4 Ways to Keep Your Middle Schooler Engaged This Summer

Is your middle school student switching off this summer? Experts say the benefits to keeping that brain engaged are huge and the activities needn’t be academic. Some ideas for trying something new.

For your middle school student, summer means downtime. Sleeping late, playing video games or scrolling social media while eating ice cream is what the typical kid has on their otherwise open summer schedule. But summer is a great opportunity to try activities your kid can’t fit in during the hectic school year, says Carla Pedersen, Regional Director at Academic Approach, a Chicago-based academic tutoring and test prep company. “Now is the time to schedule activities that your child is excited about doing,” Pedersen says.

Pursuing a hobby, sport or creative activity can be pure summer fun, but there’s also a hidden benefit for your child — one that has the potential to last well into the next school year.

“Doing something engaging  allows your child’s brain to recharge,” explains Andrew Ferguson, Director of Client Services with Academic Approach. “At this age, there are a lot of expectations during the school year, and parents have to make certain kids do everything in order to move on to the next level. That’s a lot of pressure. A summer activity can keep your kid’s brain moving, but not in the pressured way they experience at school.”

Keeping the engine running

After a summerlong shutdown, students often have trouble re-engaging their brains in the fall.  “If your child can tie in a little bit of productivity as well, it will take less time for them to turn their mind back on in the fall,” says Ferguson.

Summer is also the perfect time for middle school students to see the connections between what they learn in the classroom and what makes the world work. How does math contribute to our understanding of sports, for example?

“It’s tough for me to remember what came first: my love of numbers or my love of baseball,” says Ferguson. He admits that not every child will enjoy tracking batting averages, ERAs and RBIs, but those who love the sport will recognize the real-world application of numbers and stats learned in math class.

A more physical way to track a Cubs or White Sox season is to learn how to keep score the old-school way. Whether they’re using a printed scorecard or iPad app, when your child keeps score, they may build note-taking, focus and recollection skills, all while honoring a historic practice.

Here, the experts at Academic Approach offer four more ideas for keeping your middle schooler’s brain engaged this summer:

1. Build a culture of summer reading

“It doesn’t matter what  it is — graphic novels, Tolstoy or the back of a cereal box — if it gets you reading, it gets your brain in action, and I’m all for it,” Ferguson says. A little reading every day helps keep learning loss to a minimum. As academic stakes increase with every middle school year, reading comprehension and speed should increase, not pause. “Many times, the only way to get better at reading is to read,” he says. “And summer is great because you don’t have to read what people are telling you to read.”

After a particularly challenging school year, your child may declare summer a book-free zone, but when your child can read for fun rather than to complete an assignment, the excitement often comes  back, says Pedersen.

Encourage your child to join a book club or library reading challenge. Be a reading role model and share what you like about what you are reading. Read together with your kids and visit bookstores and libraries. “There are so many great YA books out there these days,” Ferguson says. “Libraries and bookstores have huge inventories for teens.”

2. Learn a new language…or at least try

Language learning apps make learning the basics of a new language fun and interactive. “Language learning is something that is easier for some than for others, but it’s definitely productive and can be very useful,” Ferguson says.

With programs like Duolingo, Memrise and Babbel, friends, siblings and family members can even compete to see who reaches a new level first, giving kids the challenges they crave. Some educators even say that learning a foreign language helps kids better understand the language they already speak fluently, so that’s a win-win.

3. Explore new skills

Let your child’s interests and goals guide you as you seek out summer experiences. You might be surprised at how much is available. “One thing COVID did was open resources to take classes from all over,” says Ferguson. Try an online pre-college program or check in at a local coding class.

Art and photography are great for helping your child explore their creativity. “Photography, in particular, is a great way to explore physics, angles and perspective, and, if you’re using an old camera and want to process film, there’s chemistry involved as well,” says Pedersen.

4. Get active

Your child’s academic life is going to get busier, so now is the time to take a deep breath and enjoy what summer has to offer. Encourage your child to get outside and enjoy some physical activity, which is, of course, positive for brain development.

“There’s a decompression that occurs when you’re out in nature, so holistically, getting outside and being active is a great thing to add to the list,” Pedersen says, adding that most of all, summer should be fun for the sake of fun, rather than to produce anything of great substance.

“In summer, the shift is less about the output and more about the exploration,” she says. “It’s about the journey.”

Expertise brought to you by Academic Approach. Visit academicapproach.com.


Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Chicago Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.


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