Summer break is here! Our kids are rejoicing in their new-found freedom, but sometimes we parents worry that (a) we'll go crazy before the summer ends with our kids around all of the time, (b) our kids will turn their brains to mush watching TV all the time, or (c) BOTH. And, to be honest, those concerns are legitimate.
According to the National Summer Reading Association, most students lose about two months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months. Low-income students also lose more than two months in reading achievement. (See the NSRA for more info and sources.)
These and many other studies indicate that it's important for kids to have continued learning opportunities throughout the summer. But, don't worry. Entertaining your kids all summer does not have to be an all-consuming, exhausting job. With a little effort and planning, you can keep your sanity (what's left of it) and ensure that your kids will return to school with non-mushy brains in the fall.
Here are some ways you can encourage your kids to keep learning this summer:
Focus on hands-on learning
Don't worry too much about textbook/workbook learning during the summer. The benefit of being at home rather than in a school setting is that you have the freedom to do a lot of things that just aren't feasible for teachers dealing with 30+ students in one classroom.
A 2009 study from Purdue University found, not surprisingly, that students who were involved in hands-on and project-based learning "learned more and demonstrated a deeper understanding of the issues" than students who participated in traditional textbook and lecture-style learning. This is partly because hands-on learning gets multiple areas of the brain involved in the learning process, and partly because when students can make connections between book learning and the "real world" they are more likely to retain the knowledge.
Here are some hands-on ideas to get your started:
Cook to learn math
When little ones dump and stir, they learn about scientific processes and following directions. Older kids can practice fractions and measuring skills.
Do science experiments at home
Go on field trips
You don't have to make it a formal "field trip" but a summer time trip to the zoo, museum, or aquarium is a great opportunity for kids to learn about the world around them. Even going to the park can be a great way to learn about gravity, laws of motion, friction and other things. Go explore nature and make observations about the world around you. Keep it simple and casual, but help your kids understand how the things they learned in school during the year apply to their real lives.
Provide opportunities and choices
Summer is a great time for kids to pursue learning about topics they are particularly interested in. Talk with them about what they'd like to learn about and help them find the resources they need. Does your child think knights and castles are cool? Why not get him a book about medieval life and let him make his own model of a castle using foam board, paper towel tubes and glue?
Have a theatre lover? Let her write a script with friends that they can perform for the neighborhood (and make sure to video it for them to cringe at in 10 years).
I also love having a big "junk" box filled with recyclables, craft supplies and whatever else you think to throw in there for kids to create with. You may be surprised by the robots, spaceships, or fairy houses that your kids come up with when you set them and their imaginations free.
Just remember, your job is to be a facilitator to their creative process, but let them do it their way (within safety guidelines, of course).
Reading is one of those core skills that will benefit your child for a lifetime. When I taught school, I always used to tell my middle-schoolers that if they didn't like reading, they were reading the wrong books. Help your child find the kinds of books they will enjoy (I always liked to start by asking them what kind of movies they liked.), make weekly trips to the library a fun outing, have a summer read-a-thon where you pile blankets and pillows in the family room and read for as long as you dare! (Having some good snacks on hand can go a long way to make this a success).
When I was a child, my mom made a reading chart for me in the summer. Each time I finished a book, I got to add a sticker to the chart. When I reached a predetermined place on the chart, I earned a little prize (you could make it a special "date" with mom or dad to get ice cream or a movie, a coupon to stay up 15 minutes late one night, or whatever will motivate your child). Try keeping track of reading with these fun book worms or these bookmarks.
Read to your child, and if they're able, have them read to you or to a younger sibling. Whatever you do, keep reading!
I don't necessarily recommend having your child practice writing essays in the summertime. However, it's a great time to let them focus on creative writing, something that most kids really enjoy. It will still help them develop writing skills, but in a more creative and fun way.
One of my favorite books to encourage creative writing is "The Mysteries of Harris Burdick" by Chris Van Allsberg. Essentially, each page of the book has a beautiful illustration and a caption that could be a line from an imaginary book. The book encourages readers to imagine what the rest of the story behind each illustration might be. I spent many hours during childhood summers creating stories based on the inspiring illustrations in this book! Here are some more interesting writing prompts.
Play and explore
Now, a word of caution, don't over-schedule and over-plan your kids' summer. Be reasonable about your expectations of yourself and your kids. They don't need to be actively involved in structured learning activities all day long. You can keep it simple and just pick a few interesting activities each day to make the summer a memorable one and keep your kids learning. Then, just let them play. Play is how kids process the world around them and develop in so many different ways (read more here).
In the end, I hope you just make summer fun! And while you're having fun, point out some of the cool things about the world that you know. Make memories with your kids, and learn along with them. The world is a pretty amazing place, and as your kids explore it with you, they'll naturally learn a lot.
This article was originally published on Smarter Parenting. It has been republished here with permission.