At the beginning of every summer, Raquel Santiago makes a list of places to explore and things to do with her three children, Gabi, 12, Carmen, 10, and Sophia Cicerini, 7. This year, the list spans all of Northeast Ohio and bridges a variety of activities from spending time in nature at a place not far from their Euclid home, Chapin Forest in the Lake Metroparks, to wandering through small towns such as Oberlin and Vermilion to visiting museums in University Circle.
But by August, with summer winding down and everyone gearing up for school, the family's fun becomes a little more unstructured.
"I really don't schedule too much. Exploring and being spontaneous is part of the fun," Santiago says. "For me, summer brings a break from the routine and the ordinary. I think our best memories are those of packing a picnic, and sitting and eating by the lake."
One trick she's learned though — especially with the five-year age span of her girls — is to mix up the trips or top them off with a treat. "If we visit a museum, I follow that with something that's more active or appealing to everyone," she says.
She uses Facebook to like pages of places to visit and things to do with the kids. That way, she can keep track of special activities as they pop up on her page.
She looks at the summer in thirds: June is about camps; July is time visiting out-of-town family; and August is getting ready for school and squeezing in fun before homework hits.
With the start of school fast approaching, we've consulted teachers, parents and more for a list of 25 things to do, create or read with your children before summer ends.
Frolic on the playground across from Holy Rosary Church. The Tony Brush Park playground carries the Little Italy flag with a red, white and green cushioned safety surface under the swings. There are pint-size and full-size climbers for kids of all ages. Then grab lunch or a treat like gelato or cassata cake from Corbo's Bakery. When you get home, spend some time on the computer learning about the experience. Did you know that Cleveland cassata cake is different than original cassata? (The original uses ricotta cheese and candied fruit peel, not the strawberry and custard filling we usually associate with the treat.) Can they find Italy on the map? Free, Tony Brush Park, Random and Mayfield roads, Cleveland; Corbo's Bakery, 12210 Mayfield Road, Cleveland, 216-421-8181, corbosbakery.net
Shop global Cleveland. While it might be difficult to get a young child to eat something in a Cambodian restaurant, children will love all the colors and shapes of an ethnic grocery store. "Food is such a great entry into a new world," says Koyen Shah, director of Hathaway Brown School's Center for Leadership and Well-Being. Pick a country and learn about it with your kids. Then find a grocery store that sells products from that country. For example, at India Grocer in Parma Heights, one of the largest Indian grocery stores in Northeast Ohio, you'll find delicious spices such as curry and saffron. "Learning about other cultures opens kids' perceptions of the world, which is important in thinking about their lives," says Carolyn Ievers-Landis, a child psychologist at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital. India Grocer, 6855 W. 130th St., Parma Heights, 440-885-0215
Do yoga together at Voinovich Bicentennial Park. If you're learning about India, yoga will fit in perfectly — and if you're not, go for the incredible view. Tuesdays at 6:15 p.m., instructors from local yoga studios host North Coast Namaste, a multiage traditional yoga practice. The event is free, but limited to 40 participants, so registration is recommended. North Coast Namaste continues until the end of October — but take your children this month (Aug. 4, 11, 18, 25) — before evenings are spent on homework. Free, Voinovich Bicentennial Park, East Ninth Street Pier, Cleveland, downtowncleveland.com/events/north-coast-namaste.aspx
Step back in time with a trip to Amish Country. Take state Route 87 through Middlefield and into Trumbull County's Mesopotamia, where you'll find End of the Commons, an old-fashioned general store complete with ice cream, silly straws and tin whistles. Established in 1840, the store has displays of late 19th-century clothes, a barber chair, a player piano and more. Then ask a local for the best produce stand for juicy corn right off the stalk. If you take the side roads, you're bound to pass a rainbow of pastel clothing hanging on the lines, horse and buggies clip-clopping down the road, and barefoot Amish children playing in their yards. Free, End of the Commons, 8719 state Route 534, Mesopotamia, 440-693-4295, endofthecommons.com
