From the Homefront: A parent’s guide to surviving summer break

Twice a month, Coast Guard All Hands will feature “From the Homefront,” a column for Coast Guard spouses by Coast Guard spouse Shelley Kimball. Shelley has been married to Capt. Joe Kimball, chief of the office of aviation forces at Coast Guard headquarters, for 16 years. She currently serves on the board of directors for the Military Family Advisory Network.

Written by Shelley Kimball

Portrait of Shelley Kimball.

Portrait of Shelley Kimball.

For our kids, it is the best time of the year: summer break. But for parents, myself included, those two words come with some fear and apprehension. How are we going to battle the boredom that may crop up?

Here are some resources from agencies that provide military families free or discounted travel and activities, and tips on how to take advantage of them. Make sure to add your favorites to the comments section at the end (please note you must be logged into a Facebook account to leave a comment).

Study: Just because school is out, learning does not have to be put on hold. Military kids get free access to personalized tutoring services through all year around, but to keep students from kindergarten through high school seniors active through the summer, it launched the Keep Your Brain Fit challenge. Students of all grade levels log in and answer questions or challenges weekly, and they are entered into drawings for prizes as they progress. It launched this week, so this is a great time to sign up and get started.

SAT/ACT test prep services is a brand new resource is providing military families. This usually costs $300 through Princeton Review, but military families will receive it for free. Join in on 30-minute webinars June 22 to learn more. (If you can’t make it to the webinar, you can email for a copy of the webinar transcript.)

Coast Guard families get access to through a grant from Coast Guard Mutual Assistance.

Travel: Many of these require planning, documentation, or forms to be filled out before you get there. These websites will get you started.

National Parks Pass: This is a free one-year pass to our national parks for active duty military members through the U.S. Geological Survey. The pass covers the entrance fees for the service member and up to three accompanying adults. There are no fees for kids younger than 15. Get the pass directly from these locations.

Walt Disney World: Every year, the Disney Company provides discounted tickets. This year, they have two park-hopper passes at discounted rates. Go to your local Morale, Welfare and Recreation office (MWR) or military base ticket office to buy them – not at the gates of the park. Shades of Green is a Walt Disney World resort in Orlando, Florida, that serves military families. You can buy the military tickets there, too. There are also military rates for Disney Cruises.

Waves of Honor: The Sea World Parks and Entertainment Group, which includes Busch Gardens, SeaWorld, and Sesame Place, grants one ticket to a park of active duty members’ choices and up to three family members. To take advantage of the offer, sign up online before you go – it requires online verification of active duty status.

Space Available or MAC flight travel: If you have a flexible travel schedule, and you are okay with delays, Space A might be the option for you. The flights are almost free – you may have to pay a small fee or taxes. You will have to call your flight terminal to see what military flights are available. If there are spaces available, you might be able to fill them. Make sure you have the proper documentation, and you know which category of traveler you are. There are a few unofficial websites like here and here that pull together information about how to make Space A Travel work best for your family. A tip: Check out the Facebook pages for the air terminals because they tend to post available flights there.

Joint Services Campgrounds: There are campgrounds and cabins available across the country for service members and their families through military branches’ MWR departments. This list is organized by state, and the location and contact information is included.

Activities: There are some fun free activities available to entertain the whole family during the summer.

Boys and Girls Clubs: The programs provided focus on empowering kids and teens to do well in school and live in a healthy way. The company grants free memberships to military kids who do not live near a youth center that serves military families.

USO Military Family Programs: USO has a variety of programs to serve military families all year around. The main website details each one, but it also provides entertainment programming. Check the site for the summer schedule, including the Sesame Street/USO Experience.

Vet Tix: Vet Tix provides free and discounted tickets to active duty service members and their families to encourage stronger family bonds to through shared experiences. Create an account on the website to view the available tickets.

Blue Star Museums: In partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families offers free access to more than 2,000 museums across the country from Memorial Day to Labor Day. It allows a military ID card holder and up to five family members free entry. Find your state on the interactive map to see what is available. This is also a great source for finding stops along the way in your travels this summer.

What should we add to the list? What do you rely on to survive summer break?

The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not to be construed as official or reflecting the views of the Commandant or of the U.S. Coast Guard.

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