Kick that ‘Brain Drain’ to the Curb

Keeping young minds active is extremely important, especially when they’re outside the classroom. We found a few helpful ways to  keep the kids active wherever they are this season.

Keeping young minds active and engaged is important all year long, but it’s especially important while they’re away from the classroom. The right combination of fun activities and guidance from a parent or caregiver can make all the difference.

Children spend all year looking forward to two magical words: summer vacation. Those three months away from the classroom usually mean playing video games, sleeping in and spending countless hours with friends.

But what happens to everything they learned during the school year? Education studies show there’s commonly a loss of some knowledge while kids are away from school. Given the crazy end to this past school year, and the uncertain start to this coming year, the so-called “summer slide” is a big concern.

Regardless of how old your children are, there are plenty of activities you can do with them to keep those growing minds active and engaged while they’re stuck at home.

Your kids deserve to have a fun and memorable summer. But, it’s also important that your child’s mind get a daily workout. Here are a few fun ideas that can keep their minds working wherever they are. Take them and use them as is, or develop your own fun spinoffs.

Getting Into Nature

The Lake County Forest Preserve District has spent the past several months developing virtual programs and digital resources that families can use before they go hiking.

“Our professional educators have developed these programs for at-home learning,” says Nan Buckardt, director of education. “The programs include virtual wildflower walks, scavenger hunts, science lessons and items from the Dunn Museum’s collections and archives.”

The latest round of virtual programs, designed to replace summer camps, are available at least through the end of August.

The “Let’s Catch Some Bugs” event on Aug. 26 introduces kids to the creepy crawlers living in their backyards this season. Trained educators will use Zoom to share resources and information about these bugs, and they’ll show families how they can collect these insects in their own yards.

The virtual program “Hummingbirds,” on Aug. 26, is an online presentation about the life and history of a hummingbird. It’s filled with ideas on making your yard more hummingbird-friendly.

Virtual events aside, the preserve offers numerous other resources right now at Aimed at parents and caregivers, the page is filled with videos and printable activities that can be enjoyed anywhere, at any time. Activities include things like an amphibian scavenger hunt, water activities for little ones or a bird bingo. A host of videos dive into other topics on nature and ecology, as naturalists introduce the wild world to little ones.

How do you make the most of the experience? Try watching a video on ecology and nature, and then talk with your little one about what you just saw. Then, grab a printable activity sheet and head to the forest, where you’ll reinforce the lesson while the kids have fun exploring and playing in the wilderness.

“Research shows spending time outdoors, especially in nature, relieves stress, increases cognition and decreases violent tendencies,” Buckardt says. “Just kids taking a walk with their families at a preserve helps keep their minds sharp. A walk in a forest preserve can easily be changed into an adventure by finding a butterfly or seeing if they can walk down a trail by only standing on the leafy shadow from the trees overhead.”

Getting Artistic

Drawing and coloring can keep kids busy, but there’s only so much to gain from coloring books and Play-Doh. So, why not explore your creative side with a little guidance from the experts?

Creative Arts Inc., in Crystal Lake, has plenty of tools for youngsters and adults to exercise their artistic sides in fun and unique ways.

The art studio has posted several online activities to its YouTube channel, offering more than 30 educational videos.

Teachers from the art studio use great detail to sketch objects and animals like a ladybug, dolphin and golden eagle. It’s easy to follow along.

More skilled hands may enjoy learning to write in calligraphy. Susan Sieber, director of development for Creative Arts, slowly explains in a video how to write simple words like “love” and “thank you” in scrawling type. Soft music and Sieber’s detailed explanations make the interactive video easy and fun to follow.

As for painting techniques, instructor Therese Wiser offers a step-by-step tutorial on how to paint a barn quilt square. You can draw your own design, or imitate something you’ve found while driving the country roads with the kids. Head to to find listings of barn quilts near you.

Of course, creating isn’t the only way to experience fine art. Creative Arts also offers a handful of virtual tours that take you on a journey through a 3-D interactive art displays. One example shows off a colored pencil exhibit of works created at the studio.

