School’s out for summer. Teachers rejoice over the much-needed break. Parents like me however worry about how to keep our children engaged and focused during the hottest months of the year.
The good news is that there are many simple ways for families to incorporate education into the daily routine. In fact anything we do can be a teaching tool, if we adjust our way of thinking. Here are 15 easy, budget-friendly ideas for summer learning using food, car rides, and exploration.
Fun with Food
Meals are a requirement and often the most hectic or mundane in a busy family’s schedule. Food can be educational and fun with options like these:
- Family Picnic on the Floor – Grab a blanket and have your kids help set the ‘table’ on the floor in your home. Teach the children about etiquette. Look up the history of utensils and how they were made and changed over the centuries.
- Storytelling Dinner by Candlelight – Have your usual meal around the table but do it only by the light of candles. Begin a story. Tell a few lines. Then pause and encourage another family member to continue the part where you left off. Each of you can take turns twisting the plot while critically thinking and building sentence structure.
- Make a Recipe – Choose a dessert, snack or breakfast item that everyone in the family enjoys. Older children can help read instructions. Younger kids can pour and stir. Each person can measure ingredients. Discuss the temperature needed for baking. Many math and comprehension skills are used while cooking. Let’s not forget the practical art of patience while waiting for the food to be cooled or finished.
- Foodie Talk – What’s on your plate? Discuss the food groups being represented on your tray. If something is missing, offer suggestions on how you can bring in that missing item for the next meal. Chat about where food comes from and why that is important. Plan the next several meals together.
- Local Farm Visit – Now that you’ve talked about where food comes from with children, see it first-hand. Ask around for a local farm, farmers market or store to see. My kids and I have visited small farms, even those who don’t advertise public tours. We have seen so many interesting animals and been able to groom them, collect eggs or learn about their livelihood.
Rev up the Ride
Taxi moms and dads spend a lot of time in the car going to and from activities. I’ve learned to put learning activities inside our minivan to create a more enjoyable, knowledgeable ride:
- Sign Spotting – Have your children locate every sign you encounter while on the road. If they can read or identify letters, have them do so. If not, teach them as you move forward or backwards. Identify the shapes of the signs you pass such as an octagon for a stop sign and a triangle for yield sign. Why stop with just signs? Check out bumper stickers and other identifiers too.
- I-Spy – This classic game can be played anywhere but it’s particularly fun in the car. Family members choose a particular object or thing. They select the color of it and other children can guess what it might be. Doing this activity in the car causes everyone to use a keen eye to find things worth spying in tighter spaces.
- Rhyming Words – My two children and I like to play rhyming word phrases. My three-year-old and my eight-year-old love to conjure up words that end in the same sound. I will start a sentence and they will finish it. We also jump in with all words we can think of that rhyme then we switch to a new sound. This is a great vocabulary tool and oral poetry lesson too.
- Drive the Cart – As you shop in local stores for household items, allow more time for kids to practice being the cart driver. On a less crowded aisle, have your child maneuver the shopping cart up and down. Let children enhance their motor skills as they turn corners and not bump into cans of food or cleaning supplies. This may be good practice for driving a real vehicle later in life.
- Create an Emergency Fun Car Kit – Fill a tote bag or back pack with entertainment that the family may enjoy on unexpected delays or impromptu visits to new places. Have your children put their favorite things in the bag. Keep that bag in your car and change it out as needed. Suggestions to include: chalk for drawing on sidewalks, coloring books with crayons, sandals for a walk on the beach, and extra dollars and coins for sudden ice cream or popsicle opportunities.
Families can learn by acting more like explorers. Propose your kids develop their own expeditions. Here’s a road map of ideas:
- Scavenge About – I love to encourage my children to go on a scavenger hunt. From locating toilet paper to a kitchen pot or pan, my kids feel a sense of accomplishment as they mark each item off their quest list. If the weather is nice outside, have your hunters go exploring for leaves, rocks, bird feathers, and more. They can create their own list by writing or drawing things to seek.
- Overcome Obstacles – Our family will routinely make an obstacle course in our back yard. We will grab random objects like a hula hoop, baseball bat, jump rope, lawn chairs, buckets and more. We take turns setting up the course, having participants run backwards or balance the bat in one hand while jumping on one foot. These races involve critical thinking and physical activity, the best of both worlds for children to expand their minds and limbs.
- Question Box – Kids have so many questions and parents do not always have the time to address each inquiry. We created a question box. When we do not know the answer to a question or when we simply don’t have the time to go look for the fact, we write it down and place it there for later. At a future time when we’re not busy, we pull out the question. We then turn to the internet or library as resources to learn.
- Reading Adventure – Reading a book is always a great way to go on an adventure. Take your children to the local library to borrow books. They enjoy having a library card. Ask your kids questions about each book to test their comprehension. Look up meanings of words they don’t know. Start a glossary list of words learned. Let your kids choose their favorite stories and make their own summer reading lists.
- Walk the Talk – Families can wind down a busy day by going for an evening walk around the neighborhood. A leisure stroll is a great way to help everyone feel less stressed. By talking casually with your children while being in nature, you all gain an appreciation for each other’s company and surroundings. This exercise is good for the mind, body and soul.
These are just a few starting points to help kick off a summer of fun. Invite your kids to help in planning special projects and ventures. The entire family can learn and grow together before school is back in session again.
Mandy B. Fernandez is a writer living in Pensacola, Florida with her husband and two children. She writes creatively and professionally on topics such as family life, parenting, natural foods, education, and business. In addition she loves sharing humorous stories, poetry and essays about womanhood and motherhood. She is completing her first children’s book. Learn more about her at www.writtenbymandy.com.