Kids Summer Learning Projects and Activities
By Patti Hermes – Parent to Parent –
It started innocuously enough, with the Summer Reading List.
The Reading List has been around probably as long as summer vacation has. Once upon a time, we brought home the Reading List on the last day of school in June, and promptly forgot about it. Maybe our local librarian had a copy and referred to it when giving us suggestions for our summer reading, but there was never any mention of it again until the first day of school in September. Just a simple, “Did anyone read anything from the Reading List over the summer?” A short discussion followed and that was that, on to the annual “What I did on my summer vacation” essay.
There was no coercion, no consequences, no grading us on the first day of fourth grade. We certainly didn’t have to bring in three book reports and a packet of completed math worksheets to prove that we didn’t spend our summer bleeding out all that we had learned the year before. But today’s teachers take the threat of summer vacation Brain Drain very seriously, and many schools are taking drastic steps to combat it, with varying results. From the summer vacation homework packet to year-round schooling, none of it sounds very fun.
So, should parents get serious about it, too? Are we all required to fill summer days with worksheets and book reports to keep our kids from turning into mindless cephalopods by the end of the summer? Sure, long summer vacations often have some downtime where a little academic stimulation couldn’t hurt, but does it have to be boring schoolwork? Of course not!
Learning should be fun, and fun is not just for elementary school. And when it comes to summertime, sometimes stealth learning is the best kind. Summer vacations, with long days and weeks just waiting to be filled up with activity, is the perfect time to undertake one huge project, the kind you never seem to have time for during the regular school year. My kids can’t seem to settle on just one (and I have more than a few of my own!), but here’s a few suggestions they came up with, and they’ll never know how much they’re learning in the process.
1. Design and build/make their own costume, either for Halloween or some other event. Getting started now eliminates the rush to get it done in time for the holiday, and so there’s more time to make something elaborate, one that could even win a costume contest.
2. Large-scale art project, as in painting a mural or building a colossal sculpture, or maybe a tree house.
3. Start a business. While the ubiquitous lemonade stand is the most obvious choice, there’s time to get creative and research various ideas. Better Than A Lemonade Stand: Small Business Ideas for Kids is just one place to start.
4. Volunteer for a local charity or community event. For many kids, getting a job is simply not an option, either because they are too young, or there is just too much competition. But many charities have no age restrictions, and help is always appreciated. Maybe the County Fair needs traffic control or ticket takers, a local road race needs water pourers, or the community garden needs weeders. Look around to see what’s happening in your neighborhood, and find out if your whole family can volunteer together.
5. Set a goal, something big that will take weeks of practice to accomplish. Maybe your little swimmer can log 5 miles of laps this summer, or the whole family can go for 100 miles of biking together. Whatever the goal, have the kids do the math and plan it out so that their goal is reachable.
Whatever the project, encourage your children to do as much of the planning themselves, as well as all the heavy lifting. They spend so much of the school year answering to the demands and standards of others, summer should be a time for them to follow their passions and set their own standards for success or failure. And the learning just comes naturally.