Summer is just around the corner, and I don’t know about you, but I can hardly wait! I love having my kids all to myself during the summer months and having the freedom to do our own thing on our own schedule.
Speaking of schedules, most experienced moms have found that their summers go much smoother when there is one (a schedule, that is, and April wrote a great article about that here), and many of those same moms have also discovered there are easy ways to incorporate learning into all that summer fun (Saren wrote a great article about combining fun and learning here). We’ve all heard the reports of teachers spending the first semester of school re-teaching their students everything they forgot while lazing around the pool or watching TV for 10 weeks straight, but I like to think we can prevent our children’s brains from turning to slush over the summer.
The beauty of being a child is that learning is fun and fun is learning. Never is that more true than during the summer. In fact, I dare say if you make the most of these summer months, your kids can go back to school ahead of the game. So how do we enjoy the fun and relaxation of summer (and the joy of no more early morning carpools–yippee!) while still keeping our children’s brains active?
Of course you can purchase one of the many summer workbooks out there and have your kids do a few pages a day (I try to do that), and there are always academic camps or summer school to keep your kids up to speed (not my favorite–again, I’m all about having my kids to myself). If you’re the really organized type you could even research homeschooling websites and come up with a curriculum of sorts for your summer learning adventures, but I have to admit that I like my teaching moments to be less structured. I like things to feel a little more organic in the summer, and to be really honest–I don’t want to have to work that hard! It is summer after all, so I’d like to suggest some activities that I think are the most fun with the least amount of work that give mothers the biggest bang for their buck (so to speak). I’m going to break down a few of my ideas for creating fun and easy learning experiences this summer into two simple categories: at home and out and about.
- Cook and bake. What better way to practice both your math and science skills than by making cookies? Think about the math required to follow detailed recipes for baked goods, or the potential to learn about time and temperature by simply setting the oven and timer? If you think about it, both cooking and baking are nothing more than a series of chemical reactions. During the summer months, I like to have a different child help me make dinner every night of the week. Not only does this give me one on one time with each of my children while teaching them how to cook, it also requires them to learn and/or use those math and science skills! (Click here for a cool website on the science of cooking.)
- Plan a vacation. If you’re taking a vacation this summer, why not let your kids get in on the planning? Children can do basic research online for your destination (geography) and, depending on their age, you can have them help you make a general budget (math), map out the distance and mileage between destinations (math), and even help make the itinerary for your trip. (And if it’s a road trip, take advantage of all that time in the car with some brainy audio books like Story of the World.) If you aren’t going on a trip this summer, you could still create a “family passport” by choosing countries you’d like to visit and spending a week at a time learning about their food, language, music, and customs. End the week with a family party using as many of these elements as possible.
- Have a reading hour. Everybody needs a little down time every day (especially mom!), so it’s a great idea to have a designated reading hour to enjoy a good book. (I like the idea of using the hottest hours in the afternoon to go inside and take a siesta, but every family is different.) You can find endless book lists online to help you come up with a summer reading list for both you and your kids. (Here’s one to get you started. And another.) You can even opt to reward your kids with a frozen treat every week for reading a certain number of books or pages. (Will they earn one scoop or two?) And don’t forget the value of a good kids magazine. We’ve been subscribing to NatGeoKids for years and I can’t say enough good things about it.
- Do science experiments. I love doing at-home science experiments. Our favorite one so far has been the classic mentos and diet coke explosion, but you can check out several websites or library books with other fantastic and easy ideas for learning in disguise. This is one of my favorite websites for this very thing.
- Sit down and eat. Yes, it’s true that families who make dinnertime a priority produce children with better grades, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m referring to the passive learning that happens year round at our house by my kids just sitting down to eat at a table set with educational placemats. I’ve been using these for years, and I can’t believe how much my kids have absorbed by simply staring at their placemats while eating. I’ve picked mine up here and there, but I just found this fantastic website where there are more options available for purchase than I had ever imagined! (I just bought several more…)
- Make a movie. Hand your older kids a video camera and tell them to go make a movie. Computer skills have surpassed many other skills in importance (think cursive), so wouldn’t it be fun for your kids to get more familiar with various computer programs by creating their own masterpiece? Plus, you’ll have some potentially hysterical family history recorded in the process.
- Plug them in. Yes, you read that right. You know they’re going to be on the screens more than usual during the summer months anyway, so while I do hope you try to set some limits, why not monopolize on that veg out time by indulging in some seriously smart entertainment? Whether you have hundreds of TV channels, Netflix streaming, or you just borrow DVDs from the public library, there is no lack of educational entertainment for kids. My kids love the “How It’s Made” show on the Science Channel and are often found watching Planet Earth on Netflix. Even the Weather Channel can be fascinating and educational for kids. You’d be surprised what they will enjoy, so don’t limit their entertainment to the Disney Channel or Cartoon Network (the equivalent of a Twinkie for the brain). And don’t forget educational computer games and activities. Here’s a short list of some of the best:
OUT AND ABOUT
- Visit a museum. You’ll have to do your own research to find out what’s in your neck of the woods, but you’re sure to have at least one of the following near your home: an art museum, history museum, natural history museum, life science museum, zoo, aquarium, aviary, planetarium, arboretum, living history center, science center, or nature preserve. (Am I forgetting anything?) Doesn’t a weekly field trip to one of these places just sound fun? Not to mention educational. (Don’t tell the kids!) Most of these places have displays, programs, and activities geared specifically toward children, so explore the possibilities in your area and don’t forget to look into the “free” days many of these places offer at least once a month.
- Take a factory tour. I’m determined to go on the family friendly tour of a salt water taffy factory near our home this summer. What factory tours are near your town? (Find out here.) A neighborhood friend even told me recently that there are tours of a copper mine near our home.
- Frequent the library. You knew this one was coming. Most (if not all) public libraries in the United States take part in a summer reading program, offering prizes upon completion and hosting free weekly activities. Since you’re going to be having a reading hour every day anyway, you may as well put a weekly trip to the library on your calendar. And please don’t miss the nonfiction “how to” section of the library. That’s where you can find all sorts of books that will fuel your kids’ brain energy back at home. (How to make paper airplanes, how to do science experiments, how to plant a garden, etc.) I can’t think of a better way to spend a hot summer day than by taking a trip to the library followed by a frozen treat!
- Shop ‘til you drop. Okay, so shopping with kids in tow during the summer months is not fun at all, but it’s going to happen–a lot–so if you’re having a good day, maybe you can simultaneously keep your children busy and preoccupied while also helping them learn a thing or two. Just tonight I took two of my children to the grocery store for a few things, and my son got a great lesson in price per ounce as we talked about which peanut butter was really the better deal. (He originally thought it was the one with the lower price.) And this may sound a bit ambitious, but how hard would it be to have one of your older kids bring a calculator to the store and add up the cost of groceries as you go along? Younger kids can play games such as finding a certain number of items or items of a certain shape.
Of course, we’ll still enjoy our fair share of pool days, carnivals, and fluffy movies, but it’s nice to know there are plenty of educational activities out there too that are just as much fun. Happy summer!
QUESTION: What are your favorite ways to mix fun and learning during the months of summer break?
CHALLENGE: Choose a few things from this list to incorporate into your family’s summer schedule.
***If you’d like more links to great learning websites, printable charts, suggested activity lists in different categories, and everything you need to keep your kids’ bodies and minds active and add some structure to your fun, click here for our “Do-it-Yourself Summer Camp Kit.”
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