Explore the Children's Museum of Cleveland. On Aug. 8, the Children's Museum of Cleveland hosts an Old Time Festival from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., complete with a bouncy castle, carnival games, arts and crafts booth, and fun food. The museum's summer exhibit Healthier Ever After makes exercise and nutrition more than a fairy tale. Plus, families who present a Medicaid or Electronic Benefits Transfer, Women, Infants, and Children card with a photo ID receive admission for just $2 per person, up to four people, during regular museum hours. Children's Museum of Cleveland, 10730 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, 216-791-7114, clevelandchildrensmuseum.org
Visit the West Side Market. The 103-year-old West Side Market is packed with history, food and people from many different cultures. "Go to the balcony at the top, and look out over the market," Shah says. "You'll get a sense for how big it is." While you're there, try something new such as blue Peruvian mashed potatoes from Orale Contemporary Mexican Cuisine. Or buy ingredients for a recipe you can make together at home. That's a great opportunity to squeeze in a few math and nutrition lessons, too. West Side Market, 1979 W. 25th St., Cleveland, 216-664-3387, westsidemarket.org
Monkey around in the treetops at Go Ape. Older kids (10 and up) and parents can scale a dense treetop canopy while navigating 42 obstacles and five zip lines through the Cleveland Metroparks' Mill Stream Run Reservation in Strongsville. Don't worry, you're harnessed in and those younger (or scared) can watch from the ground. "Spending time in the natural world leads to imaginative play, trial and error, consequences to actions, and feeds a sense of adventure that is found in no other place," says Wendy Weirich, director of outdoor experiences for the Cleveland Metroparks. The Go Ape Treetop Adventure is open every day in August, but you must register online. Go Ape Treetop Adventure, 16200 Valley Parkway, Strongsville, goape.com
Explore a treehouse. Spend a day at the Cleveland Botanical Garden climbing and exploring the five interactive treehouses in its Branch Out exhibit, which runs through Aug. 23. Your ticket also gets you into the rest of the gardens, including the Hershey Children's Garden. On Wednesdays the gardens are open until 9 p.m., so families can enjoy the music and activities of Wade Oval Wednesdays as well. Then read any of the books in the classic Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne in which brother and sister Jack and Annie travel to other time periods and places to learn about history. "Go sit in your backyard and just read together," says Laurel School third-grade teacher Karen Yusko. "Have a book club with your kids and their friends." Cleveland Botanical Garden, 11030 East Blvd., Cleveland, 216-721-1600, cbgarden.org
Read about other great women role models (not just for girls!). As a teacher at the all-girls Laurel School, Yusko is always on the lookout for books that are age appropriate and show that women can achieve anything. Every year she reads Seven Brave Women by Betsy Hearne and A is for Abigail by Lynn Cheney to her class. The first is narrated by a young girl who recounts history through the generations of women in her family. "Have a conversation about your family's story, their grandparents [and] where they come from," Yusko recommends. The second focuses on famous women's achievements throughout history, such as "E is for Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell" — the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States. Bonus: Her sister Emily Blackwell was the second woman to receive a medical degree, which she earned from what is now Case Western Reserve University. Free
Launch a passion for space. If your child falls in love with Midnight on the Moon while reading the Magic Tree House series, then lift off for the NASA Glenn Visitor Center at the Great Lakes Science Center to explore aviation and space travel. Children can peek inside the 1973 Skylab 3 Apollo Command Module, check out a moon rock and view a model of the Mercury capsule. Then fly over to nearby Burke Lakefront Airport to learn more about women pilots such as Amelia Earhart and Bessie Coleman at the International Women's Air and Space Museum. Great Lakes Science Center, 601 Erieside Ave., Cleveland, 216-694-2000, greatscience.com; International Women's Air and Space Museum, 1501 N. Marginal Road No.166, Cleveland, 216-623-1111, iwasm.org
Visit Rocky River's Cowan Pottery Museum. Lauren Hansgen, curator and historian at the Cowan Pottery Museum located on the first floor of the Rocky River Public Library, loves to tell the story of a New York City housewife who, in 1931, ordered a punch bowl from Rocky River's Cowan Pottery. "It was Eleanor Roosevelt," says Hansgen. "She ordered more for her other homes, including the White House where they were about to move because her husband had just been elected president." Designed by Cleveland artist Viktor Schreckengost, the Jazz Bowl is one of the most famous pieces in the museum's 1,300-piece collection (not all are on display). Known for their colorful, shiny glazes and interesting shapes, Cowan pottery appeals to all ages, even children. For more fun, print the Cowan Coloring Book from the website. Free, Rocky River Public Library, 1600 Hampton Road, Rocky River, 440-333-7610, rrpl.org
