We all remember being a kid on the last day of school before summer vacation. Freedom! For parents, the last day of school looks a little different. All that unstructured time requires extra legwork—and often extra money—to line up childcare, let alone enriching daily activities. On top of that, parents are under pressure to keep their kids learning all summer long—otherwise, their kids are at risk of summer learning loss.
Learning loss is real, and it’s important to keep kids’ brains humming along during the summer months to make sure they’re ready to fly when they go back to school. But it’s unfortunate that the burden of summer learning falls so heavily on parents—who often don’t have any more flexibility in their work schedules during the summer months than they do the rest of the year.
One thing we’ve learned by talking to parents—and being parents ourselves—is that on summer vacation, a little learning goes a long way. And “learning” doesn’t have to be a chore, expensive, or even all that time consuming.
Here’s a checklist of four activities that will cover your kids’ brain engagement all summer long:
o Read every day.
It truly doesn’t matter what they’re reading. If anything, summer vacation is a time to read anything that attracts kids’ attention. If your children have a summer reading list for school, mix the required reads with books or magazines of their choosing to make sure summer still feels like fun free time.
The library is also your friend during the summer months. Ask your librarian about their summer reading challenge, where kids are encouraged to keep track of the books they read and report back to receive a prize. A little healthy competition never hurt, and a regular trip to the library can add some much-needed structure to a lazy summer week.
o Include some math in your screen time.
Real talk: most of us are not going to avoid screens all summer long (and why would we?). Try adding a math app to your phone or tablet. Before your kids settle in to play video games or watch a movie, do some math together. Just keeping those math muscles working—by practicing grade-appropriate skills and doing some fun problem-solving—can help ensure that your kids won’t have to review the basics when they go back to school.
o Keep writing.
It’s obvious that reading can happen at home, but writing doesn’t have to be saved for the classroom, either. Encourage your kids to spend a few minutes journaling every day, to keep track of how they spent their summer days and practice their writing skills at the same time. You could try a family writing activity, like writing a story together or drawing a map of your neighborhood (or the neighborhood where you grew up) and labeling the streets, businesses, and other important places. The National Writing Project has more ideas for how to write together as a family.
o Have a weekly adventure.
At the start of summer vacation, sit down as a family and come up with a list of summer adventures. These could be outings (a trip to the beach, a museum visit, a free concert in the park) or things you can do right at home (baking a cake, reading a novel together, planting flowers). Think about anything your family might enjoy together that feels different from your usual school-year routine. Have the kids keep track of the list, and aim to check off one adventure every week. Even with limited free time, special outings will introduce new learning opportunities that might not show up in your regular routines at home.