Middle schooler Emma Yang was just 13 years old when she developed and coded an app to help Alzheimer’s patients recognize family members. An introverted youngster who learned to code at age 6, Emma was inspired to create the memory aid by the decline of her beloved grandmother. She has also received multiple awards for an app to detect concussions in student athletes. The power of a motivated, entrepreneurial kid with a computer is an amazing thing. Add in some expert mentoring and access to key resources, and the resulting innovations can change the world.

Summer vacation does not have to mean that learning stops. Middle school kids are old enough to work independently, and they possess the maturity required to engage in some in-depth investigations. The Bay Area has a wealth of summer resources for kids. These range from library reading programs to age-appropriate activities at museums, zoos and aquariums. A variety of academic and camp programs are also available to challenge middle school minds and bodies. A hybrid of these—an educational, innovation camp such as Galileo Summer Quest— allows kids to immerse themselves in week-long independent summer study projects with support from expert mentors and like-minded tweens.

Only In The Summer

Summer provides the long, leisurely days and warmer nights that support an exciting array of independent study projects. Getting lost in research and staying up late are more acceptable since school is out. With internet access and a plan, parents can help tweens structure their downtime in a meaningful way. Working together to create a schedule that balances learning activities, chores and recreation will set realistic expectations for kids as they exercise more independence. Perhaps kids can research bioluminescence online during the day and share their findings over dinner, then you take an evening kayak trip on Tomales Bay to view this fascinating phenomenon together. Or kids check out a self-paced, online programming course that teaches them the basics of coding in the comfort of home.

A day trip to the California Academy of Sciences is another amazing learning opportunity for Bay Area kids, and provides many interactive experiences, including the chance to observe research scientists at work in the Project Lab and or visit the Naturalist Center, home to hundreds of hands-on specimens and a resource library. During their visit, tweens can join the Junior Scientist Adventure: Live Science Experience. For more independent exploration, they can sign out a field backpack chock full of science tools and directions for activities that make their visit extra special. This free program is available on a first-come, first-served basis from the coat check, and kids who complete three or more activities earn a certificate. The Academy Store has plenty of potential for additional at-home study, including an edible chemistry kit, a hydroponics kit with gardening diary and a set that uses electricity-generating soil bacteria to illuminate an LED.

This type of hands-on learning is amazing for older kids, and you can help further cross-brain connections even after it’s over by encouraging them to not just participate in these summer learning adventures, but also to chronicle them in writing and visual arts. More and more, classrooms are gathering the work of their students and publishing them. Kids love seeing their work in real live print, and your kid’s independent summer adventures are also amazing opportunities to create a written account of their experiences. You can sit down with them to help them create their own masterpiece by collecting various materials from their studies and building a book that they can look back on for years to come.

A Week Of Immersive Project-based Learning

Independent learning is essential, but so is collaboration. Consider augmenting your preteen’s summer experiences with Bay Area/San Francisco summer camps or programs that allows middle schoolers the benefit of an independent study project but in a well-supervised, social setting. Galileo Summer Quest allow kids to focus on a passion such as robotics, Minecraft®  or video production with the guidance of expert mentors, who share their enthusiasm. Also available are programs that introduce a new interest such as cooking, go-kart building, escape rooms or something unique and technical like virtual reality. In each case, kids are supported through the design process as they create their own projects and encourage others to complete theirs.

A program like Galileo helps kids conquer their fear of making mistakes. Specially-trained staff members help them see that missteps bring them one step closer to finding the right answer. Galileo Summer Quest provides a space for tinkering and creating in an atmosphere where not only is it OK to fail, it is expected. An independent study project with this level of support will have lasting effects on kids’ mindset and self-confidence.

Empowering middle school kids to follow their curiosity and exercise their passions provides for meaningful summer recreation. The Bay Area has tons of resources to support independent study projects all summer long. Allowing kids to choose their areas of study, maybe a week programming 3-D models [<–link to 3-D Printing piece when live] and a week designing a working catapult, gives them a chance to apply key 21st-century skills in divergent contexts. Galileo Summer Quest will also help them develop the mindset that supports fearless innovation.

Enroll your adventurous middle schooler at a Galileo Summer Quest camp in your area: San Francisco, Southern California, and Chicagoland. Register for a camp session or sign up for our mailing list to keep up-to-date with camp happenings and innovation resources. Or, for more information about Galileo camps, contact us here.