It happens every year: Just when your child finally gets into
the swing of things at school, along comes summer, when trips to
the swimming pool, picnics and baseball games tend to take the
focus away from reading, writing and arithmetic.
Research proves that far too many children fall behind in
academic skills over the summer, leaving them at a loss when it's
back-to-school time. But you can strengthen your child's skills
this summer with creative ideas that focus on the fun of
Here are some ideas to get you started, but remember, no matter
what you do, try to limit time spent in front of the television or
computer screen. Before we know it, the lazy days of summer will
usher in yet another busy school year.
Step out into nature
Teach your kids to appreciate nature-better yet, get out and
appreciate the great outdoors together as a family. Some of the
best learning experiences take place in the backyard. Encourage
your kids to dig up worms, examine anthills, climb trees and soak
up all the fresh air and sunshine they can this summer.
Area nature centers boast an amazing array of summer learning
programs for the entire family. The North Park Nature Center, 5801
N. Pulaski Road, Chicago, (312) 744-5472, offers everything from
river hikes to cloud-making workshops. Fullersburg Wood Nature
Education Center in Oak Brook holds hands-on workshops on
subjects such as owls and animal tracking.
Take part in one of the many science lab workshops, tours and
more, sponsored by the outstanding Science Chicago: Life's a Lab
initiative. From guided birdwatching to archeological digging,
you're sure to find an event to spark the scientist in every child.
Billed as the world's largest science celebration, Science Chicago:
Life's a Lab strives to introduce families to the importance of
science in our future.
More than 140 of the area's leading academic, scientific,
corporate and non-profit institutions have banded together to host
thousands of programs that provide science-focused hands-on
learning. Science Chicago aims to help establish the critical value
of science and math education at a time when our competitive
advantage is at risk, and to show kids that science isn't just
what's learned in a classroom or lab-it happens all around us and
has real impact on our daily lives. For more information and a
schedule of events, visit sciencechicago.com.
Summer reading should be enjoyable, not an obligation. Make a
date with your library a fixed, weekly event. Before you go,
explore the online catalog with your child to discover books that
fit their interests or ask the expert while you're there: the
children's librarian. Reward children for every 10 books read with
an ice cream cone or a trip to the bookstore to buy a new book.
Summer is also a great time to set up your home library. On July
23-29, the Newberry Library, 60 W. Walton St., Chicago, will host
its annual book fair. You can find stacks of used children's books
(and a limitless supply of adult summer reads) for mere quarters.
Alternatively, consider inviting friends over for a book exchange:
ask everyone to bring 10 books to trade.
Summertime, when brains are relaxed and opened to new
information learned in a fun environment, is the ideal time to
learn about a world language.
Within its seven Chicago-area learning centers, Language Stars offers fun,
full-immersion half- and full-day language camps in Chinese,
Spanish, French, Italian and German this summer. "For young
children, learning a second language is as natural as learning to
walk," says Deborah Bains, the Language Stars Lincoln Park Center
director. "They have the ability to absorb the sounds, structures,
intonation patterns and rules of a second language intuitively
without rote memorization or grammar drills, so learning can take
place in the context of fun and engaging play-based
Check if space is available in the Language Stars Summer Camp
series, where kids are immersed in one of five languages while
participating in exciting indoor and outdoor activities, such as
water games, relay races, picnic parties, treasure hunts,
storytelling, singing games and arts & crafts. New this summer
are FunImmersion Studios, which offer two-hour blasts of Spanish
and Mandarin fun. Flexible schedules and a la carte programs allow
families to fit foreign language into any summer plan.
For a full-immersion family experience, head to the woods of
Minnesota to take part in a Concordia Language Village Family
Week. Experience the excitement and fun of an international
adventure at a culturally authentic "Language Village," a summer
camp for the whole family that focuses on learning the language,
music, games and sports of the culture of your choice. Choose from
a wide variety of languages: Arabic, Chinese, Finnish, French,
German, Spanish, Swedish and Russian. Not only will you brush up on
your language skills, you'll also enjoy authentic cuisine and fun
outdoor and indoor activities in a beautiful wooded setting on a
Consider signing your child up for a course in a neglected
subject or one that isn't offered at their school during the
academic year. Sadly for too many schools, art and music programs
have been the first to go out the door due to budget cuts.
Research suggests music study can have a positive impact on
literacy skills, math and memory, and it's almost always a learning
experience that children look forward to and enjoy. Kindermusic offers summer
and year-round music and movement programs for children age newborn
to 7 at sites all around the Chicago area. The Chicago Center School of
Music also hosts a wide variety of programs in piano, guitar,
vocal training, bass, drum, violin, flute, saxophone, trombone and
But classical music study isn't the only way to enrich life.
Rock music gets brains pumping, too. Girls Rock! offers a rock
summer camp Aug. 3-9 at Pritzker Elementary School, 2009 W.
Schiller St., Chicago. The camp is open to all girls, age 8-16,
regardless of musical experience. Each camper will learn an
instrument, form a band, write an original song, perform at the
Metro and record her song at a professional recording studio. To
apply, visit girlsrockchicago.org.
Tweens and teens, accompanied by a parent, can learn to dance to
a different drum under the stars at the fantastic (and free!)
Chicago Summer Dance Festival in Grant Park. Every Thursday, Friday
and Saturday summer evening, head over to the Spirit of Music
Garden in Grant Park, 601 S. Michigan Ave., for a one-hour dance
lesson by professional instructors, followed by two hours of live
music and dancing on a 4,600-square-foot open-air dance floor.
For some quality art instruction, head over to the Art Institute's Kraft Education
Center to take part in the free Artist's Studio program: On
Saturdays and Sundays throughout the year and select Thursdays and
Fridays through August, families can work together on a take-home
art project related to special exhibitions and items in the
museum's collection. Every second Saturday of the month, take
advantage of Target Free Family Day at the Museum of Contemporary Art,
where you'll find activities for the entire family, including
scavenger hunts, Look 'n' Learn stations, art workshops and, best
of all, free admission.
Now is the time to hone in on skills your child is having
trouble with. If summer school or private tutoring is not an
option, check out one of the many workbook series available for all
grades and subject areas, and take the time to sit and work
together with your child.
Include your child in the planning process by asking: How many
pages should we commit to working on together each day? What will
the reward be when you've completed the entire workbook?
Sylvan Workbooks, available starting at about $9 each on amazon.com, offers a complete
series for each grade level, focusing on reading comprehension,
vocabulary enhancement, spelling, language arts and more. For math
skills, the Scholastic Success with Math series offers workbooks
for grades 1-8. Early high schoolers might want to make use of the
summer to start practicing for the ACT. Check out Cracking the ACT
by Princeton Review.
What kid wouldn't enjoy searching for buried treasure? Grab your
GPS system and try your hand at geocaching, aka modern-day treasure
hunting. Start your adventure at the official Geocachers of
Northeastern Illinois website, where you'll find
the necessary coordinates to locate the hidden treasure (usually a
box of trinkets, and the policy is to take one and leave one behind
for the next treasure hunter). Just plug the coordinates into your
GPS and go. Not only will you learn more about math and technology,
you'll also get a breath of fresh air and a walk in the woods.
GONIL is also a partner with the Science Chicago program: On
July 18, a group from GONIL will teach people of all ages the ins
and outs of geocaching. Reserve your spot at the Science Chicago
Web site website.
Amy Bizzarri is a mom of two living in Logan Square. She also blogs at tiramisumom.com.
See more of Amy's stories here.
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