Fun Family Activities to Put the Brakes on Summer Learning Loss

Every fall, teachers begin the school year bemoaning how many skills their students have lost during the long days of summer. As a parent, you probably want to help your kids maintain their skills without becoming a nag. Read Noodle Expert Harriet Arnold’s suggestions to keep everyone sharp — and happy — throughout the summer months.

Read and Write Everything

Be intentional about including your children in the reading and writing you do routinely. Incorporate math into your everyday life. Read recipes, the comics, and schedules for the movies (or for any other activity your kids enjoy that relies on a timetable). And don’t forget the sports pages of your local newspaper. Baseball articles and box scores make great reading material — typically geared to a third- to fifth-grade reading level — because they’re filled with real-life math stats.

Model how often you use reading and writing skills in a day. Write grocery lists or directions to your favorite ice cream store. And make sure there are writing and drawing materials available all around your home so that your children can pick these up on a whim.

Most important and most exciting, plan a time in the day for a read-aloud. Pick a book that’s accessible to many age levels, ideally one with chapters or convenient stopping points. Find a comfortable spot with few distractions, and be sure you keep to a regularly-scheduled time (at least for the first couple of chapters, until they become hooked).

Your children’s teachers may have sent home a list of summer reading choices, or your local librarian should be able to help you find something you’ll enjoy and your young audience will love. Two of my favorites are Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White and The Boxcar Children #1 by Gertrude Chandler Warner. Check out the lists on Noodle or Goodreads to help you find new ideas. And remember, kids are an audience, so dramatic reading is encouraged. Channel your inner actor, and have fun!

Start a Book or Film Club

The advantage of a Book Club is the reading practice it provides. A Film Club will be just as effective in keeping critical-thinking skills alive and developing.

The format of a club is simple: Everyone reads a book or sees a film, and then you discuss it together. A parent should choose the material for younger children and create the questions for the group.

The first time your club meets, lay out the ground rules:

  • We are respectful of one another’s opinions, even when we disagree.
  • We listen to one another without interrupting.
  • We comment on each other’s thoughts respectfully.

Here is the tricky part: The questions you pose must be thought-provoking, open-ended, and allow for different opinions. For example, “Did you like the movie?” is a good jumping-off point, but the "why" is where the substance lies. Try relating the questions to your children’s own lives, and compare and contrast the hero's journey with their own.

Write Letters

You need to be thoughtful about this activity because it matters to whom you are sending a letter. A thank-you note to Aunt Gertie rarely excites the creative juices, but tapping into a cause in which your children express interest will get them on their way to a summer of writing. If your children love the night sky, then help them research astronomy experts or clubs online, and encourage them to write questions to send to those experts. Do your kids love gaming? They can write letters to game creators to ask how they get their ideas or how they trained for their careers.

Is there a local issue your kids feel strongly about? One group of children who spent their summer at the shore began a letter-writing campaign to ask the town, county, and state to help protect the ducks that regularly crossed a busy intersection. The kids all point with pride to the “Duck Crossing” signs that now line the road.

And don’t discount fan letters! You don’t have to love the latest celebrity yourself, but a response from the person on the poster hanging on the wall can have a lifelong effect.

Play Board Games

Board games are not bored games! Don’t save them just for rainy days. You can play them anywhere. Since they don’t typically require chargers or batteries, they are perfect for fun at the lake, in the yard, or on Tar Beach (i.e., urban rooftops).

Any game that uses dice, cards, or a spinner will reinforce basic math and reading skills. Games also provide great ways to reinforce social skills, language competency, fair play, and the ability to handle disappointment.

Ask young children, who may be unable to tolerate losing, if they want to play “fair and square,” or if they prefer that everyone else makes sure they win. This strategy often enables them to play, and in a very short time (two or three game sessions), they usually opt for “fair and square.” Friends and older siblings typically find this an acceptable way to include the younger ones in games.

Alternatively, you can keep playing rounds of a game until you have a first, second, and third place winners, and you are the only loser. This will prepare you for the day when your kids can truly win at Monopoly, Scrabble, and card games!

Check out these 10 Noodle-recommended educational games for ideas.

A Quick Word about Computer Games

Computer games have their place as a fun activity to keep math, critical thinking, and reading skills sharp. The problem with electronic games, though, is that they often isolate children. If your kids like to play computer games, ask them to teach you how to play so you can engage them in conversation about the rules, plot, challenges, and characters, as well as why they like the game.

There are a number of websites that rate a variety of games and that can help you choose ones for your family:

FiveThiryEight has a great article discussing children’s games today — and the embedded video of Louis C.K. recounting a game of Monopoly he played with his daughters is priceless.

For a gamer's look at the educational value of games, read this article for parents about why you should consider encouraging video game play with your children.

Ideally, summer is full of fun and relaxation. It can still be full of these things — and at the same time, it needn’t contribute to your children losing the academic skills they worked hard to attain. Reading, writing, and games will help your children keep their abilities sharp so they can jump right back in when school rolls around again in the fall.

Follow this link for more articles, advice, and answers about summer learning.