What is your child’s summer anthem? Are they a defiant Alice Cooper sing-shouting “School’s Out for Summer!” happy for the days of “no more pencils, no more books”? Or are they more of a Nat King Cole, “Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer” fan looking forward to sleeping and gaming all summer? Whichever they are, below are some ways you can make the most of summer learning opportunities for the whole family, and some ideas for creating meaningful and purposeful summer fun!
Summer learning does not have to be an elaborate undertaking. I like to think of summer enrichment as building background knowledge. The more background knowledge a student possesses, the more connections they can make.
Building on what they know and activating that knowledge to learn new content is the key to creating lifelong learners. Here are some easy things to do this summer to build background knowledge.
Go to the map app of your choice and search “museums near me.” Visit their websites for resources and ideas to make the most of your visit. Check out the “Plan your Visit” site for the nuts and bolts of the excursion. Then, do some strategic planning. What exhibits are age appropriate for my child? What do you want the takeaway to be?
It can be as simple as a KWL discussion beforehand: What do you know? What do you want to know? Then afterward, follow up by asking: What did you learn that you didn’t know before? Keep it conversational and not too “school-like.” Check out the gift store before you leave for ideas on further exploration.
If you want to take a deeper dive on your visit, check to see if the museum has other materials or activities that you can do while visiting. For example, the North Carolina Museum of History has “Pre-Visit Materials” that features a printable exhibit map and age-appropriate activities. Remember that this is NOT a school field trip. It is a day of exploration and fun! If your child finds something that sparks their interest, it is okay to change the focus of the day!
Not near a big city with big city museums? You may be surprised with what you find! My search also yielded small town history museums as well as some hidden gems: a mill museum, a small museum of art and design, a dairy museum which provides homemade ice cream at the end of the tour, and much more! You don’t have to go far to find really fun (and educational!) adventures. Just do a little research prior to going to maximize the experience.
Search “parks near me” on your map app. After you get past the local parks with playgrounds and athletic fields, you begin to find the amphitheaters, interpretive trails/exhibits and other activities. I found a local county park with a butterfly/hummingbird garden and a separate bird garden. Check out an age appropriate butterfly or native bird guide from the library before you go and see how many you can spy while you’re there!
Getting there is half the fun!
When my children were younger, I always packed a vacation bag for the trip. I would go to the library and bookstore to find books and other activities for the car trip. This was done without their knowledge and used to pull out individually at key moments in the trip.
You can buy all sorts of commercial travel games, but I like ones that are free too. We would find signs with each letter of the alphabet–only one letter per sign in alphabetical order, of course. We would keep a list of states’ license plates we saw. My children would track our progress on their “map”–don’t laugh, they were placemats. They also came in handy to verify state capitals when we played that game.
Audio books and podcasts are also great for the whole family in the car or individually in other forms of transportation. My colleague Annie Andrews highly recommends But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids. There is also a link to complementary (and complimentary!) learning guides and coloring pages.
Remember to keep the fun in the learning! Be ready to pivot or change course if the kids start to lose interest or are hungry or tired (or all of the above). 10 items on the museum scavenger hunt may be too many. Before you reach the point of no return, say, “Let’s find one more, and then we can go to the (snack bar or the gift shop or fill in the blank).” The key is to leave happy!
Integrating Math into Everyday Activities
Believe it or not, there are fun ways to integrate math into your summer. If you have a farmer’s market near you, they are a great place to visit to apply math skills since they are one of the last places where you pay in cash. Have your child determine how much 3 pounds of sweet potatoes would cost. Want to take it a step further? Consider asking, “Which stand has the best price?” Then, give them several bills and have them decide which denomination of bill to use to pay. Don’t forget to count the change!
Working on math skills doesn’t require spending a lot of money on workbooks. Challenge your child to count to 50 or say the 6 times table before the red light turns green. You may be surprised at what you can do with some dice or a set of dominoes! Here’s some things to try:
Find 2 dice and, depending on the age and grade level of your child, you can work on a number of math skills. With each roll of 2 dice, your child can practice counting, identifying like numbers, determining greater than and lesser than, or multiplying through the 6 times tables. Older students can learn the commutative property of addition and multiplication in that the answer is the same both ways (3 x 4 = 12 and 4 x 3 = 12). Free Printable Dice Worksheets can be found here.
