June 9, 2020
John Vomhof Jr.Staff Writer
Many parents worry about their kids experiencing “brain drain” during the summer months, and that’s sure to be an even bigger concern this year as students transition from a spring of distance learning to a summer without many of the usual camps and other activities.
Just because schools aren’t in session doesn’t mean kids have to take a three-month break from learning. There are lots of activities that can provide summer fun while also unlocking their imaginations.
To learn more, we talked to Hafsa Aden, the coordinator at the Best Buy Teen Tech Center in Portland, Oregon. The center is closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but she’s still keeping in touch with students and sending them ideas for free activities they can do at home.
“Be curious every day,” she tells them. “If there’s something you’re wondering about, go look it up. Use this time as an opportunity to learn.”
Here are a few activities you can try with your kids, too:
1) Music: Create your own beats
Music is a great way for kids to tap into their creativity. That’s why many of our Teen Tech Centers have music studios and our Geek Squad Academy camps include sessions about creating music on iPads using GarageBand.
“Music creation is a big hit at our Teen Tech Center, so we’re hoping students continue working on their beats on their phones and computers,” Hafsa said. “It gives them a chance to do that on a smaller scale and stay inspired.”
In addition to GarageBand, BandLab is another free option for creating, mixing and recording your own tracks.
2) Creative design: Make a movie poster of your life
Hafsa’s students are using design programs, such as Adobe Illustrator, to create their own movie posters. But instead of promoting the next summer blockbuster, each poster tells the story of who they are or depicts a significant life event.
“We talked about all of the different design elements — everything from typography to composition and color choice — and how they can evoke different emotions,” she said.
If you don’t have a license for Illustrator, Hafsa recommends using free apps like Inkscape or Scribus. Other free design websites include Canva, Gravit Klex and Vectr. And you can find free stock images on sites like Pexels, Pixabay and Unsplash.
3) Photography/video: Complete a set of challenges
Many students have smartphones, which provides easy access to a camera for practicing photography and making fun videos.
Hafsa plans to have her students complete a set of photography challenges, including closeups, landscapes and portraits. They’ll spend a week on each, editing their favorite photos and sharing them with the group.
“Having a specific challenge as a prompt makes it easier because you can focus on that one thing and have a product afterward instead of being overwhelmed by all the possibilities of what you could do,” she said.
If you don’t have Adobe Photoshop, Hafsa recommends using GIMP as a free alternative for photo editing.
Free online courses
In addition to those ideas, Best Buy has created a suite of free online courses designed to ignite kids’ creativity and teach them new tech skills. Designed for students between the ages of 9 and 18, the curriculum is inspired by our popular Geek Squad Academy summer camps.
The current offerings include:
- Bending Binary, which introduces teens to binary, the language that all computers run on. In this course, teens learn how to convert text to binary and learn how to send coded messages that their friends can decipher.
- Game with Godot, whichallows teens to use a free software platform to build their own video games that can be played on Macs, PCs or Android devices.
- Picture Perfect, a course designed for kids to become photography experts — no fancy equipment required. Using a smartphone and free editing software, teens can learn the ins and outs of capturing the perfect shot.
- Web Know-How, which teaches teens how to create their own websites using basic HTML principles. The platform is designed to be used on any computer with internet access.
Click here to visit the virtual Geek Squad Academy website.
STEM toys for kids
Best Buy also sells a variety of STEM and educational toys that are designed to foster learning, curiosity and education for children of all ages. These toys help kids build skills in areas such as coding, circuitry and robotics — and have fun while doing it.
- VTech – Touch & Learn Deluxe Activity Desk(ages 2+), an interactive learning toy that teaches kids about letters, numbers and shapes. It also converts into an easel and chalkboard for added fun.
- Osmo – Little Genius Starter Kit for iPad (ages 3-5), which transforms a tablet into an early learning tool that helps preschoolers develop their vocabulary, reading and problem-solving skills. It also comes with a play mat and stackable containers to encourage creativity.
- LEGO – BOOST Creative Toolbox Building Set (ages 7-12), which combines LEGO blocks with advanced technology for added creativity. This kit allows kids to build five different models of a moving, talking robot.
- Snap Circuits – Junior 100 Experiments (ages 8+), which teaches kids about the science behind electronics. It contains more than 100 fun projects that encourage imaginative thinking.
- Sphero – Activity Kit (ages 8+), which helps kids program an app-enabled robotic ball via drawings, blocks or codes to suit different skills levels. It comes with pathways and obstacles that can be used for an added challenge.
Click here to search STEM toys by category on BestBuy.com.