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12 Ways to Slip the Summer Slide

Summer camp, sleepovers, movies, friends, stargazing, swimming pools, road trips, video games, family: a few of the things that make summer special to children. Nearly no parent wants to add homework, study, or math practice to the mix. (Can you imagine what would’ve happened if one of the separated identical twins from The Parent Trap were forced to go to summer school instead of summer camp? Say good-bye to that sweet family reunion!) Yet this fall, many students will return to school starting the academic year behind their beginning-of-summer levels. We call this the dreaded summer slide. Studies show that on average, this loss is equivalent to about one month’s worth of school-year learning. We’re talking sharp declines for both math and reading skills and a compounding effect, leading to a deficit that gets bigger with each passing summer. Yikes!

The summer slide is no good, but neither is homework during vacation. Instead, lets talk about creative, simple ways to keep your kid practicing literacy and STEM skills. Below, you’ll find 12 brain-building activities (and resources to implement them) that blend together academic learning and hands-on, summer-friendly fun. Picking up a few of these routines will make learning a blast this summer!

1) Get your kid hooked on audio books and podcasts. This is an easy, passive way to have your kids practice listening and story skills. Plus they’re entertaining! (Audio books on road trips give everyone in the car something to focus on.) A couple of podcast for young listeners: Little Stories for Tiny People (for ages 4-7) and Story Pirates (for ages 8 and up).

2) Introduce new words into your child’s vocabulary with a “word of the week.” Practice using the words as often as you can throughout the week and in different situations. Here you’ll find grade-specific word lists. Come fall, your little’s teacher will be impressed with his or her robust word bank.

3) Get them a pen pal. Help your child keep up those hard-earned composition skills by asking them to write to a friend, neighbor, another family member, or one of their classmates.

4) Use screen time to your advantage with fun, free, and educational games and apps. Check out National Geographic’s Weird But True website with problem-solving games covering topics from animal life cycles to conservation. Another online series, Danny Joe’s Treehouse, feels a lot like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and takes on similar themes of family and friendship. For older children, expand their knowledge of the planet with the BiomeViewer and EarthViewer interactive apps. Find more ways to enrich your little one’s screen time in How to Choose the Best Apps for Your Kids.

5) Institute Family Game Night. This is a great way to practice simple math and interpersonal skills. See the Best Family Board Games for kids ages 3-8, which includes the ridiculously fun and portable Spot It card deck.

6) Bon appetite! Ask your child to help you cook this summer. The kitchen is a wonderful place to incorporate math and communication practice into their daily routine. For young ones, consider getting them their own set of kid-safe cutlery.

7) Keep a journal. Journaling not only emphasizes literacy and recall, but also produces a record that will hold memories forever. Incorporating drawings and photographs will enhance the activity.

8) Plant a garden. Growing greens is a hands-on way for kids to explore plant biology. Examining the shapes of different leaves, for example, exercises sorting and classification skills. No need to pull out the shovels, either. There are tons of free and easy ideas for kids to grow plants, like an indoor herb terrarium or plastic water bottle tomato planters.

9) Plan on taking a trip this summer? Use travel to explore geography, concepts of distance and time, and focus on map reading skills.

10) Have your child read 20 minutes every day. Reading just four to six books during the summer can build vocabulary and encourages your child to explore subjects that he or she loves. Dramatic reenactments of certain sections are another way to nurture creativity and empathy. See the American Library Association’s recommended reading lists for hard-to-put-down reads this summer.

11) Explore nature. Whether you take a visit to the local park or to the coast, invite your child to use their senses: seeing, listening, smelling and—when appropriate and safe—touch. Create a bingo card that encourages them to experience nature in a number of ways.

12) Talk science. Whether you're on the beach, at the pool, library, zoo, The DoSeum, or at home—the opportunities to talk about science-related concepts like volume, physics, architecture, categorizing, sorting, plants, and animals are abound! One moment a day to refresh these lessons can go a long way.

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