Your at-home summer camp is an opportunity for your kids to learn new skills and subjects that they might not otherwise cover in the classroom. Summer is about having fun, which is why we’ve covered topics about outdoor activities and crafting ideas in earlier articles, but there are still ways to play while learning. Here, we’ve laid out some great educational activities that enable you to introduce your children to new ways of thinking by exercising their brains. If you’re wondering how you can manage to include all of these fun activities into your children’s daily routine, we’ve also put together a guide for how to create a schedule that you can refer to when planning out summer activities.
As always, the ideas collected here are simply suggestions for you to draw on to create a schedule that works for you and your kids. There’s no pressure to complete all of the activities discussed below! Mix and match these ideas with others suggested in our earlier articles to plan summer days that keep your children engaged with a variety of activity types, even if that just means one or two major activities in a given day. It’s a challenge working from home while also trying to host a summer camp for your kids, and we hope that these suggestions can help make that just a little bit more manageable.
Keep the Mind Sharp
Kids often think that summer vacation is synonymous with no learning, but even though that break is well deserved and much needed, swearing off textbooks for three months straight can make the back-to-school transition far more difficult. According to the NWEA, students may experience a “summer learning loss” of school year lessons anywhere between 20% and 50%, with older children likely to experience a greater percentage. To support educational growth, it’s important to help your children exercise their minds as well as their bodies through a diverse approach:
- Use online resources to reinforce core concepts and introduce new ideas. While real world activities offer some flexibility to learning, it is still helpful to have some worksheets now and again for your children to focus their attention on. Sites like Camp Wonderopolis are free to use, and host a number of interactive STEM and literary topics. Your child can sign up as a “camper” and you can create a “counselor” account to follow them on their learning journey. Wide Open School is another free platform that easily breaks down its content by age group and activity type, covering topics from science, to emotional well-being, to math and science. There are even sections for at-home learning and virtual summer camp (field trips included!). Summer Boost is a paid service after your first five downloads, but includes hundreds of educational resources like worksheets, games, lesson plans, and more to get your children problem solving for dozens of different subjects, all easily organized by grade.
- Find teachable moments throughout the day. Learning doesn’t always have to mean sitting down to hit the books. And if that was the case, you can expect a fair amount of resistance. The trick is to casually insert learning opportunities into daily activities. This helps your children connect this knowledge with real world activities, strengthening their understanding. Next time you’re cooking, use your measuring cups as handy tools to talk about fractions. Or maybe you’d like your children to brush up on their vocabulary, in which case you can give them a word of the day to look up in the dictionary or online.
- Share life skills in addition to brushing up on academics. Learning is more than just words and numbers; activities to build independence are also critical (and not necessarily something they’d learn in school). Life lessons could be about manners, nutrition, and of course— housework. All the extra time at home is a chance to show your kids how they can help around the house. No one likes the thought of chores but granting your children a responsibility can warm them up to the idea. They’ll be proud to have learned how to vacuum the floors or wash a dish (even if the enthusiasm is short lived!) Be sure to give them praise and thanks to reinforce the good habit.
Encourage Daily Reading
Whether it’s the morning paper, a kid-friendly magazine, or a short picture book, daily reading is the easiest and most effective way to help keep your children’s minds sharp. It can be difficult to help your kids stay on top of independent reading though, so storytime is a great routine activity that you and your children can enjoy together. You can set aside just half an hour during the day for this activity, but if you’ve chosen a real page-turner, be prepared for your kids to ask you to keep reading!
You can switch it up daily with unique short stories, or find a chapter book that your kids look forward to reading each day. The benefit of reading to older children, instead of always having them read independently, is that you can cover material that they might have difficulty grasping on their own. So for them to really get the most out of storytime, it’s important to encourage active listening. Explain more challenging passages to help them understand the story as necessary, but also pause to ask them questions to improve their listening skills:
- Keep them engaged by asking them to recap what has happened so far in the story. Before starting a passage for the day, ask “Does anyone remember what happened last? And how did it make the main character feel?”
