Summer AlreadyWhat Can We Do With Our Kids?

We’ve received a number of letters from parents and teachers about summer learning approaches and things to do. Summer is such a great time for kids to discover and explore new things, build skills or experiment with hobbies or subjects they haven’t had time to investigate during the school year. Yet kids report they get “bored” in the summer. Often, and to the hair-pulling dismay of parents, they also play way too many video games and watch too much television, an outcome that, studies say, raises kids’ risk for obesity and the well-documented summer slide.

Summer is also a time of great disparity—and a challenge not just for kids but also for parents. Middle and upper class parents spend large sums of money on enriching camps, vacations, and programs (whether they can afford to or not), while lower-income families can’t pay these hefty price tags, and have no choice but to resort to sub-par options. According to a 2011 RAND report, low-income students lose an average of two months of reading skills every summer, while higher-income students actually gain skills—especially those enrolled in camps, exposed to great books, and spending their days with parents or caregivers who keep them stimulated and engaged.

So if you’re one of many thousands of U.S. parents still scrambling to figure out your summer, or if you’re strapped for cash and scratching your head over what to do, try not to fret. With a little planning and creativity, you can make your child’s summer a time of fun, renewal, discovery and learning. Here are some simple ways:

  • Involve your child in the planning. After all, it is their summer. Give them, for example, descriptions of camp experiences to read and discuss with you. There are many wonderful one-week long specialty camps that kids enjoy.
  • Take part in your local library’s summer reading program, and encourage your child to read every day for 30 minutes (if needed, break the time into smaller chunks). Better yet, read something with your child each day, something they are eager to read that might be just a bit ahead of where they are.
  • Mix in exercise and time outdoors—at least an hour every day. Summer is a great time for physical activity, and sunshine provides vitamin D, essential to healthy brain development.
  • Incorporate math into your daily activities. Your kids can dole out change at a lemonade stand or yard sale, measure ingredients while cooking, plan meals on a budget, put together puzzles and tangrams, do Sudoku and more. You can find a number of high-quality, free resources and ideas online, including the award-winning program, Everyday Mathematics, created by the University of Chicago.
  • Make the most of your local parks. Participate in nature walks, bird watching, tree identification and other educational programs. Also use your parks to daydream and unwind:  throw a Frisbee, read on the grass and challenge each other to relay races!
  • Have your child create a journal to record summer experiences every day. Drawing, writing, or a mix of both is great. Take the journal along on vacations—and everywhere you go. Your kids will get a great kick out of these journals in years to come.
  • Sign up for one of the new “virtual camps” on the market. They combine online and hands-on learning—and make it fun. Better yet, they cost less than traditional summer camps, and your kids can take part in them whenever it suits. Check out programs run by Common Sense Media and Curiosityville, two highly-credible options.
  • Make time for unstructured play, which kids need every day. Resist the urge to overschedule, and work with your child to figure out the right mix. Start some big projects—a puzzle with many pieces on a bridge table, a complicated LEGO structure. Do something you might not have time to nurture during the school year.
  • Create an interest binder full of things your child might like to explore—whether going to a creek to spot frogs and lizards or engineering and flying a kite. Make a page for every activity—and do some research together to develop options to consider.

Learn More

This is Your Brain on Summer,” by Jeff Smink, New York Times

Making Summer Count: How Summer Programs Can Boost Children’s Learning,” RAND Corporation

Know the Facts,” National Summer Learning Association

Summer Slump Programs to Avoid Brain Drain Worry Parents, Who Defend Traditional Summer Break,” The Huffington Post