Six Ways to Keep Your Kids Learning Over the Summer

Some of the activity books I recommend
Some of the activity books I recommend Photo by Jef Rouner
Summer vacation is one of those things that have an idyllic hold on the American collective mind, but it is freakin’ terrible for children’s brains. On average, kids lose one month of schooling over the summer, and the first six weeks of the fall curriculum are spent relearning old concepts. That’s a terrible waste of time and energy. Teaching your kids over the summer might seem like a daunting task, especially for working parents. The good news is that it actually doesn’t take that much time to keep brain drain at bay. Here are a few things you can do once a day, five days a week to make sure learning doesn’t stop, but also doesn’t cost the kids their vacation.

(Bear in mind these tips are aimed mostly at elementary-school children.)

6. A Grade Bridge Book
These are typically one- or two-page-a-day activity books that cover concepts between various grades. Scholastic offers a good series, and we’re currently using the Summer Brain Quest series. You can find them just outside the children’s section of any bookstore, and slightly cheaper on Amazon if money is tight. They run a gamut of topics from reading to writing to social studies, and come with stickers and certificates to encourage. Depending on the child, the daily page usually takes just minutes to complete, and the child can do them independently with you just checking the work at the end. Try to make sure that the grade level in the book matches your child’s actual level of current learning, as you may need to move up or down depending on the book.

5. A Game-Themed Map App
My personal preference for this is Prodigy, which is basically Final Fantasy with math problems. SumDog is another good one. These can usually be accessed from a mobile device or tablet or on a laptop. They track progress, adapt to your child’s skill level, and push the child to develop further. Schedule 15 minutes per day for your kid to play these or games like them.

Just so you know, the concept of “15 minutes a day” is going to come up a lot here. I sold sheet music in Houston for 14 years, and people always asked me how long it would take to learn the piano/guitar/balalaika/dulcimer. I always told them the same thing: Fifteen minutes a day will get you there. That’s all. Speaking of…

4. 15 Minutes of Reading
Most schools will tell you your child’s reading level using either the Fountas & Pinnell or the Lexile charts, and bookstores and libraries are happy to match up titles that fit that level. Barring that, Scholastic has a database you can search for by title or keyword. Getting kids off the screen, even for just 15 minutes, is an essential way to spark imagination and engage their brains rather than being pandered to by Nickelodeon teen dramas.

One suggestion is trying to get them interested in historical books if at all possible. Finding a good daily social-studies routine is the missing part of this list, unfortunately.

3. A Science Experiment a Day
I recommend Nick Hall’s book of science experiments, but any bookstore will have a section full of basic science tricks for kids. Magic Schoolbus also specializes in disciplines, if that’s more your speed. These are generally very simple things that can be done with household objects, but they still teach important lessons about the basic laws of the universe. Kiwi Crate is a good monthly service for special projects, and can be a lot of fun for the whole family. Here’s a tip, though: Pick out the experiment the day before, so you can check your pantry if you have everything you need. Nothing like starting an experiment and discovering you’re out of baking soda.

2. One Piece of Art a Day
In my house my daughter is expected to make one creative work a day. This has a wide range of options for her. Sometimes I get an abstract painting, sometimes stick figures, and sometimes even works that show a fair amount of development. It doesn’t matter, as long as the child makes something where something was not. If you’re into the idea of this being a more guided activity, there are usually a ton of how-to-draw books at the bookstore, and you might be really amazed at how well kids can follow instructions to create works you thought were beyond them.

Oh, and Commander Mark and the Secret City is all on YouTube! Let the master teach your kids.

1. A Writing Assignment a Day
This is usually the one we do last. Have your child write up either an original story, or a paragraph or two about something else she did during the day. She can explain the science experiment or recap what she read in her reading assignment. It’s best for her to keep a journal or composition book on this one to give her a body of work to look back over when the summer is over.

This can seem daunting, especially after a long day of work, but virtually all of it can be done by kids independently, with you only checking their work, no different from the way it is during the school year. It shouldn’t take a child more than an hour and a half tops to complete, and it covers a wide variety of subjects that will engage them while not sacrificing their summer time off.

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Jef Rouner is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner