You have probably heard about the summer slide — the way kids can lose a lot of the skills, knowledge, and motivation they learned during the school year over the lazy, hazy days of summer. And though I am sure you don’t need your child to become the next Einstein or Madame Curie, you probably want to make sure your child will retain all that was learned last year in order to be prepared for the academic year to come.
And sure, a little strategic screen time here and there can be educational when we intend it that way, but the key to keeping summer fun and instructive is to mix up informative play and educational screen time. This is also a great way to stave off the inevitable choruses of “I’m bored” or “We’re bored.”
This summer, set tone that a little learning is an important part of each day, so kids still enjoy the relaxation of summer while keeping up the habit of learning.
Here is a roundup of 21 ways to keep your kids’ minds active all summer long, so your kids will have a happier summer and you won’t worry about the transition back to school come fall:
Ask for insight. Check with your child’s teacher before school gets out to see what kinds of educational goals she recommends for your child. Don’t compare your children’s academic performance to siblings or friends. Everyone learns and grows differently. Aim to support your child wherever he stands academically right now to maximize enjoyment of learning.
Sign up for your library summer reading program. Set a minimum reading time each day of 30 to 60 minutes. Or break reading time into two 30-minute chunks — one for a parent-approved book and the other for whatever your child chooses to read. The library offers lots of variety, and summer is a great time to check out age-appropriate comic books and graphic novels, as well as cookbooks and biographies.
Visit museums in your area. Find out in advance when the free days are to visit local museums and learning centers. Opt for guided or non-guided tour, as your family prefers. Be sure to check out the gift shop on your way out for inspired games and toys.
Plant a garden together. Use illustrated gardening books by Sharon Lovejoy to find projects that suit the personalities of your family and kids. If your family loves pizza, plant a pizza garden. If fresh salsa is your thing, plant a salsa garden. Think about what your family likes to eat and plant accordingly. See sidebar for guidebooks bursting with gardening inspiration.
Shop like a teacher. Visit your local teacher supply store and stock up on workbooks and educational games. Other things you will find that might motivate summer loungers include timers for breaking the day up into learning chunks, craft supplies for every age, and educational games, videos, and music.
Play store. Pull out a portion of the food in your cabinets and pantry out onto the countertops. Let kids use real money, price items, break out the calculators, and do the math. Make playing store an all-day affair or a weekly occurrence, if your kids enjoy it. Make the game as simple or complex as suits your children’s ages.
Visit local nature centers, Audubon societies, and nearby gardens. Make a list at the beginning of summer and plan to hit all the regional natural destinations all before the first day of school. Then plan a weekly outing and bring along a picnic. To review what you saw and learned on the way home, play “I Spied” instead of “I Spy.”
Research a future vacation. Let each child pick his own destination and figure out what it would cost for the family to spend one week there including airfare, transportation, meals, hotels, and everything else. Have them present their proposed vacations to the whole family by showing the math writ large on posterboard. Who knows, they just might talk you into a trip you hadn’t thought of yourself.
Let them plan a meal. The kids can become chefs for the day, including the jobs of finding the recipes, making the grocery list, cutting the coupons, doing the shopping, comparing brands, and cooking up a storm. Then be a good sport and enjoy whatever they serve. Very young children can do the same, only with make-pretend food.
Have a word of the day. Put the word in large letters at the top of a page with the definition just below. Hang the word on the fridge and make a game out of using it in sentences all day long.
Battle bugs or weeds as research projects. What a great way to practice troubleshooting and potentially solve your most nagging nuisances. Challenge older kids to solve your ecological challenges by researching and experimenting with natural solutions they track down on the Internet. Keep a log of the results. Give rewards for problems solved.
Measure and mix. Put the kids in charge of desserts for the summer. Make sure they create some healthy choices like fruit pops or sorbet, as well as delicious baked goodies like pies, cakes, and cookies. If they get carried away, let them have a neighborhood bake sale.
Go multi-media with books you read together. Take turns reading out loud or check out audio books from your local library to listen to before dinner or before bed. Once you finish the book as a family, watch the movie together. Compare and contrast the books and the films. See sidebar for suggested books that have been made into movies.
Keep a “How I Spent My Summer Scrapbook.” Choose a blank-page, over-sized book with ample pages for writing, collaging, collecting, and embellishing. Set aside time to work on “summer books” for a half hour every day at whatever time of day works best. Let kids decide whether or not to keep it private or share the results with the family.
Sign up for BrainPop. This educational website has more than 1,000 short animated movies for kids ages 6 to 17, making it the perfect substitute teacher for your kids over the summer. Best of all, they can pursue topics that interest them. Check with your child’s school library to see if they have free access to BrainPopJr for kindergarten through third grade. Otherwise, a subscription is money well spent on entertaining enrichment.
Tackle a big creative project. Choose one that takes planning, creativity, and involving others like putting on a puppet show, writing a play, or making a movie. Let your child approach the project in his own way, and only offer to help if you are needed. Invest a little money in your child’s creativity and their imaginations will be buoyed by your patronage.
Visit friends and family around the world. Start with a list of friends and family you know all over the globe. Then once a week, take an hour to really explore that destination via Google Earth and by researching online information. Expand your geographic horizons further by video-calling your friends or family and informally interviewing them about the area where they live. Post a map on the wall and stick a tack in each location you visit virtually.
Think beyond the lemonade stand. Terrific lessons about business, sales, and marketing will be learned when you create your child’s version of the lemonade stand. Why not sell old toys, baked goods, or artwork as a lesson in entrepreneurism? You never know. You might spark a future interest in business.
Commit to a cause. If your child loves animals, see if you can spend some time volunteering at a local animal shelter. If she’s a regular fashionista, why not throw a summer “trashion” show to raise money for a local charity? Even a trip to your local food bank or letting your kids come with you while you give blood is a life lesson that keeps on giving.
Share your childhood favorites. Did you love to make friendship bracelets or collect comic books? Did your husband learn to play guitar or practice scouting skills in the backyard? Summer is the perfect time to share your favorite hobbies and summer pastimes with your kids. Why not strike up a conversation about it at dinner tonight to get the memories rolling?
Admire intelligence. Find healthy and smart virtual role models for your tween or teen to study over the summer. For example, if your young lady loves entropy and dissecting frogs, she might enjoy trying some home experiments created by Bill Nye, the “Science Guy.” Learn more at www.billnye.com/for-kids-teachers/home-demos/. Make a list of virtual summer tutors for each child and indulge in customized summer learning.
Christina Katz loves jungle gym slides, water park slides, Slip ’N Slides, and Chutes And Ladders, but not the summer slide. Her latest book is “Permission Granted, 45 Reasons To Micro-publish.”