Science education through robots, financial literacy, volunteerism — scanning the topics and issues we cover in our third annual Desert Companion Family issue, I’m struck by, well, what a serious, grown-up enterprise being a kid has become. (The closest I think I ever came to entering a robotics competition was playing smash-up derby on our bikes. Not sure what I learned about science beyond an intimacy with the structure and morphology of my bruised shins, though.) If such concerns represent the New Childhood, then this year’s Desert Companion Family Issue should serve as a more than capable user’s manual. In “Go team science!” (p. 54), Sarah Vernetti explores the latest trend in STEM education — and it doesn’t involve a tangled thicket of formulas scrawled on dry-erase boards. Rather, it’s about igniting kids’ imaginations for science and engineering through exciting robot battles and intense drone competitions. In “Common cents” (p. 45), Jason Scavone surveys courses and programs about financial literacy, a bedrock life skill that’s fallen by the wayside in the traditional classroom (to the peril of several generations mired in consumer and student debt). Today, proponents of financial literacy are teaching kids about much more than merely how to balance a checkbook; they’re hoping to instill money habits that will empower youth for a lifetime of wise saving and thoughtful spending. Such education is itself an investment. And in “Advanced degree in charity” (p. 31), Heidi Kyser profiles a group of teens who, encouraged by their parents, formed a tight-knit volunteerism club called TeenMD. What began as a loose group of do-gooders became something much more to these teenagers (and to the organizations they served): Volunteerism became a lifestyle; selflessness, a character trait. And an appreciation of the bigger picture was a lesson they probably wouldn’t have learned in a classroom. As TeenMD member Eve Wellish puts it, “With each project, you look a little deeper and see what needs to be changed in our world.” That’s a decidedly different kind of higher ed.
But our 2016 Family Issue isn’t all work and no play. There’s plenty of diversion for summer, fall and beyond. While the heat reigns well through August, keep this issue handy for a plethora of indoor activities that’ll occupy everyone from toddlers to teens (“The great indoors,” p. 24), whether they like tumbling, trampolining or trying their puzzle-solving skills in the latest craze, escape rooms. When the mercury drops to survivable human levels, our “Wild in the streets (and trails)” (p. 18) guide is a great tool for peeling the little ones away from the iPad and introducing them to the flora and fauna of the Southwest. But who says you even have to leave the house to leap into adventure? In “Hot outside, way cool inside” (p. 34) Scott Dickensheets has put together a crunchy snack bowl of creative games, books and crafts that are perfect for constructive indoor summer fun. And, in what’s become a sort of culinary tradition, Oksana Marafioti is back with more kid-friendly recipes for budding chefs and foodies (“Flight of flavor,” p. 40). And don’t forget our resource guide (p. 59), our expanded compendium of events, amusements and organizations that offer services — and in many cases, just pure fun — to families like yours.