Engaging Children in Summer Learning Is Easier Than You Think
Sonya Barnes July 11, 2019
I know people on both sides of the fence of summer learning—those that think kids need a total break from learning and those that believe they must stay proficient or they will slide. I’ve thought long and hard on this topic, even lost sleep, both as a parent and as a teacher. Is summer learning necessary? Shouldn’t they be allowed to enjoy their freedom and have unstructured time to play and live life? Is the learning loss as high as they say it is? Won’t they just pick it up when we review or start building on the skill when we get to it during the school year. It’s stressful and confusing and both parents and teachers worry about making the wrong choice about it.
For the longest time, I didn’t think it necessary, until I realized a few things from both research and personal observations and conversations. First, summers aren’t spent the same way for everyone, or the way that many of us did because life is not the same as it was for many of us coming up. We are busier, people don’t spend as much time in person together, not all families have time to do family things, and some kids don’t have to worry about helping with as much around the house as others do. I concluded that, if schools are responsible for teaching things like health, drug and alcohol, and internet safety because they need more than what they are getting at home. Kids today are learning academic skills in larger chunks and at faster rates because there is so much more to know and, in the opinion of some researchers, they are learning these things before they are developmentally ready to learn them. The way many kids and teens spend their summers these days is with little to no application of academic skills to maintain proficiency. A small percentage of kids in the area I live take any kind of summer vacation beyond a weekend away at the beach, if they are lucky. When I thought about all these things and the struggles I saw during the first few weeks back, it made me realize there was a need.
I have two children that are thirteen years apart. My oldest did summer learning workbooks I found at learning stores and eventually online. He hated it, but we made sure we found ones that required less than 30 minutes of his attention a day. As he got older, he complained about going back and doing review work because it was so easy, and he didn’t get why other kids didn’t know what to do. When he transitioned to high school, we no longer did them since they were only printed through 8th grade, and he noticed more of a lag when he returned. At that point, he saw the value of them and how much they truly helped him over the years. When our youngest was finishing his first year of school, our oldest told me to make sure we did summer learning with him to keep him current. When a teenager tells you that there is value in it, you know that means something.
Our go to summer learning book is one I found on Amazon called Summer Bridge Learning and it is my favorite of all the ones we have looked at and tried over the years. It has two activities to do each day, working in practice on math, reading, spelling, grammar, science and social studies. It also has fitness activities as well as projects and experiments to do. There is a progress chart and stickers to help them see their progress. Since the work is simply reviewing the prior year, there is very little struggle on the work and often only needs a bit of refresher on something he may have gotten wrong. We no longer need the stickers because he has learned that the daily work must be done to earn technology time. When motivation was a challenge, we may tie a weekly incentive of ice cream for doing the week of work and a play day or picnic at the park for finishing a section. If you are interested in the summer bridge books, use this link to find the one for your child’s grade level, plus you’ll be helping me out by using my Amazon Affiliate program. Amazon Summer Learning Books
Our school sends home district assembled summer learning packets that have incentives tied to them when they return, and this is a great motivator for some to work on it, although I have heard some kids say they did it all at the beginning, the end or had an older sibling do it for them so that they can get the prize, which defeats the purpose. I know these learning guides won’t be a good fit for all kids. But they need something.
If completing summer workbooks or packets is not your idea of summer, let me share a few tips we have learned over the years to engage kids with the core skills that can keep their brains active that may not even seem like they are learning or reviewing their skills. The key thing is to ensure that kids are learning how skills work together and practicing retaining the knowledge gained.
- Weekly trips to the library are a cheap and easy way to solve many issues. It is an outing, something new, lots to choose from for free, and many libraries have movie or activity days during the week to plan around.
- Local movie theaters and bowling alleys often offer summer activities on a budget for families.
- Children’s museums and interactive parks, playgrounds and theme parks are in many locations and could be closer than you think if you are near a major city. Here’s a link to find one https://findachildrensmuseum.org/
- Completing puzzles, whether technology-based, book or box style, can be good. Things like cross words, seek and finds, or Sudoku can help keep the brain active.
- Being responsible for planning and prepping a meal and a dessert each week can help with their reading, math and problem-solving skills, and they can learn a bit of meal planning and finance skills, as well.
- If your family takes a trip during the summer, have them measure and calculate distances or speeds between points based on the time it takes, find local activities to do there and the cost involved. If you have more than one kid and they are older, making it a competition to see who can plan the best itinerary for the day and include food stops, and for the best price, could be a way to make it engaging.
- Involving them in back to school shopping and calculating the costs and what their needs are can help, as well.
- If you have younger kids, they can make flash cards of words they struggle with in the books they read.
- If there is something they are good at, set up your phone or camera to record them making a tutorial video for how to do it and maybe you can share it with a friend or family member.
- If they love movies or streaming services or playing on devices, have them calculate how much time they spend on it and track the “distance” on a map driving at a certain speed to see how far they could have traveled in that same amount of time.
- Hobbies are another great way to engage them. This could be playing sports, mechanical work or even geocaching, a favorite past time of ours.
- Finally, I suggest having them take on additional chores and responsibilities, especially if they are older or are home all day. This shows the acknowledgement of their promotion and increased responsibility and will engage their brains in doing something that contributes to the family.
I cannot tell you how important it is to find a way to keep their brains actively engaged to avoid that summer slump, slide, or whatever you want to call it. Everyone is different and will have different levels of need over the summer, just like they do during the school year. The most important thing is to find what works the best, not what works the easiest. It is hard to awaken them when they return to school, especially if they slept all day and did nothing but vegetate when they were awake. On that note, start working on that routine of getting up early and going to bed at a reasonable hour a couple of weeks out. This can also be a challenge and make more of an issue with behavior both at school and at home at the beginning due to being tired or hungry at non-traditional mealtimes.
I’d love for you to comment below with your thoughts on the topic as well as other suggestions for keeping those brains engaged all summer.