People from my generation as a child of the 70s will all understand why you avoided the metal slide at certain hours of the day. As painful of an event as that could be, some children experience a different kind of pain with the summer slide, albeit not the one at the playground. This slide is the dip in learning that occurs where instead of marching forward when school resumes, many children slip backward in their learning. As a teacher of 25 years, I have witnessed this “summer slide” both in data testing and in practice. Skills that I know these students knew solidly last spring are suddenly foreign concepts and instead of plunging into new learning, much of the first month of school is spent re-teaching last year’s material. Fall testing has always confirmed what I see in my classroom.
The good news is there are some things we parents can do that will help our children not dip too far on the reverse-learning trend. Before we go any further, I want to explain that I am a big fan of kids being kids in the summer. There is nothing wrong with workbooks and traditional school activities over the summer, but I think there are many, MANY ways to learn. There is a month of summer still available for many children. Hopefully, an idea or two below will help spark some great learning adventures for your entire family.
My favorite summer pastime has always been chapter book reading. Every day after lunch, we wash the dishes quickly, then find a comfy spot to settle in for an hour of out loud reading as a family. When our kids were really little, this hour was typically followed by naptime. As the kids grew older, the hour delay kept our children out of the hottest sun of the day before we plunged into the pool. A win-win for all in my book.
Because that’s what teachers do, I have created a quick list of ideas based on the ABCs: adventure, build, and create. This list is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully it sparks your own creativity and ingenuity.
- Get in touch with nature. Many state and county parks have programming for children. A quick scan on the internet can find when the next children’s program occurs.
- Find a Geocache! Who doesn’t love a great treasure hunt? Some state parks have hand-held GPS units for loan (just like checking out a book from the library) or there are free apps. Never heard of geocaching? You can learn more here.
- Visit area museums, planetariums, and points of interest. Some public libraries have passes for area attractions that can be checked out and some have free days once a month. My favorite teacher tip is to create a BINGO card or Scavenger Hunt list for kids when they visit. Many museums are now creating these for young visitors, but if there isn’t one available, a quick scan of the internet can provide some ideas of what can be found in the collection.
- Turn a rainy day into a pajama day. Build a blanket fort and dig out the crayons and coloring books. Eat all your meals in the fort and spend time just being quiet. If you need a break from the fort, a great rainy day art project is as simple as Chinette paper plates, food coloring and rain drops. Have children place drops of food coloring on the paper plates and then place outside in the rain for a few minutes. Let the rain do the creative work. Talk about the patterns created.
- Visit a farmers’ market and explore all the amazing goodies. Encourage your children to try a new food. Then do a little research to find out the food’s origin and where it is grown around the world. Did you know the original carrot was not orange and originated from Afghanistan? Think of the geography lessons a trip to the farmers’ market can create.
- Grab a map. Taking a road trip? Get a road map and have your kids chart your progress on the way. In addition to geography, you can sneak in a little math by having your kiddos determine distances between towns. Discuss the concepts of direction and speed.
- Get lost in a good song. Many city bands have free concerts as do some zoos and museums. Our community even has a kids’ march each week.
- Vocabulary by reading every day. Allow children to pick what books (even comic books) they would like to read independently and pick a great chapter book to read as a family. Some of our books have led us on even greater adventures because our kids wanted to walk in the footsteps of the characters. We’ve explored Mark Twain’s caves, ate chocolate croissants in Chicago, and waded in Plum Creek all because of getting caught up in a good book.
- An engineering marvel. Simple supplies like newspaper, toothpicks, marshmallows, and spaghetti noodles are awesome building materials. Challenge your children to build a creation that will hold a certain weight or will span a particular distance or height.
- A homemade pizza. Use that trip to the farmers’ market to buy fresh ingredients for a homemade pizza. Cooking is a great way to teach children about fractions and to have fun while doing it.
- A found objects art project. Dig in the junk drawer, under the couch cushions, and at the bottom of the toy box for small items that can be used in a collage-style art project. Allow your kids to design and create a vignette. These can be permanent by gluing and painting or they can be transitional. If you do the latter, change one detail and see if your kids can say what changed. Have them test your memory too! Snap a few pictures of the creations as they are made and change.
- Visual literacy. Each week the NY Times posts a picture from their archive and asks participants to write in and suggest what is happening in the photo. This weekly activity helps students to start asking questions. Pondering is a great skill to foster. If the content of the images is too much for your children, any photo will do. The photos found here are updated weekly throughout the school year, but past photos are easy to find.
- A meal together. Have your children do the planning, including the grocery shopping, and have them set the table, assist in making the meal, and enjoy some time together.
- A collection of something. The sky’s the limit here. Rather than collecting souvenirs, have your children pick something from nature. I still search high and low for the perfect shell to bring back from the beach every time I visit. This is a great way to talk about “compare and contrast” or similar and different.”
- A story. Make up a character and ask your children to decide what is going to happen next. Add illustrations and new chapters. This is a great project that can be done with other families. You create the first chapter and then pass it on to the next family who picks up where your family left off adding the next piece of the story.
- A science experiment. Countless examples and instructions can be found on Pinterest. No matter what you choose, find something that interests your children and make sure to ask lots of questions. We have done soda geysers, water bottle rockets, and red cabbage indicators. My kids have loved them all. Okay, maybe not the stinky cabbage, but they loved the experiment. A combination science and engineering activity is to build a solar oven out of a pizza box and make s’mores.
- A dinosaur dig. Don’t have a gigantic fossil in your backyard? No worries! Bury small items in the sandbox or in Rubbermaid container, and have your tiny archeologists uncover them.
- A bug’s eye view. Grab a hand lens and your sense of adventure. Explore in the grass and under rocks to see what God’s tiniest creations are doing.
- A long-distance relationship. One of the best ways to foster writing skills is by having a pen pal. Have kids write to a friend or relative who live a distance away. Handwriting practice is much more fun when you are telling your cousin that your parents took you to the Dairy Queen in your pajamas than on practice worksheets. If typing skills are an area that needs development, create an e-mail relationship with a trusted adult. One summer our kids had an e-mail exchange with grandparents where they tried to create elaborate sentences using words that all started with one letter. The grandparents had “A” and the kids responded a long sentence with only “B” words.
- An understanding of code. There are many programs and ideas which help students build technical skills of coding. Our youngest is currently exploring a coding robot, but there are other options that don’t cost as much available. There are amazing tutorials found at the Hour of Code https://code.org/learn
- Resilience. One of the best ways I have found to build resilience in children is through puzzles. Find ones of varying degrees of difficulty and leave them out for your children to “puzzle” through their building of the final product.
- A digital citizenship awareness. Families can create a blog, vlog, or podcast. This is a great way to practice brainstorming, communicating effectively, and presentation skills. It is better that we as parents set the tone for a digital presence than our children learn in an unsupervised manner.
- A heart that loves others. Volunteer as a family at a soup kitchen, Ronald McDonald house, veteran’s home, Humane Society, or anywhere in your community. Create blessing bags for the homeless. Give produce from your garden to a single parent household or to elderly folks. Teaching empathy and caring are some of the greatest lessons that we can give our children.
The lessons are limitless, and the greatest part is that our children won’t even realize they are learning. What they will remember are all the great memories that were made on their summer adventures. Think of all they will have to share when they go back to the classroom!