Top summer learning activities for elementary schoolers

Keep your fourth, fifth, or sixth grader sharp all summer with these fun brain boosters.

By Jacquie Goetz Bluethmann

Rev up reading

For your budding reader, encourage her to find new "book nooks" – in a tree, a cozy corner, or by the pool. (Favorite summer reads for this age: Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, James and the Giant Peach, and A Week in the Woods.) Also, this is the right age to introduce your child to your local library’s summer reading club. Participants get a "passport" to log enough reading time for a prize. Another secret to get your child hooked on books? Try a book series, like these hidden gems for fourth through sixth grade readers

Even though your child can read by herself, don’t forget to continue reading together. Classics like Little Women or Where the Red Fern Grows are page-turning advanced reads that can help expand your child’s vocabulary and reading comprehension while listening to you read.
 

Game the numbers

Want to raise a math whiz? Then don’t let your child start next year behind. The National Summer Learning Association reports that, on average, students of all backgrounds lose about two months of math skills during summer break.

So when you're not romping in the sun, use indoor online time wisely with Math Playground, Funbrain, and Math Arcade, sites that turn math practice into pure entertainment. Coolmath4kids lets your number cruncher play games to learn times tables, decimals, and fractions. Visual learners can watch videos on teachertube that make learning fractions fun.

One, two, three strikes your out! America's favorite pastime is chock full of math. For inspiration, check out TeacherFirst on how to create lesson plans around baseball.

When life hands you lemon, make a young entrepreneur! The all-American lemonade stand not only teaches kids about money and sales (making change, tallying earnings), but hones communication (interacting with customers), writing (making signs), and planning skills (What else should we sell? Cookies, sno cones?) Not in a stand-friendly ‘hood? A computer-based game of Lemonade Stand allows your child to do all this virtually, too.


 

Sneaky science

Experiment with real-life science all summer long – without a lab coat or beaker in sight: Learn what a pulse is and how to take it, use a magnet to find the iron in cereal, and clean dirty water with the sun by taking advantage of Scientific American’s "Bring Science Home" activities, which are based on National Science Education Standards. Field trips to the local planetarium or an after-dinner star-gazing excursion are great opportunities to raise your child’s interest in astronomy. Websites like NASA provide a virtual experience to complement these visits, too.

During quiet time, slip science into your child’s nightly reading – see our recommendations of great science and nature books for your fourth or fifth grader.

For your athlete, America's favorite pastime is chock-full of science and math lessons. The Science of Baseball explains the science behind home runs and the key to understanding curve balls
 

Let the words flow

To work on writing skills, many teachers recommend that children keep a summer journal. They can chronicle family trips, summer activities, and what they’re looking forward to next year. To keep it light and fun, let your child’s entries vary with short and long entries, short stories, diary-style posts, newspaper-like reports, illustrations, word collages, and even photos with handwritten captions. "Ask your child to read [it] aloud to you," says retired kindergarten teacher Mary Kay Goetz, and "Ask questions about what [he] wrote and why"

For a hip new twist on thank-you notes and postcards, check out iCard, which lets kids create personalized notes for grandparents and friends on the go — meanwhile helping them practice writing and grammar. After camp or a family trip, memorialize the fun by scrapbooking it. Kids should be encouraged to write captions for their photos and to write an overall synopsis of their time away from home, including highlights and low points, and their feelings about each.

In our increasingly tech-oriented classrooms, one skill your child needs — but may not learn at school — is typing! Luckily, there are a few online sources where your child can learn while playing free typing games (check out Power Typing or Typing Olympic on Sense-Lang).
 

Walk on the wild side

Lazy summer days are perfect for getting outside for some real-life science — touching a caterpillar, chasing lizards, or searching for animal tracks. Take a stroll through a nature preserve, hike a nearby trail, or go bouldering at the base of your local rock-climbers’ hotspot. Along the way, point out different wildlife, flora, and fauna — and introduce your child to the concepts "family trees" (Kingdom, Order, Family, Genus). Talk about where the animals live (nests, boroughs, dens), whether they’re nocturnal or diurnal (See how you can sneak in those big words!), and how plants "eat” sunlight through photosynthesis.

If you’re thinking of hitting the road, see how you can combine your family vacation with learning at a national park. And, if you just can’t swing an in-person look, visit them virtually (You can "do" Yosemite National Park online, too.).
 

Learning through play

Ready to roll the dice? Family game night can do wonders to help children with spelling and reading comprehension. Games like Scrabble and Catchphrase both build spelling and vocabulary skills. Another fun one — the Scrambled States of America — helps kids learn state capitols and US geography. And the kid-pleasing classic, Monopoly, is terrific for teaching kids to count, add, subtract, and estimate.

Want to tone down the competition? Try a giant family jigsaw puzzle, which helps kids with spatial awareness.

Next time your family hits the road, engage your captive audience in learning. Take the license plate game to the next level by adding trivia by asking, "Which state is the Garden State?", "How many Great Lakes are there?", or "What's the capitol of . . ."  
 

Go, see, try

Who says field trips are just for school? Designate certain days for excursions your child will love: a local historical, art, or tech museum; a traditionally ethnic neighborhood like Little Italy or Chinatown; or a government-in-action spot like a local courtroom or your state capitol. Check out ParentsConnect for listings of activities and sites in your area.

Not close to any good museums? Kids can visit historical places virtually thanks to the Smithsonian’s Library and Archival Exhibitions on the Web, which allows visitors to virtually tour Smithsonian exhibitions past and present.

 

Jacquie Goetz Bluethmann is a freelance writer based in Detroit. She has written for  children's health and parenting magazines and blogs about both topics at Mom meets baby.