Keep Your Kids Learning This Summer – and Have Fun Doing It

If you have a school aged child, then summer learning loss has probably worried you in the past – but never as much as this summer. This school year was a once-in-a-generation experiment in educational innovation. Your child probably experienced virtual school for the first time, and they may have even been in virtual school the whole year. If the coming of summer has you wondering whether your child will be prepared for the next academic year, you’re not alone.

But if you think that means it’s time to hire a summer tutor, think again. Many school systems are offering catch-up summer school, but after a year that brought unprecedented stress to children as well as adults, more time in the classroom may not be what your child needs. Before you shell out your stimulus check for a summer math class, consider what education your child really needs to be prepared for the next school year. 

There’s plenty of academic education to discover in the adventures of real life – and after a year in front of the computer, real-life adventure may be exactly what your child needs most. 

Practice real-life math with cooking. 

Remember all that sourdough you baked last spring? Maybe it’s time to break out your starter yeast again. Cooking, and especially baking, offers plenty of opportunities for kids of all grade levels to practice math skills. Younger kids can measure and count; older kids can convert recipes for different numbers of servings (hello, fractions!). Try doubling the recipe and bringing a loaf of sourdough to your neighbor. For bonus skills, have your kids invent a recipe of their own. 

Explore science at the park.

Science was invented in the great outdoors, and nature is the best teacher for kids of all ages. The inherent curiosity of kids makes them naturals at the scientific method: they’re constantly observing and asking questions about what they see. This summer, instead of googling the answers, help them figure it out for themselves with real-life experiments. Can that broken dogwood branch grow into a new tree? What do ladybugs eat? Only time – and a bit of experimenting – will tell. 

Take a geography trip. 

After a year of quarantining, many of us are itching to get out of town this summer. If you are heading out of town, take some of the planning off your plate and teach your kids geography by inviting them to plan part of your route. While they’re practicing skills like reading maps and estimating travel time, they can search for interesting points along the route that they want to visit. In addition to adding some adventure to your trip, having your kids identify locations they want to see – and predict how long it will take to get there – should cut down the endless whines of “Are we there yet?” 

Read, read, read.

As a parent in the 21st century, the value of reading with your kids has been drilled into you from the day you found out you were expecting. But if reading has gotten a little stale after months of being stuck in the house, try something different to spark your kids’ love of stories. Spend an afternoon in the library together, or hit up the library storytime. And if an overuse of screen time during quarantine has your kids bored by non-moving words on a page, try downloading some audiobooks to listen to together while you do a craft, or read a book and then watch the movie. 

Play board games. 

Board games are a lot more than a fun family night – they’re an amazing tool for teaching a wide range of social and academic schools. In addition to helping kids practice taking turns and following the rules, board games can teach math (Monopoly), reading (Cards Against Humanity Kids’ Edition), and even logic (Clue). While there are plenty of board games that are explicitly educational, pretty much every board game requires some academic skills to play, so play what your kids enjoy! 

Write stories. 

Sitting down and writing a story over the summer may not appeal to your kids – but storytelling is a human instinct, and there are plenty of ways to help your kids rediscover the joy of sharing their ideas through narrative. Try getting them a set of puppets and building a makeshift puppet stage, or download an app for green screen so they can make movies with their toys. Encourage them to write the story down so they can perform it for you (and maybe even the neighbors, too). 

Learn social studies through advocacy. 

2020 was a big year for political upheaval, and many people found themselves involved in political advocacy, often for the first time. Talk with your kids about political news, especially local issues that affect them. What rules will their school follow for COVID safety in the fall? What guidelines does the county have now for swimming pools this summer? Kids can write letters to representatives, call the school superintendent, and even make signs about an issue they care about. 

Watch for learning opportunities.

After a year of spending so much time together with family, paying attention may be the most difficult thing to do this summer  – but it’s by far the most important. Curiosity and interest are the biggest drivers of learning, and if you want to help your kids’ academic progress over the summer, the best thing you can do is pay attention. Notice when they ask questions. Notice what they’re interested in. Then look for ways for them to explore those interests and questions. When kids are interested, that’s when they learn. 

This past year of upheaval and change has been harder for parents than for anyone. After a year of worrying about COVID, working while teaching virtual school, and struggling to entertain bored children, the last thing you need is to add more stress this summer. Instead of working hard to make sure your children catch up on academics, seek out ways to let learning happen naturally – and make it fun for you as well as your kids. Fun, after all, is the best way to learn.