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slide at Codornices Park, across from the Berkeley Rose Garden, and swing from ropes and use wood scraps to build their own forts at the Adventure Playground at the Berkeley Marina.

In addition to its hands on science and technology exhibits for kids and teens, the Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose adds the "A," or arts, into STEAM education, with its drop in visual and performing arts events and workshops.

Summer learning doesn't mean sitting kids down to do math problems. Anything that sparks their curiosity and desire to create, solve problems or explore can be educational, says Sarah Pitcock, chief executive officer of the National Summer Learning Association. "For example, there's lots of learning that is inherent in family projects, like planting a garden, which means you have to budget for the plants, measure the area and learn about how much sunlight and water certain plants need."

"Libraries are interested in promoting a joy of learning and reading year round, and it becomes especially important in the summertime," says Derek Wolfgram, a Santa Clara County District deputy librarian.

Kids hold a Burmese Python as "Python Ron" McGee does an up close demonstration with exotic live snakes, lizards and bugs in the Milpitas Library auditorium in Milpitas, Thursday, June 19, 2014. (Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group)

7. There's an app for that

3. DIY literacy with a reward

Modern educators would give Atticus Finch props for reading at night to his daughter, Scout. Encouraging kids to read daily anything from novels to news stories is probably the most effective way to forestall the summer slide, educators say.

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New Era New York Giants

4. Get into nature

For her daughters, 10 and 12, Oakland resident Laine Mette is starting a family book club. "We will choose a book together and read it and discuss," she says.


David Avidor's three sons, ages 7, 9 and 11, have a pretty busy summer, between two family vacations and a two week outdoor camp for the oldest. Still, his sons like to stay active. When Avidor, a content developer for Palo Alto based educational publisher Klutz Books, wants to escape the heat at home in Walnut Creek, he heads to Berkeley, where he and the boys sail down the giant New Era Minnesota Twins

San Mateo's Coyote Point Recreation Area is home to the castle and dragon themed Magic Mountain Playground and a nearby beach and salt marsh.

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Parents can also create their own reading programs. Dani Eston, a Walnut Creek mother of two sons, 5 and 7, draws a chart on the front of envelopes with squares representing 10 minutes of reading time. When one son fills out all five squares, he gets to open the envelope and find a prize, such as a date to get frozen yogurt or go to a movie.

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5. Wild things

Paul Kanoon, 4, of Milpitas gets acquainted with a ball python in the Milpitas Library auditorium in Milpitas, Thursday, June 19, 2014. (Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group)

In "To Kill a Mockingbird," Harper Lee helped define the classic American summer for kids: a meandering season of exploring neighbors' backyards, playacting scenes from books and sleeping on porches.

in workshops ($5 per person) where kids can build wind turbines or play in a Mars flight simulator.

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As a world center for technology and innovation, the Bay Area boasts museums that will boost kids' STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) learning. Build a robot during a visit to San Jose's Tech Museum of Innovation, experience the theories behind spatial relations at the Exploratorium's Geometry Playground, or invent something with the help of staff and interns at the Ingenuity Studio at Berkeley's Lawrence Hall of Science.

Most parents these days are not inclined to follow Atticus Finch's laissez faire approach to overseeing their children's long break from school not with the volumes of research warning of the "summer slide," that loss of reading, math and other skills that occur when kids aren't engaged in educational activities.

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The Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland hosts its "Summer Scientist" series, affordable drop New Era Tampa Bay Buccaneers

While the Bay Area's regional, county, state and national parks are known for their gorgeous hiking trails, they also are living classrooms for learning about nature, history and culture. Naturalists at the East Bay Regional Park District lead kids of all ages on insect hunts in Tilden Park, teach them to feed farm animals at Ardenwood Historic Farm in Fremont or to search for sea creatures at low tide at Crab Cove in Alameda. You and your kids also can explore tide pools at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve in Moss Beach. And in Santa Clara County, on a drop in basis through July and New Era New York Giants August, kids ages 11 to 17 can go on "Champions for Parks" jogging adventures, while learning about wetlands and watersheds in Sanborn, Anderson Lake and Alviso Marina parks.

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1. STEM ahead

Kids and parents look on as "Python Ron" McGee does an up close demonstration with exotic live snakes, lizards and bugs in the Milpitas Library auditorium in Milpitas, Thursday, June 19, 2014. (Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Boston Celtics Caps

CuriOdyssey in San Mateo's Coyote Point Recreation Area and the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek feature ways to get up close with the different creatures that call the Bay Area home. Check museum websites for special events such as Reptile Day, on July 26, at the CuriOdyssey; or Bee Bop! on Aug. 16 17, a weekend devoted to learning about bees, at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum.

Probably parents' greatest fear is that kids will fill all that unstructured free time with nonstop "Call of Duty: Black Ops." But it's a "false dichotomy" to equate all screen time with wasted potential, says Shira Lee Katz. She's the senior education director of San Francisco based Common Sense Media, which reviews digital media for age appropriateness and educational value. Her site's Summer Learning Guide directs parents to the best apps for educational and fun math, engineering, arts and nature games for young children to teens. Some apps also encourage kids to put down their devices to do science experiments, build their own musical instruments or go out and take photos for a video scrapbook.

12 ways to keep kids mentally stimulated

Fortunately, opportunities abound in the Bay Area, including for kids whose families cannot fit camps and special school programs into their schedules or budgets. Experts and Bay Area parents offer 12 affordable and mostly easy ways to engage kids intellectually and creatively over the next two months.

2. Read (even to the dog)

At the county's eight libraries, kids can sign up in person or online to keep a log of what they read. Anyone who completes five books is entered into a contest with the chance to win a Google Nexus Tablet or iPad mini. At Contra Costa County libraries, the Paws to Read summer festival invites young children to read aloud to dogs, who we all know are good listeners.

6. Playground adventures

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Local public libraries offer an invaluable resource to boost kids' literacy with access to free books, programs and educational activities.

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