Children look forward to summer vacation as a time to get away from schoolwork, but the long break can slow their academic progress if their skills get too rusty before classes resume in the fall.
The idea of studying during the summer may fill children with dread, but parents can find many ways to make learning fun. Summertime provides an important break for young students. While research shows it is important to keep academic skills active over long breaks, it doesn’t have to be tedious. There are many ways to make learning fun. Every experience can be a learning experience, and summer is the perfect time to explore some of the alternatives that are not always available at other times of year.
You can bolster children’s sense of perspective, self worth, and their place in relation to the environment and to other people by camping out for a night on the balcony, in the yard or at a campground.
It can be both fun and educational to give a child a garden plot, a window box, or a planter on a balcony or patio. Be sure the child has full responsibility for the plants. That can include checking a daily weather map to understand about the plants’ needs for water. In addition, you can help children figure out what the weather is like for friends and relatives who live in other places.
For lessons in good citizenship, parents can check the newspaper for volunteer activities and participate in one with their children. Some children might find they enjoy what they learn through a weekly visit to an elderly person in a nursing home. Others might get excited for a visit to an animal shelter, a fire station or a hospital — all activities that can be very educational when children see what goes on at these institutions.
Parents can make history come alive by beginning with their own family. If possible, collect photos of all grandparents and great-grandparents. Have children write these people’s names and birth dates on the backs of the photos. Tell stories about the family.
Many lessons can be taught just by discussing the meanings of holidays with children.
If you take a trip, you can incorporate history and geography lessons by visiting sites along the way. Collect information brochures as you go. When you get home, surf the Internet together and check out library books or DVDs to reinforce the new learning from the trip.
Make a game of finding the oldest headstone in a cemetery. Read the inscriptions and talk about the past with your children.
Practicing math skills doesn’t have to involve multiplication tables. Have children start a collection of something they are interested in, whether that is rocks, stamps, baseball cards, bottle caps, labels, marbles, leaves or bugs. Ask your child to arrange them in some order — by categories, color, shape or alphabetically, for example.
For more math practice, you can ask children to review cash register receipts. Ask them to check the receipts for accuracy when you’re unloading groceries, or to add up the prices each week. You can also teach older youngsters to compute gas mileage.
Summer is also a good time to help children develop a sense of responsibility. You could ask a child to take charge of the family’s recycling, for example. Both boys and girls can learn how to take care of their clothes, use a washer and dryer, sort and fold laundry, sew on buttons, iron clothes or polish shoes.
To bolster reading and writing skills, suggest that children keep a diary or journal of their activities or the family’s. Take time every day for the whole family to read, together or individually, and allow children to choose their own reading materials. Even 10 or 15 minutes a day of reading is very helpful. You might have kids follow a favorite newspaper comic strip and tell you about it each morning. Help them write letters, emails or postcards to cousins, grandparents and friends.
Suggest that kids swap paperback books, comics or magazines with extended family and friends. The local library might help organize an exchange.
Children need to keep learning in the summer, but with some creativity they can have fun while they’re doing it. All these activities help students stay ready for school in the fall. And they are not only educational, they’re fun and inexpensive.
— Bill Cirone is Santa Barbara County’s superintendent of schools. The opinions expressed are his own.