As you tour through these exhibits, take the time to ask your kids what they see and what it makes them think of. You might also talk about some of the fundamentals of art, such as line, shape, form, movement, space, texture, color and composition. Watch as the children surprise you with their answers.

Older children may also enjoy the studio’s one-on-one interviews with local artists seen in the videos. In one interview, Sieber talks about her inspirations and her artistic process.

Follow up your discussion with a visit to Marvin’s Toy Store, in downtown Crystal Lake. The store is displaying butterfly and hummingbird art made by Creative Arts students.

These activities can be found at

Going on a Scavenger Hunt

Crystal Lake Park District has a fun scavenger hunt that might be just what the kids need right now.

Two unique hunts are available online, each providing clues at 10 park district properties, including the administration office downtown, Lippold Park, Shamrock Hills, Grand Oaks Recreation Center and Main Beach.

Youths are given a riddle and encouraged to find the answer at a specific location. Your answer may involve something wildlife-related like a frog, or a landmark like a rock. Families are encouraged to share their finds with the park district’s social media feeds.

“We have received some fun picture updates of families who went out and completed the hunt,” says Jenny Leech, marketing manager.

The scavenger hunt is designed to get kids outside and exploring their community. The scavenger hunt takes them on a fun and educational journey around the area while also building problem-solving skills and exercising their minds and bodies.

“Staying physically active is one of the best ways to keep their minds and bodies healthy,” Leech says. “We’re hearing of many people rediscovering nature with their families during this time and discovering parks and trails that they have never visited before.”

Both scavenger hunt maps can be found online at

A Historical Quest

Third through fifth-graders in McHenry County are spending their summer on an interactive pioneer adventure. The McHenry County Historical Society is offering free pioneer activity kits for children to plan their own personalized adventures. They’ll have to load up a pioneer wagon, create a new area to settle, grow their own garden and make their own pioneer toy. Think of it like a real-life game of “Oregon Trail.”

This fun and unique kit has an activity script and everything kids will need for a fun activity that’s educational and far removed from their electronic devices.

“These kits include a script for the activity leader, worksheets for pioneer activities and the materials needed to make a corn husk doll and plant a pioneer garden,” says Karolina Kowalczyk, volunteer and outreach coordinator at the McHenry County Historical Society and Museum. “This is a screenless activity that teaches kids about pioneers and their life and journey out west.”

Parents and teachers who are interested can reach out to Kowalczyk before picking up an activity kit at the history museum in downtown Union. Additional kits with McHenry County-related themes, including transportation and agriculture, will be available in the near future.

Natural Land Institute, in Rockford, is constantly creating new and innovative ways to help kids enjoy nature. Its new Nature Adventure series presents fun and engaging activities for youngsters.


Nature Adventures

Family Nature Adventurers, a program put on by the Natural Land Institute in Rockford, creates a new way for kids to fall in love with the outdoors. The program offers young learners 13 free activities that’ll encourage their curiosity.

Geared toward families with children age 2 to 14, these activities are free and available on NLI’s website. They cover several outdoor topics, including wetlands, soils, water and creepy crawlers. Each video and activity is part of a theme, including “All About Water,” “Find It Close To Home” and “Growing Up.”

The activities start with a brief video and involve some sort of interaction outside.

“If you’re experiencing nature, you tend to fall in love with it, and you want to protect it because you understand the value and importance of the role that nature plays in your life,” says Kim Johnsen, director of marketing and membership at NLI. “Our vision is to help people understand that they’re a part of nature, not apart from nature.”

The interactive videos discuss various outdoor activities kids can do on their own. In “All About Water,” they’ll learn the purpose of a wetland and they can find out which creatures call these bodies of water home.

Participants are then asked to visit a wetland near their home and identify the plants and animals they find on their journey.

“There’s another video about various soils, and there’s an activity where you can put some soil and water in a clear water bottle. You’ll see how everything in it settles, and you have to identify what’s in the bottle,” Johnsen says. “That’s an activity that appeals to me and my husband.”

Families are asked to post photos of themselves to their social media platforms and tag NLI.


Active Minds

These fun ideas will give your child something to do this summer while keeping their minds active. That way, when they eventually return to the classroom, they’ll be ready to pick up right where they left off.