The last few weeks of the school year are fast approaching, and many parents are seeking activities for their children that will help them to retain or advance their academic skills during the summer months. Like muscles that strengthen and grow with use, the brain benefits from constant use and challenge. Summer is a great time to combine learning and fun. Children from pre-kindergarten through high school can maintain and advance their learning skills in as little as twenty minutes a day. Whether parents are home with their children all day or working outside the home, they can engage in many rewarding activities together. Many resources are available online or at the library. Materials can be found right at home. They keys are planning and consistency. Work on something every day. Take advantage of the good weather to engage in activities outdoors, so that children associate learning with the world in general, not just the classroom.
According to Richard Riley, Secretary of Education, “Educational research has made it clear that parents who are actively involved in their children’s learning at home help their children become more successful learners in and out of school.” Here are just a few suggestions for learning activities. Some are provided by the Home and School Institute. They are arranged according to age. You are limited only by your imagination. Using available resources and a bit of ingenuity, you can make almost any mundane errand a fun learning experience for adults and children alike. Find time to engage your child and you’ll both be rewarded.
Number practice: Give your child practice in reading numbers left to right by dialing a telephone.
Napkin Fractions–Make fractions fun. Fold paper towels or napkins into large and small fractions. Start with halves and move to eighths and sixteenths. Use magic markers to label the fractions.
Shapes: Cut bread into different shapes–rectangles, triangles, squares, circles. Make at least two of each shape. Ask your youngster to choose a pair of similar shapes, then to put jam on the first piece, and to place the second piece on top to make a sandwich. This is a snack plus a game to match shapes.
Reading: This activity also teaches the body parts–head, arm, knee, foot. Print the words on sticky paper and ask your child to attach these papers to the clothes in the closet or drawers. Make a pattern of your child lying on a large sheet of paper. Tack it up. Ask your child to attach the words for the body parts to the right locations.
Writing: Set up a table outside with finger paints and paper. Let your child paint and create “concrete poetry” about what he sees around him.
Disappearing letters: Promote creativity and build muscle control with a pail of water and a brush. On a warm day, take your children outside to the driveway or sidewalk and encourage them to write anything they wish. Talk about what they’ve written.
Listening skills: Read a story aloud to your child and stop before the end. Ask the child how the story will turn out. Then finish the story and discuss the ending with the child.
Grades 4 & 5
Math— Discuss baseball and football scores and averages on the sports pages. Who are the high scorers? What are their averages and percentages?
Ask your child to choose a dish to prepare for a meal. Then have your child check to see what supplies are on hand and then make a shopping list. At the supermarket, let your child select the food on the list. First, your child decides which items are the best buys and makes selections. Also, have your child write the price of each item on the list and, if possible, figure the total, checking the prices against the sales receipt.
At the gas station, ask your child how much gas you needed and the cost per gallon. Then have him calculate your mileage.
Reading–Read with your child by taking roles in stories and acting out dramatic poems. Whenever possible, tape record these sessions. Then listen to and enjoy these performances together.
Join the summer reading challenge provided by the local library.
Encourage your child to read the newspaper every day, starting with sections of particular interest, like movie reviews, sports stories, or local events.
Writing—Have your child keep a diary or a travel journal. Encourage him to write in it every day. Bring it along on family trips. It will serve as a wonderful memento!
Encourage your child to write a review of books he has read or movies he has seen. He can tape record them and “broadcast” them to family and friends.
The first installment of this article focused on summer learning activities for children through grade 5. This article continues with suggestions for students in grades 6 through 12. With the child’s increasing maturity and independence, the activities can take on a more global perspective. Summer is the perfect opportunity to reinforce the concept that exciting learning takes place outside the confines of a “brick and mortar” classroom. In fact, demonstrating that adults continue to engage in meaningful learning is one of the most important lessons that parents can impart to their children. Once again, some of the suggestions come from the Home and School Institute. Use them as a catalyst for further exploration.
Math—Give your child the practical mathematical tools to run a household. Make a list of household expenses: utilities, telephone, food, mortgage, gasoline, etc. Then ask the child to estimate the monthly cost of each item. Discuss them first, and then let him calculate the actual cost of the expenditures and the income necessary to pay them and still have discretionary funds.
Practical application: If your child receives an allowance or regular spending money, ask him to calculate the cost of his activities and deduct it from his allowance. Does he save a portion of his allowance? If so, what percent?
Have your child look through newspapers and magazines for ads or articles containing percents, decimals, and fractions.
Reading—In order to help your child learn to read critically, introduce him to the editorial and op-ed sections of the newspaper. Then use the information as a source for dinner conversation. Ask him if he agrees or disagrees with the views expressed and to explain why.
Show your child the wide variety of magazines and journals available in the town library. If your child has a special hobby or interest, introduce him to a specialty magazine that might help him to explore that interest.
Writing—Encourage your child to send postcards to family and friends. They need not be from an exotic location. Postcards featuring the local towns are readily available.
Have your child write a review of a movie or video he has seen. What genre was it: fantasy, science fiction, action, etc? How were the characters portrayed? Why was the resolution satisfactory or unsatisfactory? Would he recommend it? For whom? Why or why not? The important component is to have the child think critically. Using “how” and “why” questions provides more opportunity for expression that “what, when, or where” questions.
Unfortunately, a parent’s involvement in his child’s education often decreases dramatically during the teen years. However, this period is just as crucial for a child’s development as the early childhood years. Teenagers definitely require careful parental guidance and involvement. The activities listed below aim to increase not only intellectual development, but communication as well.
Math—Encourage teenagers to set up checking savings accounts to monitor their use of money. Whether they earn money through part-time employment, household chores, or allowance, help them to have a realistic view of income and expenses. Have the teen demonstrate ways find cost savings for activities like movie-going, video rental, amusement parts, and athletic events. If the teenager drives, have him calculate the cost of owning and maintaining a motor vehicle. What percentage of his earnings should he allot to gasoline, insurance, and repairs?
Reading—Form a family book club. Often, students have required or suggested summer reading lists for school. In order to foster active reading, a very important component in learning, parents can encourage critical reading skills. For example, when parents read the same novel, the family can arrange to have a weekly discussion about it. Not only is the family time valuable, but teens can learn to appreciate a challenging novel on different levels. They can even extend their critical analysis skills with a little secondary research. Different family members can take turns leading the book discussion. The leader can guide a discussion to include valuable insights on a number of the novel’s elements. Points of discussion can include narrative style, theme, conflict, point of view, and resolution.
Writing—This activity is related to the reading. Teens can write reviews of the books that they read during the summer. Not only will they retain the information for a longer period, but they will have review material for the fall, when class discussions begin.
Furthermore, many books have been made into movies. Hence, teens can view the videos and then compare and contrast the stories presented. Some questions to consider include: how the director’s vision related to the reader’s vision; how the director’s view affected the action, characterization, setting? Does the teen agree with the director’s vision or the portrayal by the actors?
Above all, enjoy the summer with your children, no matter what their ages are!