Local moms share terrific tips for weaving fun and learning into your children’s summer.
The bell will ring, the doors will fly open and the kids will be full of summer anticipation as they burst from the school buildings. And yes, the first couple of days of summer vacation are great, but as parents, we know that exuberance starts to wane after a week or so. So many parents enroll their kids in summer camps or additional educational classes. Others see this time as a chance to provide educational enrichment opportunities best suited to their child’s interests or needs. It is a chance to indulge in hobbies that spark your child’s creativity and your own.
As a mom of four, turning my house into a classroom for the summer is not appealing, so I look for nontraditional ways to help my kids stay connected to their brains until classes start in the fall. Yet for many of us, if we are not intentional, the summer will pass in a haze of sleeping in, watching TV and playing video games. So we asked parents and educators for ideas on how to have an educationally fun summer with your family.
Stacy Neal is a mom of five, who favors a laid back approach to summer. She says that since her family’s school year is extremely structured, she will give her kids a break for a while. Yet Stacy’s kids love to read, so she takes advantage of the Cincinnati Public Library reading programs (cincinnatilibrary.org). The Library offers four age-based programs that kick off June 1, with a variety of games and events at each location. The kids enjoy earning prizes as they accomplish their reading goals. For Northern Kentucky residents, the library systems in Boone, Kenton and Campbell county all offer summer reading programs (bcpl.org, kentonlibrary.org and cc-pl.org). The Scholastic Summer Challenge (scholastic.com/summer) and the Barnes & Noble summer reading program (barnesandnoble.com/summerreading/index.asp) are good options for avid readers as well.
One of my kid’s favorite activities is family read alouds. For years, we have picked books that appealed to our whole family and I read them aloud after dinner. My boy plays with Legos quietly, while his sisters color or draw and Dad does Sudoku. It’s nothing special, but they love it. As a matter of fact, I thought that as they got older they wouldn’t want me to read to them anymore, but I was wrong. My teenagers will make suggestions of what books we could read and will remind me if I take too long in starting a new book.
For Allison Koontz, mom of three elementary boys, she has found a phone app called Scientific Tuesdays (revision3.com/scientifictuesdays) to be useful. She says the app gives specific instructions for simple science experiments that her boys will have fun doing, while learning in the process. For kids who enjoy experiments, this is an easy way for parents to get quick ideas that use items already around the house.
Jen Isaacs, mom and elementary teacher, says summer is time for her son to enjoy all things outside. One of their favorite activities is “creeking.” She says they enjoy talking about what lives in the creek. They also take advantage of the city’s many parks and nature trails. Jen says there are so many fun, educational things to do outside in the summer, that even a nighttime walk can become a learning event when you talk about how it is different from the daytime and why. For more information on park activities, check out cincinnatiparks.com or greatparks.org, and visit the Cincinnati Nature Center’s website at cincynature.org.
I have always loved zoos and Cincinnati has a good one. No matter how old your kids are the Zoo never seems to lose its appeal. Since my children range in age from 16 to 1, there is something for everyone there, including me. The Zoo is intentional about providing opportunities to engage your child’s mind, so you don’t have to come up with all the ideas yourself. To find out more about Zoo hours and programs, go to cincinnatizoo.org.
Learning at Home
Give your children practice reading and writing in everyday situations. Have them keep a summer journal of all the things they want to remember to share when they get back to school. This is a great way to encourage your child to practice writing and it will be a wonderful keepsake when they are older.
Use your family garden to inspire journaling. Kids can write down questions and observations as your plants grow.
Take the time to get involved in your community. PBS offers fun ideas on their website ZOOM (pbskids.org/zoom), including volunteering at a soup kitchen, taking part in a park clean up and other service ideas. Helping others can boost kid’s self esteem and encourage them to focus on others.
Many of us take advantage of the extra time in the summer to watch more movies. The site Kids Off the Couch (kidsoffthecouch.com) is a website that takes the films, books, music and media that kids love and uses them to inspire family adventures. This is a great way to combine entertainment and learning.
Learning From Afar
Even a family vacation can be an opportunity to expand your kid’s mental horizons. Theresa McClure, veteran mom of seven, will take her crew to Washington D.C. this year. She says that asking questions is sometimes all it takes to get your kids thinking and start a learning conversation. One of the topics that she plans on instigating is about leadership. Theresa wants to get her kids thinking about what makes a person a good leader and what type of president do they want to lead their country. She feels that seeing the Capital and being at the White House will make these questions more alive for her kids. Also, it gives her an opportunity to encourage them to be good leaders.
Regardless of where you travel, there is always something new to discover. If heading to the beach, check out a few books on what types of creatures you may see there. Learn about why there are waves and tides. Then talk about those things as you squish your toes in the sand … and oh, what makes different colors of sand? Why do we need to wear sunscreen? Teaching our kids doesn’t have to be structured. It doesn’t require formal planning. It just takes time, an open ear and guided questions. As Kristen Dooley, mom of two girls says, “Learning is a part of life.” We teach our kids from the time they enter the world, we hold their fingers and help them stand, then walk, how to drink from a cup, hold a spoon, how to tie their shoes. Parents are some of the most natural teachers in the world. So launch into summer on a mission to explore a new galaxy with your kids, and they will be all the brighter for it. It’s as easy as starting in your own backyard.
Mysti Koontz is a local writer and mother.