For higher level math practice, play Damult Dice! Each player gets 3 dice. Determine what number to play to 200, 300, etc. Everyone rolls their dice at the same time. You must add 2 numbers and multiply by the 3rd. For example, if you roll, 2, 3, and 4, here are the possible outcomes: (2 + 3) x 4 = 20 OR (3 + 4) x 2 = 14 OR (2 + 4) x 3 = 18). Of course, someone will also have to keep score and add all these numbers together. This math for love blog post has a division version.
The dots on one domino can be counted, added, subtracted, or multiplied. This is where students learn that subtraction (and division) is not commutative. The order does matter. On a domino, determine which is the larger number to make a subtraction equation. If you don’t have dominoes, Google “Printable Dominoes” to make your own! The Curriculum Corner has some great domino downloads and other free and printable math materials.
Your child could practice math and get a sweet treat at the same time. M&M’s has a counting book and Reeses Pieces has books where you can count by 5’s or 10’s. Want to read about math? Here’s an extensive list of math books by skill and grade level. Check out what your public library has to offer!
Other games that you can make inexpensively can be found on Learning Liftoff’s website. It features 5 math enrichment games you can make using shells, water balloons, pool noodles, and other items you can find at the local grocery store. Commercial math games such as Sequence, Pizza Fraction Fun, Rummikub, and Cover Your Assets are also fun ways to practice math skills.
Check out MathGameTime for online games. They are organized by grade and subject. Get the Math shows applications of Algebra in the real world with interactive challenges. This is a great resource for older students as it answers the age old question, “Why do I have to learn this?”
Extending Learning for Middle and High School Students
Intentional activities for older students can improve academic skills and teach important life skills. Have your teen plan a meal: find a recipe, go to the store to buy the ingredients, and use those measuring skills. Have them double or halve the recipe for even more practice.
Got junk? Get your teen to organize, price, and collect money at a yard sale. They could work on writing skills by starting a journal or writing poetry, songs, or short stories. They can then put those writing skills to work and send snail mail letters to elderly family members that would absolutely make their day!
Watch a movie to teach important literacy concepts and engage your child in meaningful conversation. Here’s a list of movies that “don’t make you look like a dork.” Click on the movie for more information and some discussion ideas. You can go beyond the characters, setting, and plot with these general questions that take a deeper dive into theme, symbolism, and point of view to name just a few of the literary elements.
Read for fun
Summer is also a time to read for fun! We always started our summer vacations with a trip to the library. Libraries (and some book stores) have summer reading programs. Check those out and sign the kids up.
While my children were growing up, I often took a higher level reading book on vacation and read to my kids each night before bed. One summer we spent a week in a cabin on a lake in Tennessee. Our memories of that trip are forever tied to me reading The Hobbit to them in their loft bedroom. I had never read it before, so all three of us would spend the next day trying to predict what might happen next!
My colleague Susan Patterson wrote a great article about “Keeping Reading Going Over a Break”. I especially like the idea of her summer reading challenge. It has something for everybody. She also has some great craft ideas to encourage reading like make your own bookmarks or book covers.
Susan also reminds us that reading a recipe or drawing story maps are great reading comprehension practice that ends with a product. One summer I read Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder to my daughter. We read one chapter a day and she decided she wanted to make a book with her own illustrations retelling the story.
Maybe your child can find a book that inspires them in that way. Here are some great templates from Teachwire for summarizing stories/books in pictures or writing your own! If your older child doesn’t draw, they can keep a reading journal. You can find some free printable journals here. I especially like the one that is the Book Review Template (2.1 on the Contents page).
Read Theory on the Go
As a parent, you can set up your child’s own Read Theory account. Here is a link to my article for ”Using ReadTheory over the Summer” It explains how ReadTheory works and has tips for goal setting, a Knowledge Points Badge progress chart, and a reading log to use with ReadTheory. Print out a color copy of the badges and add them to those paint chip bookmarks as they are earned!
Regardless of whether you spend your summer days at home or on the road, remember to ask intentional questions to encourage your child’s natural curiosity and foster opportunities for deeper learning. These suggestions will prevent your kids from adding The Who’s “Summertime Blues” to their summer playlist and just maybe help to create lifelong learners!