This year saw a major disruption to the school year. With many students shut out of the classroom since mid-March, keeping up with school work has felt like an uphill battle for many families. Maybe we put our noses to the grindstone and made remote learning work in spite of the circumstances; or maybe we threw up our hands as we threw in the towel, hoping our kids would be back to in-person learning soon.
No matter the case, one point is abundantly clear: continuing to learn over the summer will be more important than ever—not just to prepare kids for the upcoming school year, but to ensure they don’t lose some of the knowledge they worked hard to gain last year.
Fortunately, there are plenty of simple, fun, and engaging ways to keep kids learning that look a lot like play. Here are some of our favorites.
1. Write to a pen pal
The perfect project for the social distancing era—exchanging handwritten letters with a friend is a great way to practice letter formation, sentence-building, and writing. Kids can be as creative as they’d like, even creating a story together. Have one child begin a story and let the other finish it, or get a group of children participating for a fun game of “Exquisite Corpse.” This writing game (full instructions here) encourages kids to share in the story-writing experience—often with hilarious results.
2. Do some baking
There are so many lessons involved in baking—from practical life skills to measurements to the chemistry of how ingredients work. And who doesn’t love a teaching moment that ends in a loaf of delicious banana bread?
3. Create an obstacle course
Sequencing is an early math skill you can have kids practice while playing in the yard. To run off steam, my kids will follow a set of fast-paced verbal instructions, trying their best to perform them, not only as quickly as possible, but in the right order. For example, I yell out for them to run around the swingset three times, run across the yard to touch the big flower pot, do two jumping jacks, and race back to the playset for a victory slide.
4. Make bird feeders
Hanging a homemade bird feeder (or store-bought!) outside your window is perhaps the simplest science lesson you can offer your little ones. Let your child fill it up with seeds and make a hypothesis about what kind of birds you can attract in your area. Then, sit back and let your child observe as new feathered friends flock to your yard.
5. Enjoy a good read
My 6-year-old and I are currently breezing through Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles—a series of four fantasy books brimming with heroic princesses, whip-smart witches, and devilish wizards. We are both equally invested and engaged, stealing moments away from the rest of our family to dive back into our current read. Picking up a chapter book series—or any book, really—is a great way to bond with your little one over a story you both love. Plus, there is really no downside to reading, for you or your kiddo.
6. Practice measuring
There is something undeniably appealing to kids about stretching out a tape measure. Harness that natural curiosity by having them take measurements in the backyard. My oldest is really interested in sea creatures, so she and I studied orcas, sharks, and jellyfish and then went and measured their lengths in the driveway. There was something so cool about giving my kid a visual of the enormity of these animals and how they compared to our own bodies, house, bikes, and more.
7. Engage in water play
On a hot summer day, there’s nothing better than setting up a kids’ pool and letting your little ones splash around. While the pool is filling up, collect pool-safe items from around your house and talk about what it might take for something to sink or float. Then, make guesses about which things you’ve brought out will bob at the surface or sink to the bottom—and let your little one toss them all in to test your theories.
8. Do some gardening
Let your children take an active role in the plant life cycle by bringing them out to the garden. It’s not too late to have them work the soil and ready it for seeds. Kids can water the garden, measure the height of seedlings to see how much they’ve grown, and harvest any veggies to eat later on.
9. Read comic books
I am a huge proponent of picking up comic books and graphic novels for pre-readers. There are so many delightful and beautiful books on the market that allow children to follow along without necessarily reading words. By studying the illustrations, kids can understand characters, plot, and story development—all the while whetting their appetite for reading independently. We love Mega-Princess, Bolivar, and the Amulet series.
10. Keep a diary
Start a daily diary or gratitude journal with your child. Even if they cannot yet write on their own, have them dictate their thoughts to you. If nothing else, when they’re older, these daily entries, written in their adorable voice, will be a keepsake worth holding onto. For older children, keeping a daily diary encourages writing, recall, and sentence formation.
11. Subscribe to children’s magazines
What kid doesn’t love getting their own mail? Subscribe to any number of publications geared toward little ones and illuminate their minds on everything from science to history to current affairs. Our go-to’s are Bravery, Kazoo, Aquila, and that old standby Highlights.