Ways to keep kids of every age using their brains over summer break


You can feel the warm sun on your face and hear the splashing at the pool. The craziness of the school year and chaotic schedules is on pause.

Yet, as your kids soak up the sun and sleep in, are they also experiencing summer learning loss?

According to the National Summer Learning Association, all young people experience learning losses when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer. Research spanning the last 100 years shows that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of summer.

NSLA also found that teachers are forced to waste time backtracking each fall to make up for the summer brain slide. According to a NSLA study, 66 percent of teachers polled reported it takes them at least three to four weeks to re-teach the previous year’s skills at the beginning of a new school year.

So while summer is a wonderful break from school, it doesn’t have to be a break from learning.

Here are ideas from Chicago area teachers to keep your kids’ brains engaged and active until the school bell rings again.

Grades K-2

Get your child writing. Even if they are not writing formal letters yet, get them used to drawing pictures and then telling you about what they drew. Model writing for them and have them trace letters in a sandbox, with a stick, in play dough or on a wipe board. – Courtney Perry, kindergarten teacher

Have your child write a grocery list. Then go shopping and pick a few items and write down the prices and have them add the prices together. – Karolyn Miller, kindergarten teacher

Reading is the most important thing to keep up over summer. Go to the library and let kids pick out their own books, try different genres and find educational games online. Ask your classroom teachers to help direct you to the best and often free websites, like Starfall and ABCya. – Molly Graber, K-2 reading support

Visit places your child usually doesn’t get a chance to during the school year. Zoos and museums have free days, libraries have story times and be sure to enroll in your local library summer reading program. – Courtney Perry, kindergarten teacher

Keep schoolwork in your child’s daily routine. Pick up a workbook at a local store or ask your child’s teacher for workbooks or journals. Read for 20 minutes each day. Before bed, practice math facts or sight words. It may take some adjusting for parents to put activities into the routine, but it’s very beneficial for your child. – Karolyn Miller, kindergarten teacher

Encourage journaling following outings around the city or about everyday things. Have your son or daughter sit in the same place outside and journal about how things are the same or different day-to-day. Push them to use their five senses to describe these changes. – Molly Graber, K-2 reading support

Grades 3-5

Have your child start or join a book club. Find a friend and do a FaceTime book read or meet at a park. Try to read four books over the summer and discuss. Be sure to read both informational and literature texts. – Alli Lamb, fourth grade teacher

Work on social skills. This means they need to play outside with their friends in order to learn how to deal with different types of children, or even adults. – Kirsten Goetz, third grade teacher

Get out in nature. Explore the wonderful natural areas around our city as a family. Go to the Warren Dunes State Park near the Indiana border, go to one of Chicago’s many beaches, explore the Chicago Botanic Garden or the Garfield Park Conservatory. – Elana Porat, fourth grade teacher

Keep up with math and journaling. Make a hopscotch board out of chalk on your sidewalk and use the board to practice multiplication and division facts. Keep a log of their adventures over the summer and use the log to create a movie trailer. – Alli Lamb, fourth grade teacher

Read together! Parents and children can take turns reading to each other and developing questions about the material. Make sure the books are geared towards the child’s interest level and read for 30 minutes a day. – Kirsten Goetz, third grade teacher

Get them involved. Depending on your child’s interests, summer can provide the time to get your child more involved in activities like art or music. The Old Town School of Folk Music has great workshops and summer camps for kids. Also look into Lillstreet Art Studio’s many summer art workshops for kids. Or explore the museums, many of which have organized summer activities. – Elana Porat, fourth grade teacher

Grades 6-8

Have your child interview an elder in your neighborhood or family. Ask anything about the person’s life and childhood, including basic facts about age and place of birth to memories and regrets. Write up a short story or biographical piece. – Nawal Q. Casiano, sixth-eighth grade teacher

Encourage learning opportunities that are not on the iPad or laptop. Play board games like Scrabble, Risk or Monopoly with family or friends and involve thinking in a fun, educational sense. – Ryan Gates, seventh grade teacher

The secret to success in school is loving to learn in any environment. Parents can help cultivate this love by fostering curiosity and problem solving all year round. A trip to the museum, for example, followed by a trip to the library to investigate something that piqued an interest is a great way to infuse fun in learning. – Sara Folger, fifth-seventh grade math teacher

Have your child write a short story about anything in the world! Have a peer or adult edit it and talk ideas through. Re-write the initial draft and elevate ideas or language the second time around. Illustrate it. Read it aloud to a younger sibling or friend. – Nawal Q. Casiano, sixth-eighth grade teacher

Make a summer reading contract for a child who enjoys reading, but needs improvement. Agree to a certain amount of books of their choice and then give a reward or prize for completing the contract. – Ryan Gates, seventh grade teacher

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