Unleash your inner artist. When parents paint with kids, it spurs conversations that might not happen in another environment, says Tami Stein, owner of the Hands On Pottery Studio in Lyndhurst. Children ages 6 to 11 can create five different projects during a camp Aug. 10-14 from 10 a.m. to noon. Older children and parents can create stunningly beautiful vases and bowls by fusing colored glass at the studio. Glass, laid in a pattern and fired in a kiln to produce a single sheet, is fired a second time over a mold to produce a shape. Since the glass has sharp edges, Stein recommends it for children 10 and up. Hands On Pottery Studio, 5660 Mayfield Road, Lyndhurst, 216-292-4844,handsonpottery.com
Turn off the tube and discover the cube. The Great Lakes Science Center's Beyond Rubik's Cube exhibit crosses disciplines of math, engineering, even music, art and poetry. "Inspiration is a concept that's not unique to any one discipline," says Kirsten Ellenbogen, Science Center president and CEO. The interactive displays include large blocks for young children and challenging puzzles for teens. "That's a real treat for families who want to make sure they're providing great experiences for all of their children," she says. Admission also includes the Cleveland Creates Zone, where kids can design and build prototypes of race cars to rockets. Both exhibits teach kids skills they'll need in school and any future career, including critical thinking, problem identification and creativity, says Ellenbogen. Great Lakes Science Center, 601 Erieside Ave., Cleveland, 216-694-2000, greatscience.com
Enjoy other views from the top. Every Saturday and Sunday from mid April to late December, the Terminal Tower Observation Deck offers rare views of Cleveland for just $5 a ticket. From 42 floors up, even birds are jealous of the observation deck perspective on Lake Erie, downtown and the winding Cuyahoga River. 50 Public Square, Cleveland, towercitycleveland.com
Craft a memory plate for Grandparent's Day. Create a personalized gift for nana at Playmatters Aug. 11 and Aug. 15 at 11 a.m. in the Solon store and Wednesday, Aug. 12 at 11 a.m. in Pepper Pike. (Reservations are required and there is a $10 fee.) Children color a design on paper, which is then sent off for processing into the plastic plate that will be ready for Grandparents Day Sept. 13. "I'm a big proponent of letting children do it themselves, and see what they come up with," says Mary Homan, assistant store manager. Or purchase make-a-plate kits for $15.99 — perfect for a lazy or rainy August day. Playmatters, 6025 Kruse Drive, Solon, 440-542-7200; 30829 Pinetree Road, Pepper Pike, 216-464-2424, playmatterstoys.com
Make someone's day. Inspired by Warrensville Heights native Ricky Smith's Random Acts of Kindness Everywhere movement, Hathaway Brown students made a heart-shaped craft and wrote thank you notes to people in the community they appreciate, including neighbors of the school, police and firefighters, museums and nonprofit organizations such as the Cleveland Sight Center. Help your children think of people they appreciate — especially those who have no idea they have touched your lives — and find a special way to say thank you. Free
Grab a book and a movie. The Geauga County Public Library system's bookmobile covers more than 225 miles each week and averages more than 250,000 books checked out each year, making it the most popular mobile library in Ohio. On Aug. 9 at 7 p.m., it visits the Mayfield Road Drive-In in Chardon for a family friendly flick at the Library Night at the Drive-In. Check out a book (a Geauga County Library card is required), grab a tub of popcorn and settle in for a night of outdoor fun. Mayfield Road Drive-In, 12100 Route 322, Chardon, 440-286-7173, funflick.com
Make a discovery. At University School in Shaker Heights, one science class has a very broad assignment: Go outside, make a discovery and take a picture of it. It's easy to adapt as an at-home project that gets children out looking at their environment. "Our kids are going to have to be aware of the benefits ... of taking care of the environment," says Gail Stein, director of the lower school at University School. "By playing outside, they develop an appreciation of nature and the Earth and are going to be more apt to want to care for it and protect it." Free
