Posted: Jun 03, 2014 8:00 AM
You can't walk into a bookstore or library right now without being assaulted by a to-do list to help support summer learning. While it's important for kids to read and stay engaged during the summer break, it's also a great opportunity for organic learning. Putting away the workbooks decreases the stress level, and that paves the way for summer learning.
Photo credit: SerrNovik/ iStock/360/ Getty Images

Long before the school year comes to a close, parents are bombarded with information about the best ways to support summer learning and prevent the “summer slide.” Schools send home suggested activities and guidelines for reading during the summer months. Local libraries host reading challenges complete with summer reading lists. Educational experts chime in with tips for bridging the gap between one grade and the next. And bookstores are stocked with summer learning workbooks, many of them claiming to support the Common Core Standards. While all of these things are great on some level, there is a certain amount of pressure attached. The subtext lurking beneath the workbooks and challenges and activities is this: If you just do this, your child will have a successful start to the school year. If you don’t, your child will struggle.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a great summer reading program. In fact, our local library does a great job of inspiring kids to read during the summer months. But reading to earn prizes takes away some of the magic of getting lost in a book, and kids are constantly challenged during the school year. Summer is supposed to be a time of less academic stress and worry. That’s not to say that learning won’t take place; it’s that the learning that occurs during the summer months is generally more play based and organic. And there’s a lot to be said for that.

Without the pressure of performing, kids are able to access learning in a more meaningful way.

The truth is that when you remove academic stressors such as tests, quizzes and piles of worksheets, many kids begin to thrive. Without the pressure of performing, kids are able to access learning in a more meaningful way. They learn because they want to, not because they have to make the grade.

The great outdoors

Last summer my kids spent most days at the beach. Sandcastle building was a full-time job, and they worked together to build bigger, better and more stable castles each day. Disappointment set in when they tide came in and washed away portions of their work, but they weren’t discouraged. They assessed the problem, brainstormed potential solutions and shifted strategies. They didn’t know that they were doing any of those things, of course. They were simply having fun in the sun. But through their building, they learned about problem-solving, math, architecture and even zoning. They picked up new skills and worked through their frustrations.

It doesn’t matter if you live by the beach, near a park or in the middle of a large city. Getting outdoors for extended periods of time offers kids new learning opportunities that they might not otherwise have during the busy school year. Time spent outside with other kids helps young children learn to work together, problem solve, negotiate and become more empathic. If you stop and look around, all of the skills that seem so important in the classroom can be found and practiced outside. Make time for outdoor unstructured play this summer. In fact, make it a priority. I guarantee your child will learn and grow in new and exciting ways.

Arts and crafts

It’s no big secret that art is less prevalent in schools than it once was. Budget cuts and changing academic goals have resulted in a decrease in the creative arts in many school districts across the country. Summer is the perfect chance to let the creative juices flow.

You don’t have to break the bank at your local craft store to get your child engaged in creative projects. You don’t even have to attempt to supervise a complicated project found on Pinterest. The best part about unleashing creativity in your child is that it puts your child in the driver’s seat. I can buy all the craft kits I want, but my little artist will dismantle those kits and create something new every single time.

When surrounded by natural sources of inspiration, children are motivated to step outside of their comfort zones and try something new.

Stock up on the essentials and put them in a basket near the door to encourage your child to get outside and create. Mixing art with nature is a fun and powerful experience for many young children. When surrounded by natural sources of inspiration, children are motivated to step outside of their comfort zones and try something new.

Incidentally, a summer scrapbook is a great project to work on together throughout the summer months. With an inexpensive scrapbook, a few pictures, some stickers and a pack of markers, your child preserves her favorite summer memories while working on things like writing, planning and patterns.

Little book clubs

Sometimes a summer reading list seems overwhelming for little ones. Sometimes they just want a break after a year of hard work. Can you blame them? The key to keeping up with reading skills is to make reading fun. It’s not about getting through a punch list of recommended books. It’s about finding the adventures within the stories.

A kids' book group or family book group is a great way to keep reading fresh and exciting during the summer. A weekly meeting with snacks that align with the story, dress up and games or crafts related to the theme will get kids of all ages involved. It’s also a great way to bring friends and neighbors together for something other than a BBQ. Kids love to talk about the books they read. Sharing their favorite scenes with the friends and putting on a play in the backyard will help your child work on reading skills while having a ton of fun and remaining stress free.

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