Learning, and learning in the summer in particular, wears so many different faces that it doesn’t always fall into the category of “learning” (hear the groan?) as kids come to know it. Learning in summer offers much that the school year doesn’t. Summer brings time that is unstructured, schedules that are less encumbered, environments that are untraditional and ripe for discovery, and opportunities to create and follow your own interests and lesson plans. It is a time of year that is ripe with real learning opportunities for kids of all ages, learning that is not limited to the three Rs and drill and kill. Summer gives us the chance to stretch and expand thinking.

So, let’s reframe and put a whole new spin on that word “learning.” Wherever you are, learning opportunities abound. As parents we can keep our kids’ brains active and sparking, with new synapses forming all summer long. Some of this happens with our help, and some happens if we leave our kids alone (and unplug the enemy screens). Remember, kids need time to play, with and without friends. In those unstructured, unscripted, unplanned times, they are growing ideas. Isn’t that learning?

The following Tips for Parents will help you plan fun summer activities for your kids.

Ideas for Parents to Keep Children Busy

While summer should be a relaxing, fun time for kids, they still need to keep their minds and bodies active. Set firm limits about how much time they’re allowed to watch TV and movies, or play video or computer games. The American Academy of Pediatrics warns that more than two hours a day in front of the TV leads to increased obesity and lowered academic achievement. Instead, provide the kids with a comprehensive list of approved activities, and make sure they have the supplies on hand to do them. Make it clear which activities they’re allowed to do on their own, and which ones they need to do with adult supervision. Here are some ideas for learning, active, summer fun:

Visit the local library: for books, videos, music, games, activities, story times, and summer reading programs.

Sports: have the kids join a team. If that’s not possible, encourage them to play basketball, soccer, baseball, badminton, volley ball, or croquet in the yard or with friends that live nearby.

Other outdoor fun: tree climbing, jumping rope, camping in the backyard, bike riding, sidewalk chalk, building forts out of cardboard boxes, playing with pets, swimming, jumping on a trampoline, or running through the sprinkler. Check out Family Education’s Outdoor Activities for tons of great ideas for kids 6-10 years old.

Projects: Planting a vegetable or flower garden, writing a book or journal, painting a series of paintings on a theme, planning and performing a play, making a movie with a camcorder, etc.

Learn: a new sport or musical instrument, study geology or geography with field trips, or astronomy and stargazing.

Arts and crafts activities: Visit Creative Kids at Home’s Summer Activities for fun ideas.

Start a collection: bugs, rocks, dried plants or flowers, books, or found objects.

Help them plan, advertise, and run a small summer business:babysitting, lawn mowing, pet sitting, selling baked goodies, crafts, or jewelry they’ve made, or have them start plants from seeds and sell them. Read these Money Instructor’s Child Business Tips

Volunteer: Kids learn a lot from helping others. They can help an elderly neighbor, coach a younger team, be a teen volunteer at the local hospital, or organize a charity event such as car wash, barbecue, or mothers’ luncheon. Teens can visit Do Something for volunteer opportunities near them.

Summer camp: have them go to an accredited camp for a week or two for a change of scenery and good fun. Visit the American Camp Association for accredited camps in your area.

Planned outings: visit the zoo, museum, planetarium, beach, park, swimming pool, go camping or hiking, stargazing, or fishing.

Cooking: have them plan, shop, and prepare for a family dinner each week. They can visit the award winning kids cooking website, Spatulatta, for measuring instructions, safety tips, recipes, and more.

Community Events: check your local paper or visit your library to find out about fairs, festivals, and other community events to do as a family.

Board games: encourage them to make it exciting by having neighborhood chess tournaments, a Monopoly day (where everyone dresses as their favorite Monopoly game piece), or play for prizes.

Chores: Ok, doing chores is rarely fun, but it’s important for kids to take part in the family’s chores. They learn responsibility, and feel proud that they can contribute. Require that kids clean up after themselves, and have them help out with laundry or watering the garden. Reward them for a job well done.

Car Games for Kids

The car is a learning environment. Instead of relying on the DVD and other tech devices, turn your child’s brain and senses on. Old-fashioned car games, giving points for answers, involve the whole family.

Play “I’m Going on a Trip” and practice memory and alphabet skills. (Each person adds an item, going A to Z, and each turn repeats the whole list. Person No. 3 says I am going on a trip, and I am taking an Apple, a Basketball, and a Caterpillar. And then onto the the next person. I am going on a trip, and I am taking a …

Play “I spy” using shapes in the world that is passing you by (Who can find a triangle shape?)

Play “Out of State License” spotting.

Play spotting games of all kinds: Who can find a license that has a G in it? Who can find a license plate whose numbers add up to more than 10?

Play math word games: Daddy can eat 3 pickles in 5 minutes. How man pickles can he eat in an hour.

At the grocery store:

  1. Enlist your child’s help in writing the grocery list.
  2. Give your child her own a list to fulfill.
  3. Involve your child in guessing the weight of produce, the total cost at checkout.
  4. Ask the manager if he would show you both the meat refrigerator or the cold storage area where vegetables are kept.

Start a Long-Range Project

Summer is perfect for long range project…because you have the time. Be only the consultant, not the director, in these pursuits.

Put on a production. Your child writes the script, recruits the players, and puts on the show. She makes the lists and invites the audiences (homemade invitations), arranges the theater seating, even bakes the reception goodies.

Hold an art show. Your child is the artist, hangs her work in the home “gallery.” She creates and distributes the invitations; she cooks the reception goodies.

Hold a recital. Your child can perform his talent-a drum show, piano recital, karate demonstration. He makes his guest lists, invitations, and reception treats. He arranges the room and the audience seats.

Hold a creative writing/poetry reading. Your child creates the invitations, the program, the setting, the reception.

Build something from scratch — a skate board ramp, a doll bed, a mouse house. Anything that requires thought, planning, directions, supplies, and elbow grease will keep your child’s wheels turning.

Start any kind of a collection-rocks, shells, coins, stamps, baseball cards. The organization and categorization (and storage) require plenty of skill.

The business of everyday life at home offers plenty of learning opportunities:

  • Pay your bills with your child, letting him see what things cost and how you do it.
  • Invite your child to cook with you-measuring is a math skill.
  • Ask your child to help you clean out or organize almost anything!
  • Sorting, alphabetizing, categorizing take thought and effort.
  • Hold a garage sale of your child’s possessions of his choice. He makes the signs, prices the items, organizes the event, runs the bank…and counts his money made!

Starting with reframing your ideas about learning, whether it’s a project, a field trip, or just the business of daily life, summer is ripe with opportunities for reinforcing old skills and learning new ones. Who says the days of summer are lazy? They are just filled with expanding your child’s thinking and growing his mind.

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