5 activities to do before summer ends

Make a list of things to do before summer ends, even if the first day of school is right around the corner. Making the most of the remaining summer days, while working around school and after-school activities, requires a modicum of planning to be sure. After all, there are bus schedules, carpool runs and parent nights to factor in. Even so, making the effort to fit in just a few more fun activities in the summer is well worth it. It eases the transition from the long lazy days to the rigors of a school schedule. Of course, it also helps that these final summer activities now frequently take you to venues that are devoid of crowds. Are there things to do for the family in your neck of the woods? You bet!

1. Visit an Observatory

Stargazing is one of the things to do for the family that enjoys things out of this world. Pick a Friday night, when kids do not have to get up early the next day, and head to your local observatory. Time it right and you will not have to worry about the increasing cloud cover brought on by fall weather. Pittsburgh's Allegheny Observatory offers 7:30 p.m. lectures on the third Friday of the month (with subsequent tours). Los Angeles' Griffith Observatory hosts weekend star parties and light shows. Westport's Rolnick Observatory schedules free public astronomy nights every Wednesday from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. You get the idea; plenty of observatories around the country offer special event access for families. While you are there, why not combine the outing with a picnic under the stars?

2. Hang Out at a Nature Center

Put a visit to your local nature center on the list of things to do before summer ends. These outings are as educational as they are fun, and they oftentimes open up doors for year-round involvement in conservation efforts right in your neighborhood. Alabama has Oak Mountain State Park, where nature activities include night walks, nature crafts and animal adaptation discovery tours. In Colorado, there is the Evergreen Nature Center, where families can participate in wildflower walks and bird watching activities.

3. Visit a Lighthouse

Fun activities in the summer should always include a little local culture and color. Lighthouses are perfect venues to visit. In California's San Luis Obispo, there is the Point San Luis Lighthouse, which offers trolley tours as part of the sightseeing package. In Illinois' Evanston, there is the Grosse Point Lighthouse National Landmark, which schedules weekend tours.

4. Host a Family Picnic

If your summer has been filled with lots of travel, staying home can be more fun. Activities to do as a family here would include a family picnic. Invite the children's friends, family members and the neighbors you always wanted to meet. Make it a potluck to keep costs down. In the alternative, if you have many foodies in your circle of friends, you could recreate an episode of Iron Chef America, where a theme ingredient sets the tone for the dishes served. Make it a kid-friendly ingredient, so that even the youngest picnic guests will be able to participate.

5. Discover a New Activity or Sport

Do you want your children to become weekend couch potatoes? You might have succeeded in keeping them busy during the summer with camps and activities, but once school starts, the game systems beckon -- especially as temperatures are getting colder. Now is a great time to find things activities to do as a family that might keep you busy even in winter. Head down to the local YMCA for a list of group exercise classes; plenty of these activities are geared toward families and beginners. We learned how to Zumba at the Y; your family might discover a knack for family boxing, water aerobics, yoga or step.

More by Sylvia Cochran