Summer break may be only about 10 weeks long, but during that time kids can forget a lot of what they spent the previous nine months working hard to learn. Recent studies have shown that kids can lose up to two months' worth of reading and math skills over summer vacation -- and that means teachers have to spend precious classroom time each fall bringing them up to speed. "Keeping children's brains challenged throughout the summer is crucial," says Craig Bach, vice president of education for Goddard Systems, Inc., franchisor of The Goddard School (goddardschool.com), a network of preschools focused on learning through play.
That makes sense, of course, but what parent wants to spend time drilling her kids on math facts when there's outdoor fun to be had? Well, good news: Summer vacation and learning aren't mutually exclusive.
"Summer is a great time to awaken kids to the love of learning and help them discover that learning can be joyful -- even if they think that school itself is not," says Heather Staker, the author of Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools. "Some education reformers would do away with summer vacation. I take the opposite view: Summer is an important time for informal learning and discovery."
The following activities are all expert-approved ways to stop the summer slide while having fun outdoors. Each one supports continued learning by creating opportunities for children to be creative, think critically to solve problems, count, read, or categorize or group things and ideas. Try one (or more!) today.
Take a day trip with other families. "Experiencing new things with a group can provide a wide range of opportunities for you to help your children learn how to communicate, interact with others, and learn important life skills," Bach says. "Be ready to coach, cajole, model, and discuss these experiences with your children."
Choose a weekly theme to explore together. "Adults can model a love of learning by living summer with enthusiasm," says Staker, who is also the mom of five pre-K and elementary school kids and the blogger behind readytoblend.com. "Our list of themes for this summer includes horses, coding, water, rare coins, and eggs."
Try something new. "Talk to your children about a new experience they would like to try," Bach suggests, such as sleeping outside in a tent or fort you make together, trying a new slide at the park, or learning how to do a somersault or cartwheel. "Summer is a wonderful opportunity for children to gain confidence and grow as individuals by trying new things outside of their comfort zones."
Plan or join a community event planting trees, bushes, flowers, or a garden. "Use this opportunity to study and discuss all the benefits that plants provide for us," says Staker. "Plan walks around areas in the city to identify the areas that are most in need of these benefits."
Enrich outdoor adventures with a driving question. "A driving question is an overarching question that will initiate and focus discovery and learning," Staker says. Examples of good driving questions include "How can we use a camera to persuade citizens to protect the wildlife around our city?" or "What is the best route for a walking tour of our town?" Take the learning a step further by encouraging your kids to participate in developing the question, Staker adds. "Or ask kids to imagine they're in charge of creating a campaign to get kids off devices and into the sunshine. Ask, 'What parks and local outdoor attractions should we feature in the brochure?'"
Go on nature walks, hikes, and bike rides. "Pack a magnifying glass, collect rocks to paint, look through binoculars," Bach says. "Even two toilet paper tubes offer a new view of the world."
Plant a backyard vegetable garden. "Vegetable gardens are always an awesome experience for children," Bach says. "Whether you work with your children to prepare the ground, pick out seeds or plants at a local nursery, start the garden or tend to it as it grows, there are wonderful opportunities to teach children about the natural environment around them and their role maintaining it. The results also taste great!"