Teachers often joke about clearing out the cobwebs at the beginning of each school year. Some call summer learning loss the summer slide or brain drain, and research shows kids do indeed lose approximately 22% of their academic skills over the summer.
According to the Summer Learning Association, kids score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of summer vacation. Most kids lose about two months of math computation skills over the summer, while kids who dont participate in summer reading can lose up to two months of reading achievement.
Aside from loss of academic skills, many kids also experience summer weight gain from lack of physical activity. According to the American Journal of Public Health, most kids gain weight more rapidly over summer break. Kids gain body mass index (BMI) nearly twice as fast during the summer as during the school year.
The good news is there are tons of fun ways to keep kids engaged in learning and outdoor play during the summer. Heres a comprehensive guide to a variety of learning opportunities and activities to personalize your childs summer experience and keep their brains and bodies active all summer long.
SUMMER ONLINE LEARNING OPPORTUNITIESDIY Summer Camps, Ages 7-16
Kids earn skills badges by completing different camps, such as cooking, movie making, outdoor adventures, bookbinding, comic book making, lego building and more. Each DIY camp lasts four weeks. Instructors post daily videos, and kids can post as little or as often as they like. First camp costs $10. Subsequent camps cost $39. Parents can track progress and view projects, and kids names are kept private. There are no chat options on this site.
Brain Chase Challenge, Ages 6-16
This five-week challenge begins June 22. Kids compete in a real-life treasure hunt for the chance to win $10,000. Completing an hour of academic work a day unlocks animated videos and clues. Brain Chase partners with some of the best academic resources on the web, such as Khan Academy, Rosetta Stone and credentialed writing instructors. Its a fun way to keep math, reading, writing and foreign language skills up over the summer! You can learn more in this recent Parent Co. interview with Brain Chase.
Khan Academy, Ages 5-18
Khan Academy offers a range of subjects online for free. Kids learn at their own pace, and parents can track progress. Subjects include math, science, coding, history, art history, economics and more. Khan Academy partners with institutions, such as NASA, The Museum of Modern Art, The California Academy of Sciences and MIT to provide state of the art content. Kids learn through practice exercises and instructional videos. One advantage to using Khan Academy is it can be accessed all year long.
Virtual Tours, All Ages
Take a virtual tour of a museum without leaving your home! Enjoy a 360 degree view of Michelangelos Sistine Chapel. Go on a panoramic tour of the Smithsonians Museum of Natural History. Interact with the flight deck of the Space Shuttle Discovery. Travel to locations all over the world through 360 degree interactive views.
Science House App, Ages 4-18
Science House is a free science app that includes over 80 science lessons and videos. These inexpensive experiments will inspire curiosity and inquiry in your kids.
Duolingo App, Ages 4 and up
Learn a foreign language for free! There are up to 11 languages to choose from with this app rated App of the Year by Apple in 2013. Great for parents too!
Code Academy, Ages 12 and up
Today Box, Ages 4-10
Today Box is a non-commercialized site for kids, parents and educators that hosts highly-curated content safe for curious kids. Explore videos on animals, nature, art, music, active play, robots, space, STEM and more. Head to the grown-up blog for activities and reviews of books and apps. Pro Tip: Make the site a homescreen app on your phone or iPad for easy kid access.
Virtual College Tours, Ages 14-18
Do you have a teenager looking at colleges? Introduce them to virtual college tours, where they can check out campuses across the United States for free. Teens can view video tours, manipulate interactive maps and take mobile walking tours.
FOR TINKERERS AND MAKERSTinkerLab for Mini Makers and Inventors, Ages 2 and upTinkerLab ranks as one of the top 25 creative mom blogs by Circle of Moms. Rachelle Doorley, an arts educator and parent., posts tinkering projects and ideas on TinkerLab. The site iseasy to navigate as projects are listed visually and alphabetically by category. Participate in the tinkering sketchbook challenge, build a Rube Goldberg machine, fly a tea bag hot air balloon or get messy in the kitchen!
Make a Kid Tinkering Kit, Ages 6 and up
Put together the perfect tinkering kit for the summer, so your kids can build and tinker to their hearts content. The blog Katydid and Kid: Adventures in Making and Doing has an excellent guide to putting together a tinkering kit. Many of the items you probably already have around your home. This kit is designed by a mom, blogger, and former artist, museum educator and arts educator. Her site also includes lots of fun tinkering activities for kids.
Seedling Kits, Ages 3-12
Imagine, explore and create with playful and affordable activity kits from Seedling. Shop by price, age or theme. Make a superhero cape, invent your own insects, design a pirate ship, sew a dino(sew), and more! Great for a rainy day or summer travel!
Hatch Early Learning STEM Kits, Ages 2-5
This company sells STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Kits designed specifically for preschoolers. Kits help kids learn about gravity, volume, engineering, robotics and more at a developmental level appropriate for kids ages 2-4. Buy kits or get ideas for making your own.
Lakeshore Learning STEM Kits, Ages 5-14
Buy real-world challenge kits to stimulate your childs STEM skills. This site allows parents to search by age, price and topic making it easier to see whats available. Kits include water play, fairy-tale problem solving and engineering. These kits are perfect for a rainy summer day or outdoor play.
Makers Camp, Ages 13-18
This free online digital camp is for kids who love to hack, tinker, build and discover. Camp runs six-weeks from July 6 - August 14. This site uses Google Hangout and virtual field trips, so we suggest it's more appropriate for middle school or high school. Campers also get instructions for making their own DIY projects at home. Last year's camp included a hangout with the White House Executive Chef and a live assembly of a telescope at NASA.
