(Thanks to Krista Walden for the Little Guys, and Mercedes Hutches for the background! )

As a teacher, I get to meet all different kinds of parents and students. Some students spend so much time traveling with their families that they are barely in the classroom. Others students have never been anywhere but their house and the school. While I am not encouraging you to check your child out of school, studies have shown that children who have lots of "life related" experiences outside of the classroom will be more likely to perform better in the classroom, and to feel more confident outside of their homes.
What can parents do to provide these experiences for their children? It doesn't have to be expensive, or ridiculously time-consuming. Here are my top 5 things that you can do with your children to make everyone happy!

1. Take your children to the public library. Almost every public library in the United States has a specific children's area, with a children's librarian who can help you find books perfect for any level of reader. If you child is old enough (most libraries suggest kindergarten or older), sign them up for their own library card. It's free, and they will experience the application process, as well as the interaction at the checkout counter when they get books. Your children will spend the rest of their lives checking things out with cards.
      *BONUS* Most libraries have free children's programs during the summer. These can vary depending on the library, but most will invite you and your child to listen to a story and complete a craft related to the book read.

2. Go to the Farmer's Market. Most cities have a local farmer's market, where farmers showcase their fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Many students that come into the classroom have never seen or heard of  fruits and vegetables that are less popular in the local cuisine. (In my area, the most commonly unheard of fruits and vegetables include eggplants, artichokes, and pomegranates) Don't have any money? Don't worry! There is no charge to walk around, look, and talk to your child about the foods. Some farmers will even offer samples of their produce. Remember, talking to your child about what they are seeing is what makes this activity worthwhile. Depending on the age of your child, talk about the colors you see, how the foods are grown, comparisons of different produce, etc.

3. Take a Walk. You don't have to go somewhere special to take a walk with your children. You can take a walk with your child around your house, around your block, or down the walking or bike trail nearby. This activity is also free, and it allows you time to talk with your child. You can talk about the colors and shapes you see with your little one, or the different structures and plants with your older children. You might take the time to collect flowers or leaves for a scrapbook, depending on the time of the year. Just walking with your children is healthy for everyone involved, but it gets your children outside, away from computer and television screens (and even books), and experiencing the world around them. Adding meaningful conversation increases the benefits and learning for your children.

4. Visit a Local Museum. We live in an area where there aren't any museums, or so I thought when I was growing up. I always loved when my family would visit museums on vacation. Now that I'm an adult, I realize that we actually have several museums. As a child, I just never knew they were museums, so you may have to hunt for these. Locally, we have the Shiloh museum, the new art museum, the Pea Ridge Military Park & Museum, and the Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park & Museum. The experiences you will have depend on the kind of museum that you visit. Some museums have a relaxed children's area, where they have specific tours or hands-on areas for children. Others are more strict, but that doesn't mean that you and your child won't have fun seeing all the different artifacts. I would suggest checking out the guided tours before you sign up for them, though. Many may not be appropriate for your children, because they are geared towards an adults vocabulary, spend too much time per exhibit, or are simply too long. If you are in doubt, skip the tour and just talk with your child about the different things that you see. You don't have to memorize all the information in the museum in one trip!

5. Visit a Nearby National or State Park. Most national and state parks have programs and activities designed specifically for children and families. You can sign up for a short hike, bird watching outing, picnic, video, footprint discussion, or many other different fun activities. Each one is designed specifically to teach you and your child more about the local and national flora and fauna, and proper care of the forest. The cost will depend on where you live, but most parks also offer free family days.
     *BONUS* Can't make it to a park any time soon? Your children can visit
 http://www.nps.gov/webrangers/ to learn more about the parks, play games, and see photos and stories of animals and plants. This doesn't take the place of actually visiting a park, but it does give your children an opportunity to at least experience information about our amazing native living creatures.

There are hundreds more amazing things you can do with your children to provide learning experiences. These are my Top 5.
What resources does your area have to promote learning experiences for the family?