Summer vacation: every kid’s dream, and every parent’s logistical challenge. Of course, we want our children to enjoy the spoils of summer, and take time to enjoy some good vacation time together; but research shows that extended time off from school can cause a decline in both mental health and cognitive ability. Fortunately, there are ways to help keep kids learning during the break without making them sit down for math facts and vocabulary tests.
Get Organized With A Plan
Kids are typically thrilled to have their holiday breaks, and no doubt they’ll be spending most of their time at home. If you’re a parent who works from home, this can present a lot of challenges. To ensure your kids enjoy their time without affecting your productivity, business experts remind us that it’s helpful to have a plan. Start by making a (loose) schedule for everyone. This provides some necessary structure. You also need to set specific borders about your time at work, and make it clear you can’t be interrupted. And, if possible, avoid setting a lot of meetings when you don’t have additional support at home.
Make sure to have some easy-to-prepare foods on hand so your kids can make their own breakfast and lunch, or prepare some meals in advance. Show the kids what is available and that they are expected to take care of lunches and snacks on their own. That’s one less thing you’ll have to worry about.
Set up workstations for your kids, and let them help fill these spots up with the creative tools they’ll need to work on their projects. Of course, include the basics like pencils, paper, and crayons; but let the kids brainstorm the kinds of things they’d like to work on over the summer, and get supplies for those projects.
Co-Create Projects and Plans
Start by talking to your child. If your child struggled at school last year, talk to them about it. What was it they found difficult? What can you do over the summer to help reduce these challenges for the next school year? If you struggle to get them to talk about school, try using open-ended questions and positive language to encourage communication.
Kids are smart. They know their strengths and weaknesses, and what they love to do. Ask them about these things and really listen. Then, work together to find projects that will directly or indirectly help them build on what they know and push them in areas they need to grow. Hobbies can be a great way to build these skills. Per CreativeChild, research indicates that kids with “identity projects” (i.e., hobbies they pursue passionately in their spare time) are more likely to succeed at school. Encourage your kids to try new things (for example, by signing them up for day classes) and nurture the hobbies they already have.
One of the easiest ways to keep your child’s brain active is to encourage reading. This also improves their literacy, spelling, and vocabulary, and can be a great boost for English class. Any book will do — don’t narrow down their options to “educational” ones only. Take them to the bookstore or library and see what they pick out. For the really reluctant readers, book blog Bookity Split has a great list of books for kids who hate to read. Create a reading goal together and encourage your child to read by setting family reading times. Never underestimate your position as a positive role model!
Think Outside the Classroom
Whether you are working from home or on vacation yourself, get the kids outside. It could be your own yard, the local park, or a family hike. The cognitive benefits of outdoor play are well documented; when kids are allowed to interact freely with their environment, their minds stay active and form new connections. So, encourage plenty of unstructured outdoor play throughout their break whenever possible, and their brain will be more ready for learning when school starts up again.
If your child struggles with scientific subjects, get them excited about science through fun experiments. Creative kids will enjoy making their own chalk paint, boisterous kids will be enthralled by the old Mentos and Coke trick, and just about anyone will enjoy making instant slushies using water and salt. You can even pair these fun experiments with a learning journal to encourage them to write and draw about what they did. Pair that with family sharing at night, and you’ve got science, art, writing, and communication skills all in one fun activity!
Finally, let them have fun! Summer Break is supposed to be a break from the very hard work that kids put in during the school year. You may want to make the most of it and ensure the time is spent productively, but productivity isn’t the point. As long as they keep using their brains through play, exploration, reading, hobbies, and other fun activities, they will return to school refreshed and prepared to learn.