In the Unites States, summer break is an important time for children to rejuvenate, to just be kids, and to spend time with family.
However, summer also has the potential for widening the achievement gap and, as much as we don’t like to acknowledge it, the “summer slide” is very real. Luckily, there are ways during the summer to engage and invigorate our children’s growing minds that don’t involve sitting in a classroom, filling out worksheets, or writing essays.
National Summer Learning Day is a national advocacy day aimed at elevating the importance of keeping kids learning, safe and healthy every summer, ensuring they return to school in the fall ready to succeed in the year. Your participation sends a powerful message across the nation that summers matter and offers an opportunity to showcase how summers can make a life-changing difference in the lives of young people.
-National Summer Learning Association
National Summer Learning Day is not a day meant to scare parents or discourage them from letting their children have fun, but rather to make them aware of the importance of incorporating learning into their family’s summer plans. Learning programs do not have to dominate a child’s summer schedule, nor do children even have to attend a summer program, but incorporating skill-building activities into your everyday routine can help them continue to progress. Learning can be fun, which is just as important to teach our children as the skills needed for reading, writing, math, science, and more.
Here are some of our favorite learning games that can easily be incorporated into any summer activity. If you and your family have your own summer learning games please share them in the comment section below. Likewise, if you try one of our games, let us know how it went! We love to hear from you!
Addition or Multiplication War: This is a perfect game for the whole family to enjoy and can be played at a picnic, at the beach, or anywhere else you are lazing around. For this game, you will need a deck of cards. Each player flips over two cards and adds or multiplies the two numbers. Whoever has the greatest total wins all four cards. If both players have the same answer, flip over two more cards and whoever has the greatest answer now, wins all eight cards. Play can proceed as long as you want it to.
Multiplication at the beach: Take shells and create however many equal groups you want, using fewer groups with fewer shells for younger kids and more groups with more shells for older kids. Ask how many total shells you have. The kids can do this by skip counting (2,4,6,etc.) the number of shells per group or by multiplying the number of shells times the number of groups. They can check their answers by counting the total number of shells.
Estimation at the playground: Have your child estimate how many times they can swing back in forth on the swing in 1 minute. Have them swing for 1 minute and compare answers. You can then challenge your child to see if they can “beat” the number of swings in 1 minute. Ask them how they might be able to do that. Ask your child how long they think it might take them to go through the entire jungle gym structure. Time them and compare the results. Again you can ask them if they think they could “beat their time.” If so, what could they do to make their trek faster? You can do this estimation technique with just about anything at the playground. The key is to have the child estimate first and then discuss it after they complete the challenge.
Math at the campground: There are some great traditional games that people have been playing for a long time that are still fun today! Yahtzee, Farkle, Cribbage, War card game, Uno, Tic-Tac-Toe. Other ideas are setting up a scavenger hunt where the child has to find a certain number of objects around the camp, such as a certain number of acorns, rocks, pine cones, clovers, sticks, and any other items found at a campground.
Word Problems Poolside: Make up fun word problems for your children to solve while at the pool.
For example: “Sally swims 4 laps of freestyle, Samantha swims 6 laps of backstroke, and Sara swims 4 laps of butterfly while Kim stands on the side of the pool with a timer. How many laps of backstroke and freestyle do the girls swim?”
Word problems are great because they allow you to develop an interesting story that lets kids practice a variety of math skills and develop and extend the range of strategies that they have at their disposal to solve a problem. This active learning helps them gain a positive attitude toward math and stretch their creativity. Plus, talking mathematics out loud appears to help learning and understanding, and it also seems to help many children produce original ideas. Siblings and/or friends can work together to solve a word problem, which increases enjoyment, learning, and social skills.
Comprehension while Stargazing: There are many stories about the constellations based in Greek mythology that you can share with your children as they observe the sky. Once you have given them the idea, ask them to create their own story about a cluster of stars they see. This will help them practice using the parts of a story and improve their executive functioning skills by organizing the parts of the story properly. Commonly identified elements of a story include plot, character, setting, and theme. The ability to identify the elements of a story aids in comprehension, leads to a deeper understanding and appreciation of stories, and helps students learn to write stories of their own.
Comprehension while Hiking: For younger children, we suggest integrating rich vocabulary into your conversations with them about what you all see, feel, hear, smell, etc. while hiking and once you have reached the peak. This will help expand their vocabulary, which will improve their level of comprehension while reading. Likewise, when children are familiar with a word and have heard it multiple times, they are less likely to spend time stuck on it, therefore improving their reading rate as well.
• You can play games such as “I Spy” (I spy something with a bushy tail that is sitting on a mossy rock). You may want to do this while taking a water break so as not to distract from safe hiking.
• You can use compare and contract language (Look at how much thicker that tree trunk is than that flower stem; How is this acorn similar to this leaf? How are they different?)
• Be mindful of your word choices when narrating what you are doing. Choose words such as incline instead of hill or habitat rather than animal’s home.
Idea Generation at a Picnic: Play the “I’m going on a picnic and I will bring…” game while on a picnic. One by one, each person at the picnic says the sentence and says what they are bringing, going in alphabetic order, and as you go around the circle each person has to say what everyone else is bringing, and then what they are bringing. This game works on visualization and categorization to aid memory for comprehension and generating ideas for writing.
Topic Sentences while Camping: Work together with your child to create a list of the steps needed to set up a campsite. Have him or her verbalize a “How To” paragraph beginning with a topic sentence: “There are several important steps in setting up a campsite” then begin writing these steps out in paragraph form. This activity helps children develop their executive functioning skills, meaning the skills that enable us to “get things done.” These skills allow us to organize information, plan, learn, multi-task, remember things, prioritize, pay attention, and act on information. This activity will help your child practice putting the excellent ideas they express orally onto paper in an organized and coherent fashion, therefore helping them become a better all-around writer.
Imagery while Hiking: When you get to the top of the mountain, suggest you and your child write a journal entry together. This journal entry can include a description of the view from the mountain peak, how they are feeling now that they have reached the top, and what events happened during the ascent. Encourage him or her to use imagery and descriptive words (colors, numbers, shapes, size comparison, simile, metaphor…). This activity will give your child an opportunity to explore the world of descriptive writing.
We hope some of these games sound interesting to you and give you a better idea of how you can have a positive impact on your children’s learning during the summer months. Additional ideas for summer learning that we love can be found here. If you would like to learn more about how you can advocate for summer learning, we encourage you to visit the National Summer Learning Association’s page to learn how you can take action!