It's a tough balance to find. You want your children to keep learning over the summer, but you also want them to get a well-deserved break. Teachers frequently lament the knowledge that's drained during all those days by the pool and hours on the couch.
But what's a parent to do? You don't want to shove worksheets and flashcards at your kids all summer long. It's called vacation for a reason.
My four-year-old daughter came home from pre-school on her last day when an alphabet book. She had been putting it together all year long, adding a letter every week with a corresponding picture. By the time the whole thing was done, she could recognize and identify all of her letters with minimal prompting. I'm proud of her accomplishment! But when I look at that book, which is now proudly displayed on our bookshelves, I worry about how many of them she'll know when the summer ends.
After a year of working diligently to learn her alphabet, how much damage would three months without instruction do? That's why I feel like we need to be committed to helping her learn all summer long. But I think that we need to do it in inventive and fun ways, so that it still feels like summer. I don't want my little one tracing her name at the kitchen table every night, but that doesn't mean that I don't want her to practice her writing.
So here's my plan for keeping my little one's mind active and engaged all summer long. Hopefully, I'm going to do so without ruining her carefree summer. Let me know what tactics you use or if you think academics need to be addressed over the summer at all.
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Read, read, read
We know. I realize that we all know our kids need to read. But in the summer, it's even more important than ever that kids have time every day to read or be read to. Our family is a tad traditionalist, so we like to do it before bedtime. But don't be afraid to mix it up.
Head to the library so that they can pick out interesting and diverse books. Start a chapter book that you can pick up all summer long. Show them your summer novels. (They don't know what Fifty Shades of Grey means.) Do whatever you can, but keep your kids reading.
If they need a little incentive, most schools and libraries have summer reading programs where your kids can earn prizes for hitting a certain number of books over the summer.
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Pick the right camp
There are plenty of factors to consider when choosing a summer camp, but one important thing to consider is the actual educational content of the program. If it doesn't stretch your budget too thin, you could even do a couple smaller camps with more educational focus.
Last year, my little one started a summer zoo camp. It's not just a chance to pet snakes and see eagles up close, though she seriously loves that part. The camp works hard to make the kids think, and that's what's really important about summer learning. It doesn't have to be writing or math problems, it just has to be engaging. So think about your child's interests and find a program that will help them explore that area.
I can still remember attending space camp when I was a kid. Obviously I didn't grow up to be an astronaut, but it was an amazing experience that taught me a lot and kept me thinking about the stars and space all summer long.
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Continue their favorite lessons from the school year
My mother is a kindergarten teacher. This year, some of her kids got really interested in medieval times. They created their own armor so they could be knights. They turned the "house area" into a castle, complete with working draw bridge. The kids found something that was interesting and the teachers build lesson plans around it. That's what teachers are good at.
So why not capitalize on the teacher's hard work. Figure out the project from the year that most excited your little one and find ways to expand on it or continue the lesson. Help your kids research, build and explore. The hardest part can be finding something that sparks your kid's imagination. If the teacher has already done that for you, it's silly not use that to your advantage.
Ask their teacher for tips
If your obstinate child "can't remember" or "doesn't know" what was fun or exciting about their school year, email their teacher. I don't know a single teacher who doesn't check their email over the summer. And I don't think that any of them would mind giving a parent some ideas about how to keep the kids learning over the summer. In fact, they'll probably be excited to help.
So often, we don't think to ask teachers about what we can be doing at home. That feels like admitting that we aren't sure how to raise our little ones. But I think that parents forget how much teachers just want to help They aren't out to judge you. And after getting to know your kids all year long, they know what a caring parent you are.
So why not drop them a line and see what they suggest you work on for next year. They can give you insight and ideas that you probably wouldn't figure out on your own.
Does your child have chores to do over the summer? Make them create a tracking chart, calculate their allowance and budget how to spend it.
Are your little ones interested in dinosaur bones? Bury some bones in an unused flower bed and create your own archaeological dig in the back yard. Your kids will a blast, not just playing in the dirt, but identifying the bones and describing the dinosaurs they could've belonged to.
Have a future engineer on your hands? My daughter is currently hard at work with my dad trying to figure out how to build a robot. (Hint: Lego has a Robotics division with tons of easy-to-use supplies.) This little project will take months for her and her grandfather to complete.
Keeping your kids engaged means more than buying a workbook with their favorite cartoon character. Find ways to make learning fun and interactive, and you'll keep your kids' minds spinning until the next school year rolls around.
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