School's out for summer. No need to make the kids go to sleep early every night, no need to pack lunch every day, and no need to read, write or practice math or is there? Undoubtedly kids work hard in school and deserve a fun summer break free from the demands of classrooms and homework. But, according to the National Summer Learning Association kids can lose up to two months of learning and the effects can be felt when school starts. But, this slide is preventable when learning is extended through the summer. The great news is with a little forethought learning can be made to feel so much like playtime that kids won't even know you are sneaking a little education into their time off.
Patti Rommel, a former elementary educator and Director of Research and Development at Lakeshore Learning Materials shares her tips for preventing the summer backslide:
1. Enjoy Family Game Nights: Ms. Rommel recommends setting aside one night a week as "Family Game Night" and choosing games that require children to use strategy and think ahead, as well as games that involve reading, writing, or counting. Not only will your family enjoy playing together but kids will also experience learning in a casual, relaxed setting. Scrabble Jr. is a game my elementary aged son loves to play and Monopoly Jr. and Jenga are games my entire family, including my preschooler, love to play. A fun game for kids learning to read is Lakeshore Learning's Read Around the House! Treasure Hunt Game that requires kids to identify letters then follow a clue to find everyday items. Older kids who can read will enjoy Scrabble Jr. and Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader. Dohdles is a guessing game where kids of all ages form an object out of modeling clay and opponents guess what it is - this game is also good for developing fine motor skills. All games involve an educational component -- but don't tell the kids.
2. Encourage Creative Construction: To make the most of children's natural curiosity Ms. Rommel encourages parents to provide opportunities for kids them innovate and invent. Provide kids with all kinds of building materials. Parents can challenge children to use the materials to invent any type of building, vehicle or contraption they can dream up. By building children will build STEM skills as they invent! My kids love building with Legos, ZOOBs, and Magnatiles and of course, the empty cardboard box. Young kids can build with large blocks that snap together, such as Green Toys' chunky, colorful Block Set. Iggy Peck Architect by Andrea Beaty and Young Frank Architect by Frank Viva can provide some inspiration.
3. Let It Grow: Learning can happen in your backyard. According to Ms. Rommel, nature is packed with learning possibilities and planning, planting and harvesting a vegetable garden will boost math and science skills. Together, choose seeds and research how they should be cared for. Use a ruler to draw a blueprint showing where each crop will go. With your child, read seed packets to find recommended spacing. Have your child take daily measurements and record each plant height. After harvesting your vegetables, set up a farmer's market to build money skills! If you don't trust your green thumb, try a kit like Seedling's Junior Gardening Kit complete with tips for planting with kids and little gardener's gloves. Another easy and fun option is Geek & Co.'s Garden Pirate kit that allows kids to make their own seed bombs. Have a garden already but need some kid-proof gardening tools? Check out the Green Toys Dig & Discover set that comes with a guide to outdoor activities for kids.
4. Turn Math Practice into a Game: Ms. Rommel recommends using sidewalk chalk to create a target game that boosts math and number skills. Throw a rock at the target and ask, Who landed on the largest number? The smallest? Can you add the numbers? Add more variations. Lakeshore Learning's Add It Up Archery Set has been a big hit with my kids with my little one identifying the numbers on the target and the older one adding up all the scores. Younger kids can combine math with sensory play. I practice math with my preschooler with a new Little Tikes Treasure Hunt Sand and Water Table that comes with treasure. I ask her to find a certain number of jewels in the sand and coins in the water then add them up. I the ask Who found the most treasures? The least? How many are still missing?
5. Go on a Reading Treasure Hunt : According to Ms. Rommel, filling kids' summer with books, books and more books is one of the best ways to prevent summer slide. Even if your child can't read yet you can go on a "Letter Hunt" or "Word Hunt" by prompting your child to find a letter or word and then challenging him to find as many instances of that letter or word as possible. Readers can go on an "Answer Hunt" by asking questions about the story, such as "Who did they sell Wilbur to?" You can time your child for an extra challenge. Older kids can use books they are interested in reading themselves, such as the Binky the Space Cat series by Ashley Spires.
6. Inspire Creativity : Research shows that engaging in the arts helps develop cognitive and social/emotional skills. Invite kids to make a "Summer of 2015" scrapbook, help kids make something they can use like Seelding's Create Your Own Designer Soap Kit or something they can play with like Seedling's Little Fairy Peg Kit.
7. Each week, choose a different event or activity to focus on:
This will ensure a variety of educational experiences. You can take a picture and place it in your scrapbook and engage in activities related to the theme.
Dr. Craig Bach, VP of Education at The Goddard School also has some tips:
8. Engage in summer activities that incorporate learning through play: No matter what you do, the most important part is that you and your child are engaging in activities together. To make your outings more fun and sneak in more learning try Seedling's Great Adventure kit complete with an adventure bag, compass, and field notebook paired with a fun Nature Bingo kit that asks kids to look for birds, snails, and leaves.
9. Enroll in summer programs that blend fun, adventure, and learning: Many public libraries have free summer reading programs that allow kids to earn prizes for reading. There are also online programs, such as Brain Chase, that combine math, reading, and writing with an adventure story.
Try a summer program like the online Brain Chase that gets kids using decoders to solve a mystery using reading, writing, and math
10. Create a routine: Without school, a child's day can tend to lack structure throughout the summer months, making it hard for him or her to readjust once school starts. Summertime fun often includes adventures that make sticking to your routine difficult, but having that initial routine established can make it easier to transition back to your schedule.
One tip I will add as a parent:
11. Stay Active: With sweltering heat it's easy to default to staying inside to stay cool. With no recess or PE kids can get out of shape quickly. Although it may not obviously seem like exercise my kids never say to no to playing their Little Tikes Giant Slide Bouncer no matter what the weather. With plenty of room for all three of my jumpers to bounce plus a climbing wall it's a great way for them to get their wiggles out. Hot weather also calls for lots of water play and having a few NERF Supersoakers on hand for chasing each other in the yard without overheating has been a great way for our whole family to get moving without overheating. Little sibling along for the ride? Check out an all-terrain balance bike like those from FirstBike or a MiniMicro scooter with a seat and low handle.
HuffPost Parents offers a daily dose of personal stories, helpful advice and comedic takes on what it’s like to raise kids today. Learn more