Many educators return to school in the fall prepared for a new year with fresh ideas and a renewed energy for teaching. However, we always dread those first weeks of data collection where we may see the effects of what is sometimes referred to as the “summer slide.” For some students, particularly those with special needs or learning disabilities, it is imperative that they receive repetitive practice with academic skills in order to retain what was taught. The child has to “use it or lose it.” Thus, as we quickly approach summer vacation, I would like to offer parents some ways to help their children practice academic skills throughout the summer and keep their young minds in working shape!
Tip #1: Limit Screen Time
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends “Children and teens should engage with entertainment media for no more than one or two hours per day, and that should be high-quality content. It is important for kids to spend time on outdoor play, reading, hobbies, and using their imaginations in free play.”
Tip #2: Play Educational Games
Here is a list of easily made games your child can play at home that will help them with academic skills. They can easily be adapted to fit your child’s age and ability level.
Throw the Ball at the Letter
Tape letters (or sight words) to a wall and call out a letter for your child to throw the ball at. Your child gets a point for every letter he successfully hits. Bonus: your child will work on their gross motor skills too!
Sight Word Hop Scotch
This can easily be adapted to letters, skip counting, multiplication facts, etc. depending on your child’s level. Draw a basic hop scotch outline and fill it in with words your child has to hop to and call out loud.
Water Balloon Math
Draw math facts on water balloons. When your child solves the problem, they get to throw the water balloon!
Sight Word Dive
Write sight words on dive sticks if your child has access to the pool and can swim and have them dive for a specific word. Or, once they get the dive stick, they have to correctly read the word or throw it back!
Rhyming Bean Bag Toss
Attach three different words, with three different endings, to three different buckets (ex: cat, man, rug). On bean bags, have words with similar endings taped or written on the bean bag. The child has to toss the bean bag in the correct bucket to make rhyming pairs (ex: they would toss the bean bag that says “fat” into the bucket that says “cat”).
Just like regular twister but instead of putting their arm on “red” they need to put their arm on the letter “b.” (Again, adapt to math or sight words, i.e., put your arm on the math fact that equals 15.)
Tip #3: Encourage Exploration and Adventure
A child exploring their own backyard is a great catalyst for a growing imagination. Remember all the time you spent outdoors as a child before the invention of ipads, smart phones, and 100 TV channels? Create scavenger hunts for your child or let them make those mud pies and dirt cake. Let them enjoy the beauty of the garden (even if it means one or two flowers get stomped on) or play with those critters.
Tip #4: Allow Your Child to be Bored
My friend and previous co-worker, who is now raising a toddler, believes in the power of allowing your child to be bored. She writes “boredom often sparks the best ideas and adventures through creativity.” Be wary, if your child gets too bored — that’s often when behaviors occur. But — if your child feels like they should be entertained every moment of every day, they will have difficulty at school when they are asked to attend to instruction or independently work. Such strong learning can happen when your child is required to be creative and explore naturally on their own.
Tip #5: Practical Application of Academic Skills
Some practical ways you can put your child’s skills to work:
- Lemonade sale: Helps your child practice social skills and money management.
- Baking: Helps your child review baking and hygiene skills.
- Grocery store/shopping: Helps your child with math, social and life skills.
Bonus Tip #6: Travel
Travel with your child this summer! This does NOT mean I’m suggesting you need to take your child on an African Safari or a European tour in order to be prepared for their upcoming school year. (Although I imagine those trips would be filled with worldly educational experiences — I myself have never been to either Africa or Europe!)
Travel with your child to the local park, library, or museum; Visit Grandma or Grandpa out of town (and on the car ride play the license plate or alphabet game!). As your child is given the opportunity to experience the world around them, they will naturally take in information from environmental stimuli. They will see, discover, and learn things they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do just sitting at home.
Be present as you travel with your child. It is not enough to take your child to a museum and let them explore while you are on your own phone or ipad. Ask them inquisitive questions about what they see and what they like. Read books together at the library and help your child pick out books that are appropriate and interesting for their independent reading level.