Create a memory book. The Nature Center at Shaker Lakes offers free monthly bird walks where families can spend time together outdoors. "Taking photos on the walks is a great way to capture the experience and create memories," says Kay Carlson, Shaker Lakes Nature Center executive director. "Children naturally take to observing and learning from nature and can benefit greatly from unstructured time outside." Let your child control the camera (or purchase a digital disposable camera for a smaller child who might accidentally break the family camera) to document what she finds interesting. Then return throughout the year to witness and photograph how things have changed, suggests Carlson. After a year, create a book via an online photo service to preserve the memories. Nature Center at Shaker Lakes, 2600 S. Park Blvd., Cleveland, 216-321-5935, shakerlakes.org
Camp out at the zoo. Spend a night in a tent at the Rising Waters Safari Camp and experience an African-themed program at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. A true family experience, each tent holds bunk beds and sleeps up to eight people. The evening includes an education program with small African animals, mask-making, a night hike and snack. The next day you'll get breakfast and free admission to the zoo and RainForest. Cost is $38 per person and children must be at least 6 years old. Aug. 1, 2, 8, 9, 14, 21, 22, 28 and 29. Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, 3900 Wildlife Way, Cleveland, 216-661-6500, clevelandmetroparks.com
Discover Treasure Island. The Oberlin Summer Theater Festival stages a trio of plays each summer. "Live theater is a special kind of enrichment for kids," says Paul Moser, producing artistic director and creator of the Oberlin Summer Theater Festival. "They get to breathe the same air as the performers as the show unfolds in real time and space before their eyes. Attending theater allows them to become familiar with our great literary tradition, while being simultaneously entertained." This year, Treasure Island is the family favorite, recommended for children ages 6 and up, on Aug. 1 and 8 at 2 p.m. and Aug. 5 at 7 p.m. The show is free, but call for reservations. Free, Oberlin Summer Theater Festival, Hall Auditorium, 67 N. Main St., Oberlin, 440-775-8169, oberlinsummertheaterfestival.com
Learn about money. Swiping your credit card may be bad for more than your bank account — you could be digging a financial hole for your kids. "Kids don't understand money and how it works," says Laurel's Yusko. "From an early age, kids need to understand there's a cost to everything and you have to make decisions." To deepen your child's understanding of money, visit the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland Learning Center and Money Museum. Kids can play Escape from Barter Island, a land with no money, and learn how money was really behind the curtain in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It's great preparation for school supply-shopping. Yusko suggests paying with cash and playing games, such as having children add prices in their heads or estimate the amount of change you'll receive. Younger kids can count the items in the basket. Free, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, 1455 E. Sixth St., Cleveland, 216-579-3188, clevelandfed.org
Get on the water. Although we live on Lake Erie, not everyone takes advantage of it. This summer Rock and Dock Marina, behind the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, rents paddleboats — an activity that's perfect for a parent and child to do together. (Everyone is required to wear life vests and one person in each paddleboat must be at least 16.) If you prefer a larger vessel, enjoy the lake and Cuyahoga River — and learn the history of our city — with a cruise on the Goodtime III. "It's the perfect opportunity for Cleveland kids to see the city from a perspective they've likely never experienced before," says Capt. Jordon Kit. Rock and Dock Marina, 1020 E. Ninth St., Cleveland, 216-804-1152, rockanddock.com; Goodtime III, 825 E. Ninth St., Cleveland, 216-861-5110, facebook.com/goodtimeiii
Talk, play, be together. "Unstructured time to imagine and create is such an important part of child development," says University School's Stein. "It helps children develop critical thinking and curiosity and imagination and problem-solving skills." Rainbow's Ievers-Landis encourages families to be in different environments together — even if it might cause stress. "It's normal that you're going to get into arguments, but the important thing is to work things out, to talk them out, to brainstorm what you can do if it comes up again," she says. "Reassure each other that you love them but know that this is a normal part of being a family." Free
For her part, Santiago makes the most of downtime at home. They do crafts such as tie-dying or play hide-and-seek. She's lucky to live on a street where most evenings neighborhood kids all come out and play together. "I really think it's what they will remember most," she says.