teach kids about these different topics and included associated activities they can do from home. 

• The Environmental Education Exchange hosts livestreams and archives the videos which cover water issues, the water cycle, electricity and sustainability for students in elementary, middle and high school. 

• The Arizona Department of Transportation is sharing transportation and engineering themed activities and virtual resources for kids. These include coloring pages, videos of ADOT's projects and heavy machinery and Zoom backgrounds. 

Nature and ecology

• The Cooper Center is hosting Camp Cooper online this summer with ten weeks of activities planned for children in pre-K through fifth grade. Once a week, you'll get an email with a video demonstration and downloadable worksheets for free.

• The University of Arizona Community and School Garden program has lists of activities that can be done from home with minimal supplies that teach kids about ecology and gardening. The page includes links to videos, activities and book read alouds. 

• Tucson Village Farm is offering fun activities you can do at home. Choose from take-and-make seed packets, color your own TVF buttons or the #QuaranCarrot Social Media Challenge. Just email tvf.seedpackets@gmail.com for templates and questions.

• The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum has daily, live programs lead by educators and scientists who will teach you about the beauties of the desert. Go here for more information. 

• Reid Park Zoo has a series of Zoo to You videos where kids can learn about wild animals and conservation. The zoo hosts the program live on Tuesdays at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. and archives the videos so you can view them at any time. 

Performing arts

• The Tucson Symphony Orchestra is sharing weekly lessons that teachers and parents can use for learning from home. The lessons introduce children to a new piece of music or concept each week and provide discussion questions and other activities related to the piece.

• Live Theatre Workshop has online classes for kids of all ages with themes that include character development, storytelling and puppetry. 

Arizona Arts in Schools made a collection of videos teaching music and dance concepts for children in kindergarten and up. 

Arts & Crafts

• Local businesses are offering take-home crafts and activities. Go here to see the offerings. 

• The University of Arizona Museum of Art has made a couple of videos as part of its Art Sprouts program including tutorials for shadow drawing and making a simple drawing robot. New videos will be added throughout the summer. The museum also has a list of online resources that include public art activities like self-guided art tours and ways to explore and learn about the museum's collection from home. 

• Lots of Tucson artists have made free, downloadable coloring sheets

• You can explore several galleries in Tucson and around the world without leaving home

Films and shows

• You can access several streaming services with your library card, including Kanopy, where you can find thousands of films. You can watch 10 movies per month, and the collection includes foreign language films, indie and film festival favorites and documentaries. There is also a Kanopy Kids collection.

• The Loft Cinema is hosting its popular Loft Kids Fest online this year from July 17-26. 

Miscellaneous

• The University of Arizona Center for Middle Eastern Studies and Center for Latin American studies created a free online game for middle school and high school students where they can learn about different cultures and countries. In the game Road Maps: Around the World Adventure, participants get to "travel" around the world, complete different activities and collect certificates and be entered into a drawing for a prize. 

• The Center for Middle Eastern Studies created virtual cooking classes led by University of Arizona students for kids in kindergarten through 12th grade and their families. 

•  In June, Arizona Public Media will launch a new program called PBS Kids Summer Adventure Club which will include activities, virtual screenings and other resources related to PBS Kids shows. 

• The Pima County Public Library will continue to offer its  its popular Ready, Set, School program online during the summer. The program will happen weekly on Fridays from 10-10:45 a.m. and is meant to help children ages 4-5 prepare for school by learning skills through stories, interactive activities and songs with their parents and caregivers. The program will be available on the library's Facebook page

• A team of faculty, staff and students from the University of Arizona's Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health put together an online toolkit for parents, teachers and school staff to use with children in kindergarten to fifth grade to explain COVID-19; understand what's happening; and stay safe and healthy.

• The UA Campus Recreation Aquatics department has a lineup of virtual programming on demand including American Red Cross certification programs for CPR/AED and first aid, cat and dog first aid, and babysitter basics, water safety information and resources and downloadable kids' activity book about home safety. 


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