What You Can Do
Whether or not your child attends a summer program, you can easily incorporate these mind-building activities into her break without eating up her precious downtime. Bonus: They're so much fun, she won't even know she's learning.
- Raise a smart shopper. Take your child along on your next supermarket run. Have her practice writing and spelling (by making the list), reading (by looking for items on store shelves), and math (by calculating how much change you should get if the groceries cost $35 and you hand the cashier $40).
- Explore your community. Discover how polar bears survive the summer heat at the local zoo, gaze at a planetarium's starlit ceiling, step back in time at a history museum, or perform cool experiments at a science center (save money by visiting these places on free or discounted community days). Discuss what you've seen at the exhibits, and then do some online research together at home so you can learn even more.
- Get cooking. The kitchen is a perfect place to sharpen your child's number skills. Young chefs can learn about fractions (show him that three eighths is less than one half, even though it sounds like more), measuring (16 ounces equals 1 pint), and sequencing (first you mix the batter, then you sprinkle in the chips, and finally you pour it into a baking tin).
- Take an educational trip. Who says a vacation can't involve learning? Try walking along Boston's Freedom Trail, visiting The Alamo in San Antonio, or viewing NASA's rockets up close at the Kennedy Space Center, in Florida. Can't travel far? Head to your state capitol or have your child complete a Junior Ranger program at the nearest National Park. Before you hit the road, show him how to study a map and determine the route and the distance.
- Become a sports buff. Your budding mathematician can learn to compute statistics -- batting and earned-run average, number of laps completed by a race car, shooting percentage in soccer -- whether she's watching her favorite team play or analyzing the results of her own Little League games.
- Read up. Many bookstores and public libraries sponsor summer initiatives that award prizes such as books, toys, or gift certificates when a student completes ten books or reads for a certain number of hours. Grade-schoolers who participate in these initiatives boost their reading-achievement scores significantly during the summer, according to a July 2010 study from the Dominican University's Graduate School of Library and Information Science, in River Forest, Illinois.
- Write on. Buy a scrapbook or a diary so your child can capture her summer memories. Pick up some fun postcards when you travel and have her write messages to relatives and friends. Or connect her with a pen pal via Friendship by Mail ($5 for a onetime list of pen pals; friendship-by-mail.com), International Pen Friends ($25 per year; ipf.net.au), or A Girl's World ($12 annual fee; agirlsworld.com).
- Play games. The next time you hear "I'm bored," take out Sum Swamp, Dino Math Tracks, or another age-appropriate board game that reinforces counting skills. Uno teaches the concept of greater than and less than. And while it's old-school, taking up chess may be one of the best ways to stimulate your child's mind during the long layoff: Research shows that elementary students who play it score significantly higher on reading and math tests -- making it an excellent antidote to summer slide.