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Summer Smarts: Expert Advice for Summer Vacation

For children across the country, academic learning is near the bottom of the list for things to do during the summer break. However, faculty members in Oklahoma City University’s Education Department are encouraging parents to provide them with engaging learning opportunities so they don’t fall victim to summer learning loss. 

“There are several ways to develop a child's sense of curiosity and wonder rather than simply replicating typical school tasks,” said professor Elizabeth Willner. “Parents can take advantage of longer days and warmer weather to expand their children’s, and their own, learning opportunities. 

The following ideas (in ABC order) include activities that help children develop intellectually, socially, physically, creatively and emotionally. This list of tips was compiled by OCU Education Department faculty members Lois Lawler-Brown, Lisa Lawter, Sharon Pyeatt and Willner.

Adventure--Take off in the car with no destination in mind. You may discover places near your home you didn’t know existed.

Books—Visit your local library. Children with books in the home develop greater reading proficiency.

Comics—Comic books broaden a reader’s vocabulary and imagination. “C” could also be for cooking with your child as you learn different standards of measurement and observe chemical reactions.

Divide and conquer—Dividing laundry into different piles can be an interesting classification activity for children of all ages. Can you guess each other’s sorting rules?

Eat—Eat fresh fruits and vegetables that you buy at the local farmer’s market. You and your child can ask the vendors to explain how different crops are tended.

Find things—Find someone who needs a smile, find all the loose change in your furniture or find out who’s the best finger painter in your family. 

Grocery shopping—Go to the grocery store with the list your child has written. Let your child check off the items as they are collected at the store.

Hopscotch—Resurrect hopscotch and other games you played as a child. Maybe your own child could become the neighborhood expert at Marbles, Jacks, Dominoes, Crazy Eights, or Kick the Can!

Introduce yourself—You and your child can introduce yourselves to a new neighbor, making sure to bring fresh-baked cookies along with you.

Journal—try writing a family journal of your summer activities. Journals can be pictures or words so each family member can take part. “J” can also be for jump rope!

Kick—Play kick ball at the park. You can also take along a picnic lunch and some great books to share under the tree.

Learn a language—Really! There are many quality websites that enhance second language learning. Even if you only learn a few words or phrases, you’ve stretched your thinking.

Make a card—A homemade card will be treasured for years by a grandparent, teacher, or special friend. Remember to get it out to the mailbox! “M” could also be for magazines. Ask the children’s librarian to show you where they are kept at the library.

No—No worksheets!!  No workbooks!!

Outdoors—What a great time of year to plant, tend and harvest some great crops. Consider planting tomatoes or peppers in pots if you have limited space. Harvest time will be a joy!

Play—Unstructured play time is important. Allow it to be child-initiated and involve a variety of your children’s friends when possible

Quiet—Quiet time is as important as play time. You and your child could wake up early one morning to watch the sunrise or sit comfortably on the porch swing while you…

Read—Of course, the value of reading cannot be overstated. Perhaps you and your children could try to find books that are of different genres or you could explore all the books by one author.

Sleep—Sleep out under the stars and observe the night sky. What stories can you tell about the constellations and planets?

Theater—Remember when you performed plays for your families with your siblings and friends?  Maybe your own children could do the same and experience the thrill of performing.

Undo routines—Children need time to relax and unwind. If too many hours of each day are filled up with piano lessons and organized sports, children don’t have opportunities to develop their own habits and explore their own interests.

Volunteer—You and your children could volunteer together to make lunches for people at a homeless shelter, help with the summer arts festival, or pick up trash at your children’s school playground.

Walk—Take a noticing or listening walk around your block, taking note of small details that never attracted your attention before. You could take photos of a tree or plant over the summer then compare the early June photo with the late August one.

eXplore—Check out the museums in your city and the nearby area. Are there some less well-known museums you haven’t visited yet? “X” can also be for “exchange roles for a day.”   You might just find out how your children interpret your parenting style!

Yarn—Create works of art with leftover yarn. If you have a relative or friend who knits, ask for lessons. Then, you could sit together and take turns telling yarns (tall tales that defy belief).

Zippity Do Da—Take every opportunity to put a little music in your lives. Listen to music you both enjoy, dust off your old clarinet from high school, abandon all your dignity and play the kazoo, or just sing along with the radio together.

And, finally, one additional “A”: Ask your child what he or she would like to do together this summer. Your efforts to prevent summer learning loss can be engaging for the whole family and leave you wishing you had more than three months between school years.