06/03/2015 06:24 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Sneak In Summer Learning

Make reading the centerpiece of summer

Most parents know that kids should not abandon all learning during the summer lest they lose the reading, writing, and math skills they worked so hard to gain during the school year. While there is no need to turn summer into a version of summer homeschooling, summer is a good time to allow kids to learn in a less structured, more fun way.

Heather Staker, the author of Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools (San Francisco: Wiley, 2015), chief learning officer of Brain Chase, and, perhaps most importantly, mother of five Pre-K and elementary students has some tips so sneak in some fun summer learning.

Make reading the centerpiece of summer. According to Ms. Staker, children of all ages benefit not only from reading on their own but also from having books read to them. With less structure and no assigned reading, even reluctant readers may discover that freely reading can be fun!

Choose a weekly theme. You don't need to let kids know that you are planning out their learning but choosing a weekly topic and diving into it together can foster a love of learning in your child and gives parents an opportunity to demonstrate their own love of learning. Ms. Staker's list of themes for this summer includes horses, coding, water, rare coins, and eggs. Each week her family will obsess about the chosen topic -- including by tracking down relevant books, online sites, YouTube clips, day camps, crafts, and activities in community centers, libraries, and museums. You can choose a list of topics based upon your child's interests or related to museum exhibits that may be visiting your area over the summer.

Rethink screen time. For many kids, summer means more time for screen time. Most parents are concerned about their children spending too much time playing videogames and watching TV during the summer. As a parent Ms. Staker knows that fighting screen time can be a losing battle. So, instead of trying to reduce screen time across the board as a learning officer she recommends thinking instead about replacing empty-calorie screen time with educational screen time--online superfoods. Some suggestions are: practicing math on Dreambox or Khan Academy; Learning to code on Scratch; writing and publishing an illustrated ebook and sending it friends and family; discovering your ancestors online; or enrolling in a comprehensive online learning program like Brain Chase that incorporates math, reading, and writing with a treasure hunt. When it comes to screen time, children should be picky eaters - and there are plenty of fun options available.

The backslide in summer learning can be so detrimental that some education reformers would do away with summer vacation all together. Ms. Staker takes the opposite view and thinks summer should be viewed as an important time for informal learning and discovery to show children how fun learning can be. Ms. Staker believes that adults who facilitate a positive relationship with learning are the first to realize that summer is in fact the most important season for warming up children to a lifetime of curiosity.