Summer Smarts | 8 Ways to Keep Kids Academically Engaged Over the Summer
Summer: the 12 weeks of the year when kids experience brain drain equivalent to losing one entire month of school learning. During the school year we spend buckets of time making sure our wee ones are practicing their weekly spelling words, getting in their required reading time, and staying up to date on current events. Then summer arrives and the only thoughts of academia are when supply lists are posted and parents scramble to make sure they’ve purchased the right size of lined filler paper.
But not in our house. Nope. I refuse to let my kids’ brains turn to mush in a mere three months. I refuse to let the joy of childhood summers get in the way of phonics and Common Core math. In fact, I refuse to let my spawn know there are actually things happening outside our home that don’t involve a #2 pencil and rote memorization.
Ok. That’s not at all true and in fact, the exact opposite is what I’ve got planned for my kiddos this year. But guess what? Their fun-filled summer will be secretly loaded with learning. That’s right: I’m on a mission to actually make my kids smarter this summer...and they won’t even be the wiser. Wait, they will be wiser. Now I’m just confusing myself. But I digress…
While not an exhaustive list of the many creative and fun ways to throw a little learnin’ into your summer, I’m sharing eight easy, nearly free, and totally doable by even those-who-loathe-Pinterest-ideas to get your kiddo's smarts on:
1. Library Reading Programs
I’m kicking off the list with this one because it requires zero prep time and costs you nada. It’s really amazing how quickly reading skills can diminish over the summer months. Many public libraries have some type of summer reading program that often includes special events and rewards for reaching goals. In fact, my kiddos drive me a little bit nuts asking to go to the library every week to get new books to read. One thing I love is that most of these programs don’t just reward the kids for the number of books that they read but instead focus on the amount of time spent reading. I encourage my trio to take their time, not rush through their books, and to ask questions if they don’t understand something. To get you started, here are two great summer reading lists that provide suggestions for age-appropriate books:
- Association for Library Service to Children - Summer Reading List
- Reading Rockets Summer Reading Guide 2017
2. Fun Workbooks
This one might not sound so exciting, but I can assure you that there are many workbooks your kids will love that are focused on reading, math, spelling, and even cool brain games. We usually scour our local big box stores like Costco or Sam’s Club for workbooks to keep on hand during school breaks. Amazon also has a great mix of options including our favorites, the Stick Kids Series, and some pretty cool Star Wars themed workbooks for your favorite little Padawan.
3. Mini Meteorologists
I know I’m not the only parent who gets questions like “Can I wear shorts today?” or “Can we go swimming today?” Instead of yelling “Look out the window!”, I decided to let my kids check out the weather forecast for themselves to find their answers and learn a bit more about how the weather changes by season. As simple as it would be to just have them step outside, that won’t give them a look at the full day or tell them if their little league game might be cancelled that night. Instead, we found a great weather app that is just for kids, made by a kid, and is called...wait for it...Kid Weather. Our kids can track weather patterns and also see the differences between fahrenheit and celsius. Talking about weather helps kids understand seasons and—taking it a step further—teaches them about different climates across the planet and how they vary.
4. Lemonade Stands
A staple of any childhood is a good ol’ fashioned lemonade stand. Instead of just whipping up a pitcher of the good stuff and sending your kids out the door, why not take the opportunity to teach them a little bit of basic math along the way? For younger ones you can create a chart to help them figure out how much change should be given using typical dollar amounts. Have older kids set a sales goal for the day and figure out how many cups they need to sell to earn that amount. We also love these tips from our friends at The Spruce on integrating more complex math concepts into a lemonade stand for those with older kids. A bonus idea: Have your child choose a charity that they’d like to support with the money earned at their stand. They’re never too young to be a philanthropist!
5. The License Plate Game
Remember the days of sitting in the back of a wood-paneled station wagon on a family road trip trying to spot license plates from all 50 states? Though seatbelt laws have changed, the childhood joy of spotting the elusive North Dakota plate still exists. One of my favorite toy companies, Melissa & Doug, has outdone themselves yet again by creating an on-the-go license plate map that I’d recommend for any family. I love maps, and I long for the days of paper maps that span the dashboard. Kids today can’t see the “big picture” as their geographic perspective is limited to what’s on the GPS screen. Having an actual visual of a U.S. map in its entirety helps kids understand things such as the difference between cities, states, and countries. No matter if you are planning a staycation this summer or are venturing from coast to coast, your kids will love keeping a tally of the plates they have found and even learning the state capitals.
6. State of the Week
Speaking of U.S. maps, another fun summer activity is having each child choose a state of the week. Have them spend some time during that week learning more about their chosen state and let them share their fun facts throughout. This can be done by creating a state-themed meal (New York Apple Pie or Texas BBQ!), playing music from an artist who calls that state home, or creating a Play-Doh or Lego model of a historic landmark from that state. This activity can also be done by choosing animals, planets, or even plants of the week.
7. Cooking and Calculus
Okay, it’s not quite calculus, but cooking is an easy and fun way to keep your kids’ math skills fine tuned over the summer. Whether it’s teaching them how to measure out flour or figuring out how many sticks of butter you need for that cake recipe, kids can absorb this “sneaky math” much easier because they can see the tangible results. There are many great kids cookbooks out there, but here are a few versions that also include some fun math lessons as well:
- The Math Chef: Over 60 Math Activities and Recipes for Kids
- Eat Your Math Homework: Recipes for Hungry Minds
8. Grocery Shopping and Budgeting
First, let me share that I am a bargain shopper. While I have yet to make an appearance on any extreme couponing show, it’s a rare occasion that I buy something full price or without a coupon. If your kids are anything like mine, they don’t quite understand the concept of money and that we can’t just throw every GoGo Squeez box and package of Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies into our cart. Having your kids actually plan and write out the grocery list will help them not only keep their spelling skills on point throughout the summer months (shouldn’t every kid know how to spell “Sriracha”?), but it will also give them an opportunity to practice math skills and learn how to set a budget. Once at the store they can help you by reading the names on the aisles and figuring out quantities of items. Keep in mind: Your trip may take longer than normal, but just think about the smile of pride on their face when they realize there’s a difference between kale and endive...priceless.
As parents we often miss those moments of discovery that happen in the classroom but those academic milestones don’t have to be reserved for the school year. It’s amazing how much your kids can absorb over the summer months, and this is our time to be the ones teaching. Enjoy the journey.