Brit Kits, Ages 12-18
Brit + Co. sells DIY and design projects perfect for teenagers and parents. Design a cheeseboard, learn to letterpress or design your own leather lamp. Parents might like etching their own champagne flute or whiskey tumblers. Brit + Co. also offers great prices on online classes like calligraphy, sewing, jewelry making, sketching and more at just $19.99.
Carolina STEM and Inquiry Kits, Ages 12-18
These kits are perfect for keeping middle school and high school students engaged in building STEM skills over the summer. Parents and kids can search by topic or grade level on this site. Experiment with solar water heating, urine purification, balloon rockets, wind power, the circulatory system and more.
STEMfinity Summer Camps, Ages 6-18
STEMfinity makes kits for various STEM courses lasting about 12 hours. Kits include instructions, lessons, suggested schedules, as well as all the materials needed. Tinker with robotics, circuits, build your own roller coaster, develop your painting skills, explore the ocean, learn about farm to table and more. If youre not looking for a summer-long course, there are STEM kits under $100 as well.
NATURE AND OUTDOOR LEARNING FUNThis Book Was a Tree, Ages 2 and up
The best part about summer is spending time outdoors! Each chapter of science teacher Marcie Cuffs book encourages kids and families to reconnect with nature. We love the simplicity of design and the detailed illustrations of this book, as well as the outdoor activities. Touch, collect, document, sketch, analyze, explore, and unravel the natural world. Make mud-pies, build forts, sketch maps, make natural bug repellants, create sundials and more. You can find a more detailed review of Cuffs book here.
Nature Rocks: Lets Go Explore, Ages 2 and up
This site by the Nature Conservancy features tons of activities that encourage kids and families to spend more time outdoors. Activities are divided up by age, location, weather and time in order to make it easy to navigate the site. Activities include making an outdoor xylophone, creating a fairy village garden, outdoor obstacle courses, growing vegetables, star gazing, bird watching and more.
National Park Service Junior Ranger Programs, Ages 5-13
Do you have a National Park near you? Are you planning to visit any this summer? You might want to check out this free program that encourages kids to complete learning challenges and activities in the parks, share their learning with park rangers and earn a Junior Ranger badge and certificate. Cant get to a park? Check out web rangers, a site where kids can virtually explore and hike the parks, earn rewards and learn about the parks through online activities.
Outdoor Games for Kids, All AgesEducation.comhas a lengthy list of outdoor activities perfect for a party or outdoor fun. Try yoga with your dog, nature tic-tac-toe, making your own Frisbee, have a watermelon seed spitting contest, have a phonic scavenger hunt and more. Each activity includes instructions and reviews.
Volunteer Match, Ages 14 and up
Summer is a great time for teenagers, parents and families to get out and volunteer some time out in the community. Volunteer Match helps match volunteers with organizations based on interests and location. It's also a great way for teenagers to learn about other fields they might be interested in pursuing in the future like education, healthcare, nonprofit work, museum studies and more.
RAINY DAY PHYSICAL ACTIVITIESKids Skate Free, Ages 12 and under
Roller skating burns 330-600 calories per hour, and its a fun way to get some aerobic exercise into your familys day. It also helps build balance and flexibility in kids. Check out this national program to see if theres a skating rink near you that participates in the Kids Skate Free program.
Kids Bowl Free, Ages 12 and under
This national program allows kids to play up to two games in the bowling alley for free per day. Parents will need to cover the cost of bowling shoes only. Check out the link above for a participating bowling alley near you!
Museums on Us, For Parents
If youre experiencing a rain summer day, why not walk around a museum and feed your brain a little culture? If youre a Bank of America customer, enjoy free entrance to over 150 museums and cultural institutions across the United States on the first full weekend over every month this summer and year round. Each cardholder gets one free admission, and many of these museums are free for younger kids. You can find a full list of participating institutions here.
Summer Reading, Writing and PublishingScholastic Summer Reading Challenge, Ages 5-12
This free summer reading challenge encourages kids to read books and log their progress over the summer for the chance to win virtual prizes. The contest runs from May 4 through September 4.
Summer Reading Lists, Ages 5-14
Visit your local library and check out some of these books recommended by the Association for Library Service to Children. Lists are divided by early education, elementary, and middle school.
Barnes and Noble Summer Reading, Ages 5-12
Kids read eight books and log progress in a reading journal. Once kids have read eight books, they can choose a free book from the Reading Journal List at any Barnes and Noble Store. Parents can also pick up a free summery activity kit at the store. The program includes suggested summer reads broken down by age level.
TD Bank Summer Reading Program, Ages 5-11
Are you a TD Bank customer? If your child reads and logs ten books this summer, they can receive $10 in a new or existing Young Saver account.
Neighborhood Book Clubs, Ages 5-18
Start a neighborhood book club! PBS Parents has helpful tips for starting a book club with kids.
Young Adult Summer Reading List, Ages 12 and up
Mashable put together a list of 23 young adult books for summer reading that both teenagers and adult fans of YA literature will love.
Make Your Own Comics, Ages 6 and up
Learn how to make and publish your own comics for free with Bill Zimmerman. There are helpful resources for parents, educator and English Language Learners too.
Time 4 Writing, Ages 6 and up
This online writing resource features four-week online writing courses for elementary, middle and high school students. Students learn on a virtual campus with certified writing teachers and work at their own pace.
Scribblett, Ages 4 and up
Design, illustrate, write and publish your work using Scribblett. Kids can also enter contests, order hard copies of notecards or books featuring their work and share directly on the site.
Taking a trip and looking for even more ideas and reviews for online learning or education apps this summer? Check out this summer learning guide from Common Sense Media.