- Improve comprehension by asking them to make predictions about what will happen next in the story, or, how the main character might respond to a given situation. Asking your children to recap at the beginning and end of each session is an effective way to reinforce the concepts in the book to make storytime more worthwhile.
- Introduce a book-related activity. This can take written form, like writing an epilogue or a preface. You may also include it as part of your crafting time and suggest they draw their favorite characters, or build a diorama of a memorable scene.
If you’re not sure where to start, find an author that your children can connect with. Plus, having the consistency of focusing on the same author for a few weeks will also enable your children to more easily pick up on literary devices that appear consistently across several books. An added challenge for the acute listener would be to see if they can recognize certain phrases the author tends to use, or style choices in their writing, like if they usually set the scene using dialogue versus narration.
Some of our favorite stories come from Roald Dahl, whose books are great for kids of all ages, but there’s tons of fantastic reading material to explore. Other great books to start with are The Little Prince, Secrets of Droon, The Wind in the Willows, and works by Shel Silverstein, which are enjoyable for children and adults alike. Nothing beats a hardcopy, but if you’re looking to save some shelf space, many titles can be accessed as free ebooks on Open Library, or through your local library with a library card as they begin to open back up.
Science projects are the great crossover between crafting and education, art and discovery. The summer is a great time to explore a host of different scientific concepts, like solubility, chemical reactions, osmosis, and more! When conducting experiments with your children, it may be helpful to print out a scientific method worksheet to accompany each project. This will help your children learn to think critically about the experiments they are conducting, and allow them to better understand the phenomena they witness. You can compile these worksheets into a science journal to look back on, and test the experiments again with variations to the materials or methods. Here are our top 25 science projects to keep your children engaged this summer:
- Balloon In A Jar– an interesting variation on the classic “egg in a bottle” experiment that explores air pressure
- Boat Building– an open-ended STEM design challenge in an easy-to-follow video
- Bouncing Egg– a three day experiment to introduce your kids to chemical reactions
- Crystal Garden– a trendy overnight experiment dealing with supersaturated solutions
- Dancing Rice– an exciting exploration of cause and effect as well as chemical reactions
- Density Rainbow– layer a rainbow of colors with supersaturated sugar solutions
- DIY Kaleidoscope– a childhood favorite that explores light refraction and reflection
- DIY Lava Lamp– a density experiment as clever as it is attractive,
- DIY Volcano– a true classic in chemical reaction experiments, sans the paper mache
- Floating Dry Erase Shapes– a fascinating solubility experiment— you won’t believe it!
- Germs Simulation– a great way to explain why it’s important to wash your hands, which is more relevant than ever
- Giant Gummy Bear– demonstrate the concepts of osmosis, mass, weight, and volume
- Growing Rainbow– using just water, paper towels and washable markers, your children can witness the power of capillary action
- Invisible Ink– 3 ways to write secret messages
- Invisible Licorice– observe the bending of light through oil
- Magic Star– use toothpicks to see capillary action in a different form
- Magic Water– create ice instantly and craft beautiful sculptures by exploring freezing temperatures
- Milk to Stone– a material transformation that can be used for crafting projects
- Potato Clock– a classic study in electrochemical energy
- Rock Candy– a crystal growing experiment with edible results
- Electric Butterfly– a fun introduction to static electricity
- Storm in a Jar– a colorful weather simulation
- Solar Oven– make your own s’mores by using the greenhouse effect
- Sun Dial– a study in planetary rotation to introduce children to concepts of space science
From science experiments, to storybook adventures, to life skills and everyday learning, there’s tons for your kids to explore this summer. A little bit of daily learning will keep your children’s minds flexible and on track for a successful upcoming school year, and it’s a fun change of pace for parents, too! Enjoy the development of your summer schedule, and join us again for next week’s issue of Camp Quarantine, which will cover fun and creative snack ideas, or “snacktivities,” for some extra fun throughout the day.