I’m a teacher, so you’d think that I’d have my kids outfitted in the very best camps and summer education money can buy. That is so not the case. From my perspective, we are limited on the hot weather time we get together, and since our days during the school year are short and hurried, I love to let my babes relax as much as possible when school is out of session. However, once school is out for summer, we don't want to think about the grind of returning, but in my oldest boys' lives, I realized it was time to have a little work with our play. I worked through many plans, and we have had great results with these tips the last two summer breaks.
Pre-K - Elementary
Get your little one’s hands on anything and everything you can. Reading with your kids helps them achieve in all subject areas, provides them an intellectual escape, and increases their background knowledge which helps in all areas of life. According to Scholastic, “...reading just six books during the summer may keep a struggling reader from regressing. When choosing the six, be sure that they are just right – not too hard and not too easy.” Local libraries have summer programs that are both fun and educational. They work to get children excited about reading and the library. They usually encourage kids to break out of their preferred genres, and they are surrounded by other avid readers with whom they can build a relationship. Give your children quiet time each day that you set aside just for reading, and make sure to continue to read out loud to them so that you can model what a good and fluent reader sounds like.
Sidewalk chalk spelling and math
For some reason, if you are spelling words or completing a math problem with sidewalk chalk, it is so much more fun than on paper. While practicing spelling with your kids in the summer, try to chunk sounds and have them add the missing letters. For example, if you were to write the word “chunk”, have the parent write the “unk” and ask the child to add what was missing. This makes it more of a game for the kids, and they are learning their blends at the same time. With math, parents have so many options. They can set up actual math problems for their kids with the chalk, or they can draw the outline of two or three children on the ground, and have them count the hands, the fingers, the toes, etc. As long as they are counting, they are thinking.
Experiments and examination
Exploratory nature walks are great in the summer. Have your child collect a certain kind of leaf, rock, or bug, then bring them home so that he or she can list down the similarities and differences they notice. They can make observation charts, or even conduct a sidewalk chalk presentation for siblings or the neighbors. Having them think like a scientist is a great way to get them thinking through how things work in the world. If you have a pet, find information on the pet that makes them special. Most kids will want to learn about the animals they love every day. They could also report those findings.
It’s terrifying yet fun to send my middle schooler into a store to get something for me. I make it small enough so that he can use a $20.00 bill. Before sending him in for stamps or a Gatorade, I ask him how much money he should get back if stamps are $9.39 or if the Gatorade is $1.03, which makes for good practice of calculating in one’s head. Working out money in his head is actually harder than his geometry. The same work applies when we have a garage sale or a lemonade stand. Making change as part of the sale is good math practice.
This will take some preparation, but it can be so much fun. Either have your child create a scavenger hunt for the younger children, or write your own. They will be reading, critically thinking, and problem solving. There are many scavenger hunt websites online that can help you create them, but I prefer composing my own hints that rhyme. Have fun and challenge your kids with an in-home scavenger hunt.
Museums and cultural studies
Get your kids out of the house and into a museum or interesting part of town. Each and every one of our cities has a history. Children will take ownership in researching what makes the city what it is today, and parents can learn right along with them. If you aren’t sure where to go or if you’re new in town, a Google search will get you to your town’s homepage. Those websites are incredibly informative with sites and attractions close by. Your child can report with a Power Point, poster, or speech to your family. It can be as formal or as informal as you’d like it to be. Kids are motivated to learn about what surrounds them, and this type of research helps them take ownership in their very own community.
There are quite a few programs out there that require a lot of money on the part of the parents. ACT.org has practice exams and important information listed for free. Not only are the practices listed, but students can get immediate feedback on their answers. When they get the answer back, the site provides feedback as to why something is correct or incorrect. The more access your child has to the type of questioning used by ACT, the higher their comfort level goes, and – in turn – the higher their score jumps. If you want to make it closer to the actual ACT, start timing your child. All of this preparation seems stressful, but this will help them to become more comfortable on test day. Allow your teen to complete this practice at a coffee shop or restaurant as long as he or she is showing progress.These practices can be done weekly or daily, depending on the time you want your child to put in. This may be the most important routine you establish for your high schooler.
Get your kids out into the world and have them practice time management with a job. Learning a new skill, developing a work-life balance, and appreciating the value of their own money will pay off in more ways than the obvious. Jeylan Mortimer found evidence that teens can benefit from employment if it is balanced with other activities. In Mortimer’s 2010 article, "The Benefits and Risks of Adolescent Employment," it states, “We find evidence, however, that work experience can promote the healthy development of some young people, especially when it is moderate in intensity and steady in duration – attributes that assure that employment does not interfere with other important elements in a teen’s life, and instead foster an appropriate balance between school and work.” Through employment, teens are gaining interpersonal communication skills along with becoming a contributing member of society.
Teach younger ones
I am never as good at a skill until I teach someone one. Have your older children guide the younger ones in their studies. Not only will this give parents a break, but siblings can connect on an academic level. The high school students will take pride in watching their little study buddy grow intellectually when they realize the growth came because of the partnership.No matter their ages, there are endless creative ways to keep your children’s minds sharp during the summer. The resources available should help with their fall placement exams, and in some cases, get them money towards the college of their choice. There should still be time for all of the excellent parts of summer, but our children can only benefit from us taking a portion of our summer days to sharpen their skills.