Summer is approaching! And although I hope you and your kids go down lots of slides, there's one slide you want to avoid. If you’ve been following this blog for a little while, you’re probably not surprised by this, but I want to encourage you to make a plan now for your kids’ summer learning. This is a Christian blog, but a few times a year, I go back to my roots as a teacher to give ideas for keeping kids’ brains active during the summer.
I could give you all kinds of statistics, but you know this. If kids aren’t engaging their minds during the summer, they will start the school year behind. It’s like that first day back at the gym after a long absence, only instead of sore muscles, they will suffer from a lack of confidence and may feel like giving up. As a former teacher, I saw this every year. I could scan my room and see the ones who were intellectually “out of shape” by their deer in the headlights look. And it broke my heart. If you have kids, or grandkids, or other young people in your sphere of influence, there are a few steps you can take to make sure they’re set up for success as they walk into the next grade.
But first, a story. When our kids were really little, we used to hide extra veggies in their food to up the nutritional value. With our oldest, we served green beans in spaghetti sauce and called it spaghetti. She didn’t know the difference. At some point, she said, “This isn’t spaghetti,” and the game was up. We knew we’d have to get more creative, so we began adding fruit and veggie purees to foods. They were getting the nutrition, but they were none the wiser. I promise I’m going somewhere with this.
If your kids are eager learners, summer learning may be as easy as buying a summer bridge workbook. There are so many good ones out there. Some we’ve used that have been a hit are: the Highlights Summer Books, Brain Quest Summer books, and the Everything I Need to Ace series for older kids. This is for the "green bean spaghetti" learner. They are willing to learn without much camouflaging. Find a reward system and schedule that works for your family and make time to do them regularly. I’ve found that 20 minutes a day is the magic number. Anything over that feels too much like school. (We usually also do about 20 minutes of reading another time in the day.) This may be before bed or even an audiobook in the car on the way to the pool, or wherever we’re going that day.
If your kids are less likely to engage a workbook, you’ll have to get creative. This is the veggie puree stage. Find ways to engage their minds without being too obvious.
1. Start with what they love.
Think out what makes your kid tick and go with it. Maybe they’re into video games, or art, or sports. How can you make a bridge between those things and actual learning? You may not be interested in the things your kids are, but fake it. Do your best to learn about whatever they're into so you can connect with them and encourage them. I never thought I'd care about dinosaurs, or planets, or pirates, but then I had kids and now I know much more about those things. There are a few ways to encourage your kids' learning with things they already love.
Our local science center always has exhibits that are timely and interesting. Right now, there’s one called “Marvel: Universe of Superheroes.” There’s something for everyone there. Even kids who wouldn’t pick science as their favorite subject will find something engaging in these kinds of places. Another favorite place in my family is the Historical Society. They love the Ohio Village where the volunteers are dressed in costume and stay in character as if it was the 1890’s. No matter how many times we go there, they always learn something new. Zoos would also fit into this category. Most kids like animals, so a trip to the zoo is a great idea for keeping summer educational. These places often offer memberships that pay for themselves after a few visits. Keep these places in mind when grandparents are looking for gift ideas for Christmas or Birthdays.
Parks and Recreation
Another place to consider when looking for summer enrichment is your local parks and rec. Check out their class offerings for the summer. In addition to sports, they often offer class or camps on coding, theatre, and music. These programs usually have a fee, but typically don’t break the bank. They also have the added bonus of interaction with other kids, which is really important in the summer.
Maybe your kids like learning from an app. Chances are they use apps at school regularly that they actually enjoy. Ask them what programs they don't mind using and encourage them to log on during the summer. Math skills are often the first to get rusty, so look for an app that might help with that. If you need ideas, here's an article with 20 apps for preventing summer slide.
If you’re looking for programming that’s free, head over to your local library. They typically have programs for kids of all ages that are designed to be fun and educational. My kids took an art class at the library for a number of years. We planned our week around that class because they never wanted to miss. In addition to summer reading programs, they’ll have events and classes that are varied to cover a wide range of interests. If you don’t find what you’re looking for there, head to a larger library nearby.
2. Use your travel.
If you’re planning to go on a trip over the summer, why not do some research ahead of time? If your kids are old enough, have them look up notable people that are from that area, or landmarks worth visiting. If you allow them to be a part of the the planning, they might just take it and run with it. We went to the Country Music Hall of Fame museum once on a trip to Nashville. We aren’t huge country music fans, but we really enjoyed it. Also, the kids got really into the Wright Brothers after visiting the Outer Banks which is funny since we live pretty close to Dayton.
If you're planning to drive, don’t limit yourself to just the destination. Think about stops along the way that may interest your family. If you’re going to have to stretch your legs anyway, why not find some place interesting to do it? There’s something about travel. We’re more willing to learn new things when we’re away from home. Use that curiosity and make your trip even more memorable.
3. Don’t let it be a fight.
I know this is easier said than done, but try your best to set up situations for learning without making it feel like school. Kids need a break in the summer from the demands of school. Allow them to have that break without letting their brains go dormant. If you have a plan, but you miss a week or two, give yourself some grace and get back to it. The key is to avoid tears or screaming. It may take some creativity, but you can do it.
4. Model the behavior.
It's not fair to ask your kids to do things you're not doing. Take a quick inventory of the media you digest on a daily basis. Are you learning? Do you read books that make you think? Are your kids seeing you trying to learn new things regularly? It's much easier to encourage others to do something if they know you're willing to do it too. And share with your kids what you're learning. Engage them and you'll find they'll come along for the ride.
Parenting is hard. That’s all there is to it. Allow others to partner with you to keep kids engaged over the summer and then they can head back to school with confidence. We all want that for our kids.