Summer offers precious opportunities for new experiences, building relationships, and exploring the outdoors. But parents may worry about how to keep their kids engaged with learning while school’s out — especially for children who have been working super hard this year to catch up with academic skills. You want to help them maintain or even grow their skills, but also give them a break from school. You want them to learn, but not burnout and maybe even rekindle a love of learning.
With these easy ideas, summer vacation can help connect the dots between fun and learning! Some tips are focused on the three R’s (does anyone still say that?), and others on broader skills like communication and curiosity that are absolutely critical to learning.
1. Tell stories: one of the most important ways you can support your child’s learning is by simply talking with them. Skills like making connections between ideas, understanding cause and effect, and building a bigger vocabulary all come from conversation. (I’m going to say it: this requires putting down your phone. Sorry!)
2. Beach Basics: Turn the beach into a fun outdoor classroom. Depending on the age of your child, you can count sailboats, compare shells to see how many similarities and differences, find all the objects that start with the letter “B”, and practice letters and numbers by writing in the wet sand.
3. Road trip research: Put the kids to work planning it! Plot out your route together on an old fashioned map (AAA still has them!). Calculate mileage, read landmarks and potential pitstops on the map. Pull out the phone (briefly!) and research your destinations online with your kids. Have your kids make predictions about how long it will take to get there. Bonus: They can follow along with the map in the car which might reduce the number of times you hear “Are we there yet?” (no promises…)
4. Get curious together: Ask and answer lots of questions about why things are the way they are, and how they work. Go on a hike and wonder how trees grow so tall. Hypothesize about how ants communicate. At the park question how they built the playground and why they designed it as they did. It’s OK if you don’t know - you’re modeling how to think critically.
5. Z for Zebra:Reading? At the Zoo? Give the maps to your kids and have them read it for you and decide where you’re going based on what animals they want to see. Ask them to read the signs to you so you can all learn more about the animals together. See if you can find all the letters of the alphabet based on the animals in the zoo. How often do you run into a zebra in your everyday life?
6. Sports statistics: Go to a baseball game or follow the team’s progress at home. Keep score and statistics. Help your child follow their favorite player’s progress throughout the season. Look at league stats and make guesses as to which teams will make it to the playoffs, and have fun making a giant tournament bracket (window markers on a sliding glass door is a really fun way to do this).
7. Camping: Start with trip research and planning (this is a great one for kids who need some practice with executive function skills like planning, organizing, list making and decision making). Tell spooky ghost stories with complex plots; bring card games (blackjack is great for math and fun for most ages!), attend ranger talks, and curl up in the tent with a flashlight and a pile of books.
8. Learn together: Let the experts do the work of curating science at one of the bay area’s incredible children’s science and maker museums. You pack the snacks, then sit back and get curious with your children. (Pro tip: The Exploratorium cafe has SF fancy food and a bar… bring an older cousin to wrangle the kids and have a mini-lunch date). Check out free Tuesdays, your library’s Discover and Go passes, and inter-museum discounts to keep the costs down. Our favorites:
Lindsay Wildlife (Walnut Creek - next to a gorgeous park and they do a lot of free outdoor activities with stunning birds of prey and other animals).
Children’s Discovery Museum (Sausalito).
Academy of Arts and Sciences (SF)
9. Summer Camp! If you’re like a lot of parents, you’re going to need to send your kids to one or more summer camps. Make sure that at least one of them supports their learning needs in a fun, integrated way. This means it doesn’t have to be a camp that focuses exclusively on reading to the detriment of fun summer activities. There are plenty of camps that embed learning in their activities so often times kids don’t even realize they’re learning and strengthening their skills.
Need some suggestions? Here are a few summer camps that skillfully merge fun and learning.
Words in the Wild takes kids into the gardens around Lake Merritt to learn about the life cycle of worms, collect and record data, and create nature art -- all with literacy and writing practice fluidly embedded in the activities. (This is our program!)
Camp Galileo is a great example of a summer camp that encourages kids to learn, explore and fail while engaging in art, science, engineering, culinary, and design projects that utilize literacy and writing skills.
Camp 510 is a summer camp, led by professional artists and makers, that embeds learning in the exploration of studio art, tinkering, public art, cooking, electronics, building, sewing, video, and more.
Whatever you do, no stress! These are opportunities to build positive experiences with (semi) self-directed learning, to experience the joy of curiosity and problem solving as a family, and “fill the tank” for academic learning during the school year.