When the first day of school rolls around each fall, elementary school teachers have to confront the inevitable “summer slide” — that is, the loss of skills school kids seem to experience over the long days of summer. As a parent, you probably want to help your kids maintain their academic aptitude without becoming a nag. Here are some fun family activities that will keep everyone sharp (and happy) throughout the summer months.
1. Read and Write Everything.
Be intentional about including your children in the reading and writing you do routinely. Incorporate math into your everyday life. Read recipes, the comics, and schedules for the movies (or for any other activity your kids enjoy that relies on a timetable). And don’t forget the sports pages of your local newspaper! Baseball articles and box scores make great reading material — typically geared to a third- to fifth-grade reading level — because they’re filled with real-life math stats.
Model how many times you use reading and writing skills in a single day. Write grocery lists or directions to your favorite ice cream store. And make sure there are writing and drawing materials available all around your home so that your children can pick these up on a whim.
Most important and most exciting, plan a time in the day for a read-aloud. Pick a book that’s accessible to many age levels, ideally one with chapters or convenient stopping points. Find a comfortable spot with few distractions, and be sure you keep to a regularly-scheduled time (at least for the first couple of chapters, until they become hooked).
Your children’s teachers may have sent home a list of summer reading choices; if not, your local librarian should be able to help you find something you and your kids will love. Two of my favorites are Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White, and The Boxcar Children #1 by Gertrude Chandler Warner. Remember, kids are an audience, so dramatic reading is encouraged. Channel your inner actor, and have fun!
2. Start a Book or Film Club
The advantage of a Book Club is the reading practice it provides. A Film Club will be just as effective in keeping critical-thinking skills alive and developing.
The format of a club is simple: Everyone reads a book or sees a film, and then you discuss it together. A parent should choose the material for younger children and create the questions for the group.
The first time your club meets, lay out the ground rules:
- We are respectful of one another’s opinions, even when we disagree.
- We listen to one another without interrupting.
- We comment on each other’s thoughts respectfully.
Here is the tricky part: The questions you pose must be thought-provoking, open-ended, and allow for different opinions. For example, “Did you like the movie?” is a good jumping-off point, but the “why” is where the substance lies. Try relating the questions to your children’s own lives, and compare and contrast the hero’s journey with their own.
3. Write Letters
You need to be thoughtful about this activity, and carefully select the recipients of the letters you will send. A thank-you note to Aunt Gertie rarely excites the creative juices, but tapping into a cause in which your children express interest will get them on their way to a summer of writing. If your children love the night sky, then help them research astronomy experts or clubs online, and encourage them to write questions to send to those experts. Do your kids love gaming? They can write letters to game creators to ask how they get their ideas or how they trained for their careers.
Is there a local issue your kids feel strongly about? One group of children who spent their summer at the shore began a letter-writing campaign to ask the town, county, and state to help protect the ducks that regularly crossed a busy intersection. The kids all point with pride to the “Duck Crossing” signs that now line the road.
And don’t discount fan letters! You don’t have to love the latest celebrity yourself, but a response from the person on the poster hanging on the wall can have a lifelong effect.
4. Play Board Games
Board games are not bored games! Don’t save them just for rainy days. You can play them anywhere. Since they don’t typically require chargers or batteries, they are perfect for fun at the lake, in the yard, or on Tar Beach (i.e., urban rooftops).
Any game that uses dice, cards, or a spinner will reinforce basic math and reading skills. Games also provide great opportunities to reinforce social skills, language competency, fair play, and the ability to handle disappointment.
Ask young children, who may be unable to tolerate losing, if they want to play “fair and square,” or if they prefer that everyone else makes sure they win. This strategy often enables them to play, and in a very short time (two or three game sessions), they usually opt for “fair and square.” Friends and older siblings typically find this an acceptable way to include the younger ones in games.
Alternatively, you can keep playing rounds of a game until you have a first, second, and third place winners, and you are the only loser. This will prepare you for the day when your kids can truly win at Monopoly, Scrabble, and card games!
5. A Quick Word about Computer Games and Apps
Screen-based games have their place as a fun activity to keep math, critical thinking, and reading skills sharp. The problem with electronic games, however, is that they often isolate children. If your kids like to play computer games, ask them to teach you how to play so you can engage them in conversation about the rules, plot, challenges, and characters, as well as why they like the game.
Ideally, summer should be full of fun and relaxation. And you can prevent your children from losing the academic skills they’ve worked hard to attain without sacrificing any of these things! Reading, writing, and games will help your children keep their abilities sharp so they can jump right back in when school rolls around again in the fall. As a bonus, participating in these family activities will help you bond with your kids and make summer memories to last a lifetime.