With constant pressure to have kids do more in school, and do it sooner, parents who spent their own summers playing outside until the streetlights came on might feel compelled to push academics over free play.
Good news: You can do both at the same time.
Keeping your child’s mind sharp in July and August doesn’t have to mean sitting at a table doing worksheets or flashcards. Educators recommend that parents incorporate learning into play and plan fun day trips to give kids a chance to stretch their minds while still enjoying summer’s more relaxed schedule.
We talked to several educators and professionals about how parents can slip learning into their kids’ summer vacation without making it seem like a chore.
Here are some of their suggestions.
Read, read, read and then read some more
Even the youngest students have suggested summer reading lists.
Pat Fege, the language arts coordinator for Fairfax County (Va.) Public Schools, suggests that parents read with their children, both young and old.
Write your way to stronger family ties
For elementary school students, Fege suggests writing letters to relatives, either by hand or email. Have the child use the proper friendly letter format. That means include the date, a greeting, a body and a closing, as well as correct spelling and punctuation.
Older children could interview a relative, asking questions about their own childhood, then write a memory book to give as a present, she said.
Venture beyond the exhibits
Most of us have seen the Hope Diamond and dinosaur bones during trips to the Smithsonian in Washington, but museums have so much more to offer.
For tweens, Lynn-Steven Engelke, the director of programs at the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum Studies, suggests the forensic anthropology lab at the “Written in Bone” exhibit that is at the National Museum of Natural History through Jan. 6.
Students visit stations in the lab to examine bones for clues about life in the Chesapeake Bay region during the 17th century.
Visit www.mnh.si.edu for information.
Make the beach your classroom
Lindsay Knippenberg, an educator fellow at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, suggests getting Beachcomber’s Companion, a virtual beachcombing and collection kit that is especially good for elementary school-age children.
Get a jump on college preparations
High school students in any grade can spend part of their summer preparing for college.
If, in the transition to high school, your child didn’t do well in a subject, he can take the class again between his freshman and sophomore years, says Colleen Ganjian, the founder of DC College Counseling in Arlington, Va. It won’t change the grade on his record, but admissions officials will like to see that they made the effort.
Get a move on
Patty Swanson, a physical education teacher in Prince William County, Va., likes inexpensive or free street games to keep kids moving on days when you can’t get to the pool.
Tie a tennis ball to the end of a rope and twirl it around, having your child jump over the rope as it passes. Create an obstacle course with things you have around the garage.
Math is all around you
Ride a train, Colin Reinhard says, and have your child estimate how many passengers it holds, its average speed or the total number of passengers on a busy day.
Ask them to calculate the area (length times width) of the Reflecting Pool during a trip to the Mall in D.C., or the volume (length times width times height) of the Lincoln Memorial.
Make time to practice planning
Summer is a great time to have your child sharpen the planning skills they uses every day in school to finish their work on time or figure out how to get started on, and complete a project, says Kristina Hardy, a neuropsychologist at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington.
Have your child come up with a research project about a topic that interests her, such as the solar system, says Hardy.
For example, she can plan a trip to the moon and figure out what she would need to take and how long it would take to get there. Trips to the library or a museum to do research can also be planning exercises: How do you get there, how long will you be there, what do you need for the trip?
Mari-Jane Williams is a lifestyle writer for The Washington Post.