As a parent, I try to balance the summer months between fun and learning for my children. It’s important to experience quality time together as a family, take a vacation, and relax. It’s equally important to participate in educational activities and programs to help prevent the loss of learning.
Also known as the summer slide, learning loss happens when children and adolescents don’t engage in educational activities over the summer. According to the U.S. Department of Education, studies have shown a notable trend of learning loss when young people aren’t involved in anything educational during summer break. We may hear more about it on June 19, Summer Learning Day. The nationally recognized day is meant to spread awareness about the importance of summer learning to help close the achievement gap. It might need more than a single day to build awareness of something so crucial.
This summer, I will have four boys to plan for: a teen entering his senior year of high school, identical twins starting second grade in the fall, plus a newborn baby. With such big age differences, I’m always searching for summer activities and programs that are educational, affordable, and fun. I check local libraries, school districts, and even local chambers of commerce for summer programs. In preparing for summer activities, I consider my kids’ interests and our family’s “must-dos” for the summer. And I’ve learned not to wait too long to make our summer plans!
Besides soaking up some sun on a pool or beach day, my boys enjoy day outings. Here are some summer learning ideas that I have found work for everyone in my family and may appeal to your kids, too.
• Libraries: Nationwide, libraries have summer programs that are either free or low cost. Everything from summer reading lists to LEGO building contests, library summer programs are suitable for all age groups. For example, my teen can partake in a college prep online course, the twins can have fun with a storybook contest, and even the baby can be part of a “mommy and me” read-aloud playgroup – all under the same roof.
• Museums: The unique exhibits, special interactive programs, and longer admission hours put museums and children’s museums high on the list for the summer. With interactive displays, especially at children’s museums, kids of all ages have the opportunity to be hands-on and learn on about science, history, art, technology, and various subjects. Many museums offer affordable day camps that focus on a particular theme like dinosaurs, space, or the rain forest. Last summer, our family visited the American Police Hall of Fame and Museum. The museum had historical law enforcement artifacts, many types of different police cars, a touch-and-feel kid’s corner, and a theater. The twins loved getting to climb into historical police cars, watching funny Sheriff the Dog cartoons in the children’s movie theaters, and dressing up as law enforcement officers and firemen in the kids’ corner. My teen was impressed with the historical law enforcement stories and real-life paraphernalia from notorious cases such as indicting Al Capone.
• Children’s theaters: In theaters across the country, award-winning plays and scripts are being performed not only by adults but by a cast of talented children, too. The twins recently saw The Adventure of Treasure Island and loved the play. It was fascinating for them to see characters they had read about perform scenes from the book in front of them. Theaters for young audiences often offer discounted or free performances during the summer where children can see their favorite books brought to life.
• National, state, and regional parks: The vast open space is the perfect setting for a wide range of learning opportunities, from forestry to camping. Families can learn about trees, animals, wilderness, native plants, and geographic elements on guided nature walks or during summer camping specials. National parks also havefree admission and entrance days throughout the year that you may want to take advantage of.
• Petting zoos and pick-your-own farms: As an urban family, an outing to a petting zoo is a great learning experience. The boys get to approach and touch various farm animals they don’t see on a daily basis. Also, lots of teaching opportunities present themselves when kids get to pick their own fruits and vegetables. Visit a pick-your-own farm and learn about agriculture and vegetation while having fun – and then bake a pie together that night with your pickings!
• Zoos and aquariums: Almost everyone enjoys learning and seeing wild animals and sea creatures. Zoos and aquariums have programs designed especially for families in the summer. I’ve seen day camps where kids learn about African wildlife, deep-sea animals, bird watching, dolphin feeding, and more.
• Volunteering: Summer is an ideal time for children and teens to learn about giving back and do community-minded service. Helping others teaches and reinforces social and emotional learning skills and attitudes important to making thoughtful and empathetic decisions. Volunteer Match has a comprehensive list of opportunities that are age appropriate, including virtual options. My twins helped distribute food to those in need at a local food bank. My teen was an assistant sports coach at a youth summer camp for underprivileged children. Both experiences were incredible learning opportunities for the boys. They unconsciously practiced social and math skills and got physical workouts. Just as important, it made them more appreciative of what they have and made them feel good about being able to help others. They want to volunteer again this summer.
• School summer programs: Saying the words summer and schooltogether may strike fear and dread in children’s hearts, but actually many school districts offer various summer programs that students might find entertaining – even as they continue to learn. Math and science clubs, music and dance classes, fun day trips, and day camps where children receive one-on-one tutoring are usually free or a minimal fee for families living within the school’s zoning boundaries. Ask your child’s school or neighboring school districts for a list of summer options.
• At-home activities: Looking for an activity to do at home? Many arts and crafts projects can be found online and created using items already found at home. Family-friendly sources for these ideas include: Scholastic, Scholastic Summer Reading, Barnes & Nobles (Free Summer Reading Books), Nick Jr. Summer Activities, PBS Kids, Disney Family , Disney Crafts, Michael’s Arts & Crafts, Easy Teacher Worksheets, Backyard Exploration, Gardening with Kids, Summer Activities for Tweens and Teens.
Even if your children don’t remember the exact lessons learned in the months before vacation, a summer that keeps kids’ minds active will mean they are primed to learn and will likely be quicker to recall last year’s lessons when they return to school.
This article is part of a Summer Learning series, committed to raising awareness about summer slide and ways to combat it. Also in the series:
Joscelyn Ramos Campbell is a nationally syndicated columnist and talk-radio show co-host. She offers parents tips and resources from her hectic life as a military wife raising a teen son, identical twin boys, and a newborn baby on one of the nation’s leading Latina American sites, MamiofMultiples.com.