For the next three months, my kids and I will be spending a lot of time time together. This will be my first summer as their primary caregiver and I’ve been busy planning fun and educational opportunities for them.
Although I plan to give them plenty of time to relax and enjoy their time off, I also intend to make sure that they keep learning during this crucial period. According to Ron Fairchild, the founder of the Smarter Learning Group, children experience learning losses when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer. Teachers typically spend between 4-6 weeks reteaching material that students have forgotten over the summer, and students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer.
Parents can prevent this summer brain drain by providing creative learning opportunities. You don’t have to send your kids to expensive summer camps or bore them with worksheets to keep their academic skills sharp. All it takes is a little imagination and planning.
Here are 10 fun ways to keep your kids learning this summer and beyond.
Find Free Educational Activities in Your City
Public libraries offer many activities to keep kids learning over the summer. Most of the events are free or require a nominal fee. Activities range from story time to magic shows to art projects. Summer is also a great time for kids to discover new books to read. In addition to the library activities, I’ve discovered several free technology, art, photography, writing, and science camps.
Many kids enjoy working with their hands and building things. My sons and I have built model cars, a cigar box guitar, a playset for the backyard, and various LEGO creations. My daughter likes to make jewelry, duct tape accessories, and bird houses. These projects teach children about tools, building materials, and construction techniques. In addition, they can practice measuring, figuring out surface area, and a little geometry. If you’re not a handy-person yourself, Loews and Home Depot have free building workshops for kids.
Cook a Meal Together
Allow your kids to help with dinner preparations. Not only will they keep their math skills sharp by measuring the ingredients, but they can also learn the science behind cooking (for more information on the convergence of cooking, science, and history watch episodes of “Good Eats”). Your kids can also sharpen their organizational and reading skills by following a recipe. Best of all, the whole family can enjoy a delicious meal afterwards.
Plant a Garden
As a child, I spent the summers on my grandparents farm where my grandfather taught me how to plant and tend to crops. I cherished this time with him and learned many things about agriculture. You don’t have to have access to a farm to plant a garden. All it takes is a small plot of land in your backyard. If you don’t have a backyard, a planter on the windowsill is perfect for growing a herb garden. There are also community gardens where you can take your kids to learn about planting plants and vegetables. Gardening teaches kids about biology, environment, and chemistry. It also teaches them a valuable lesson in patience.
Explore Your Hometown
Many of us take our own cities for granted. We’re always eager to explore other places, but fail to appreciate the things that make our own city great. Spend the summer touring your town to discover hidden gems. Each city has a plethora of historical sites, museums, zoos, architectural styles that will help to expand your kids’ minds. If possible, take them to a city council meeting for a live lesson in civics.
Attend a Concert
Studies have shown that listening to music helps to improve cognitive abilities. Take advantage of this knowledge, by exposing your children to different musical styles at the many music festivals that happen during the summer. Each city has several opportunities to attend free concerts and community events that feature music. Your child just may be influenced to start learning an instrument. If they already play an instrument, listening to professional musicians play will help to improve their musical abilities.
Take a Road Trip
Road trips are a great opportunity to teach your kids about geography. Ditch the GPS and let them plot your journey with a map. You can also incorporate some math lessons by asking them to figure out how many miles you will travel and the approximate time needed to reach your destination. Keep the trip fun by playing games such as “I Spy” or “Spot the License Plate.” On a trip from Texas to Colorado, my family was able to locate all 50 state license plates.
Make a Family Tree
Building a family tree helps kids to understand their family’s heritage, culture and history. Have your kids call their extended family – grandparents, aunts, uncles – to hear stories about their lives and how they perceived the historical events they lived through. Sites such Ancestry.com make it easy to gather information about your ancestors. Incorporate old photographs, letters, personal accounts and memorabilia to make the experience richer.
When I was a kid, I never payed much attention to the mathematical principles behind games such as Jacks, Rubik’s Cube, Hopscotch, or Monolopy. Now I use these games to help my children keep their math skills sharp. Games that allow kids to move such as jumping rope, hula hoop, or tag also help kinesthetic learners to remain active during the summers. In addition to playing these standard games, encourage children to make up new games. Don’t discount video games. Some games teach valuable skills and help with hand-eye coordination.
Let Their Imagination Run Free
While you’re planning your summer activities, be sure to schedule plenty of free times. Kids need to discover things on their own. They need to daydream, ponder, and let their imaginations run free. I encourage my kids to read books, write in journals, create art projects, take photos, make movies, or simply do nothing. They often come up with creative ideas that amaze me.
Join the conversation: How do you plan to keep your kids learning during the summer?
photo by US Dept. of Education