Summer is days away and has laid its challenge on my doorstep, like a caged animal, biding its time until the last day of school. What am I going to do with my children all day, every day, for the next ten weeks?
This summer my family has many attractions vying for a place on our calendar: hikes in the mountains, dips in the local swimming pool and family barbeques. These events must also share time with scout camps, sport camps and other instructive activities. Interspersed amongst these events, the children will try to find a moment to relax in front of a good movie, play a spontaneous ball game or play video games.
While all of these activities are a welcome and entertaining way to spend our summer, I also want to make sure that I keep my children’s brains active and learning, while also keeping them off-line as much as possible. Although my children may have left traditional “reading, writing and arithmetic” behind them at the school door, there are plenty of ways to have fun and still engage their brains during the summer.
Here are a few of my ideas that may work for other mothers as well:
Attend a Library Book Club: For those children who already enjoy picking up a book and getting lost in a good story, consider checking your local library or school to see if they organize story times or book clubs specifically for kids.
Organize Your Own Book Club: Another option is to organize your own book club with school friends or neighbors. It could be as simple as choosing one book per month and then meeting together each month for a discussion and treat or activity relating to the story.
Read Secret Codes: Reluctant readers might be more interested in reading something that is written in code. Try leaving a cryptic note for your child and watch her enthusiasm as she translates and reads it. The Reverse Alphabet code is a good place to start. Begin by writing the alphabet across the top of a piece of paper. Underneath it, write the alphabet backward, matching the letters: A=Z and B=Y and so forth. The Pig Pen code and the Grid Code are also fun and simple secret codes for kids. (Search these online for more information.)
Participate in a Readers’ Theater or Karaoke: If your child is more of a performer, try attending a readers’ theater or singing karaoke. Interacting with other children or singing with a microphone can unlock an interest and application of reading.
Create a Reading Corner: Creating a special place for reading can also be a great motivator for reluctant readers. Try transforming the corner of a room in your house or yard into a reader’s paradise by adding pillows, blankets and even streamers from the ceiling.
Read Aloud to your Kids: Find a great read-aloud book, dim the lights and snuggle in for a good read. At my home, we just started reading The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander. Not only will you encourage reading, you will spend valuable time bonding with your children.
Make It a Game: One of my children’s favorite math games came by accident: I wanted my fourth-grade daughter to practice times tables, and she wanted to play the game of War with face cards. So we compromised. I shuffled and dealt the cards, and when we had both put our cards on the table, she gave me the product of the two numbers, and so on throughout the game. We both had a great time and both of our objectives were met. My younger daughter and I have also played this game using addition.
Another fun card game for younger children is Uno, which introduces number recognition and the concept of greater than/less than.
There are also fun games to play with dice. Roll two dice and use those numbers to put together number families. If you roll a 2 and 4, then your number family is: 2+4=6, 4+2=6, 6-4=2, 6-2=4.
Calculate with Cooking: The next time you make cookies with the kids, double or half the recipe, and let them do the math. This is great practice with fractions. You may also consider accidentally misplacing your 1 cup measure. Let them figure out how to make 1 cup when you only have a 1/3 cup measure.
Involve Money and Real-World Spending: Counting money is always an appealing activity for my kids. Sometimes we empty the spare change jar onto the table and count it all. Another idea for counting money is to find a catalog and go on a mock shopping spree. Have your child make a list of what he wants to buy and add up the prices. Take it a step further by challenging him to figure out which items to eliminate to keep the cost under a certain amount.
Set Up a Family “Mail” System: At our house, we have a black, metal mailbox attached to the wall in our kitchen. Yes, you read that right. A mailbox inside the house. We use it to write letters to each other– letters of encouragement, appreciation and apology. My children are thrilled when the red flag on the mailbox is standing up, announcing the presence of a letter waiting inside for some lucky recipient. They immediately set to work, writing a letter back.
Look for Everyday Opportunities for Writing Practice: Allow your children to help you write your grocery list or Saturday to-do list. Encourage them to write thank-you notes to friends or family or postcards if you are on vacation.
Write in Different Mediums: Reluctant writers may be encouraged by writing in different mediums; for example, writing in pudding or sand, writing with sidewalk chalk or using special paint on windows. You could also try writing with a toothpick on a banana peel and watching it become visible as the banana browns.
Create Fun Journals: Encourage your children to record their summer adventures and vacations in a journal. There are many ways to do this. As you collect items from a trip, like a shell from the beach, leaf from the forest or ticket from an event, tape them into a simple notebook and write about them.
You may also be able to find a composition book in which the pages are lined on the bottom half and blank on top. These are perfect for illustrating stories. The best part is that not only are your children writing, you are left with a permanent record of family experiences, seen and illustrated through your children’s eyes.
One of the most important parts of summer learning is to do it together and to be the example. When your children see you reading, writing or using math in everyday tasks, they will be encouraged to do the same. And engaging in fun learning activities together throughout the summer not only keeps brains active, but it also strengthens family bonds and creates memories that last beyond the summer months.
QUESTION: How do you encourage learning in your home, particularly during the summer?
CHALLENGE: Choose one of the suggestions from the list above and try it with your children this week.
Edited by Rachel Nielson and Sarah Monson.
Image from FreeDigitalPhotos/anekoho with graphics by Anna Jenkins.