Summer break often starts out with a bang, and then within a few weeks, kids begin showing signs of boredom, craving structured activities. How about starting a ritual of weekly summer field trips?

Family field trips can be an inexpensive and fun way for parents and kids to bond while exploring new places, events, and concepts. Lara Beth Lehman, Curriculum Materials Center Manager of Peabody Library at Vanderbilt University, says family field trips can provide essential learning opportunities for children—not just to learn about the world around them but also to discover that parents are learners, too. “It’s important for kids to see that adults can learn new things just like kids,” Lehman says. “And any time you have a shared experience with loved ones, you will better remember the facts you learned because you have the emotional bonding tied to it.”

Lehman suggests that parents tie field trips to kids’ summer reading material. “Kids will be doing a lot of reading over the summer, and field trips are an excellent way to bring the literature alive,” Lehman says. “Field trips can help to turn children’s reading into tangible experiences.”

Visits to local sites can also be a good way to make new friends in the community and to explore parts of the local and surrounding areas that are off the beaten track or perhaps just not as pertinent to the daily experience as the supermarket and the park around the corner. Many local businesses such as nurseries or veterinary clinics would be open to hosting a small group of children and giving them a tour of the facilities. Teaming up with family friends and scheduling a few trips weeks in advance could offer kids something exciting to look forward to, particularly if the field trips are charted on poster board for all to see. This week, the local newspaper offices! Next week, the post office!

And don’t forget about community services such as the local humane society or food bank. A field trip to one of these sites might also inspire a future family volunteer project.

Need some more ideas for cheap field trips this summer? Here are a few to get you started:

  • State Parks
    Perhaps you have a state park right around the corner. There might be botanical gardens, waterfalls, hiking trails, or enormous rock formations. Consider finding out about programming at your local or state parks. Many parks offer programs for children and adults to learn about animals and plants indigenous to the area, and some programming even includes opportunities for kids to create something they can take home with them.
  • Historical Sites
    Do you and your kids know the history of the local area? Check with your local library to find out about books or programs that explore the historical relevance of your town or city. Perhaps there are tours of local architecture. There might be opportunities to visit civil war sites or other historical event sites. Have there been any natural disasters in the area? When? What happened? How did community members rebuild? Librarians are often an excellent resource for this type of information and might have some good ideas about family field trips in the local area.
  • Local Farms
    Many farmers would be delighted to show your children around the farm, experience a hayride, watch the cows being milked, etc. Agritourism is a growing business and an important way for community members and people from around the state to learn about all that goes into farming. Some farms might charge small fees for this service, but the experience will stay with you and your kids for years to come. There might also be opportunities for horseback riding or shearing the wool off sheep. Do an Internet search or check your yellow pages to find out about these opportunities.
  • Local Businesses
    Bakeries, art galleries, printers, restaurants—there are endless types of businesses in the local area, and kids would be fascinated to learn all that goes into running these businesses. What time does the baker get up in the morning? Where does the gallery owner find the works of art? Don’t be shy about calling and seeing if you can arrange a time for your kids to swing by and get a tour.
  • Farmers Markets and Flea Markets
    These might already be a part of your weekly routine, but if not, you might consider it. Buying fruits and vegetables from farmers markets is an excellent way to support local farmers and a terrific opportunity to teach kids about fresh produce, which can lead to adventures in the kitchen once you return home! Flea markets often offer a range of locally made artwork and crafts, as well as artwork from around the country and the world. You might find Amish quilts, African art, Japanese prints, or other collectables that children can learn about as you explore together.
  • Museums and Theaters
    When is the last time you visited your local art museum or natural history museum? Have you taken your kids to a play at the community theater? Many museums offer programming for children throughout the summer, and theater in the park is a biggie during summer months. Visit your local museum and theater Web sites to find out about upcoming performances, exhibits, and programs.
  • Online Field Trips
    Don’t overlook the impact online field trips can have on children. If you can’t afford to take your kids to New York City or San Diego, you might check out a site like Meet Me at the Corner. This Web site offers virtual field trips produced by and for children. Founder Donna Guthrie created the site so children could explore parts of the world they can’t see up close in real life and also to provide children an outlet for storytelling through video. The site is open to children as young as seven. “We encourage children to get out and explore the world around them, to create their own stories about their local community, and to bring their stories to us,” Guthrie says. “These virtual field trips allow children to explore and share and really become a part of a larger community.” For more information, visit Upcoming field trips include Trout Fishing in America, Seven Reasons I Love My Dad, and Around the World Cookbook with Abby Dodge.