A mother and daughter read a book while sitting in a hammock

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June 10, 2013

Three Summer Learning Tips Parents Can Use

With the end of the U.S. school year approaching rapidly, parents are scrambling to make sure their kids have worthwhile, instructional activities over the summer.

Summer learning programs can help prevent the “summer slide,” a loss of skills and knowledge that disproportionately affects low-income students and widens the achievement gap between them and their more advantaged peers.

But beyond taking advantage of formal programs, there's plenty that parents can do at home to help their kids stay sharp until the new school year begins.

Jennifer Sloan McCombs, co-author of Making Summer Count, the most comprehensive study on the topic to date, recently answered questions about summer learning on CafeMom. Here are three takeaways that parents can put into practice after the school bells ring and summer officially begins.

Keep children reading.

Reading is one of the most important activities your child can do over the summer to keep their skills sharp. McCombs highlights ways to make reading a family event such as a “family book club,” where each person selects a book to discuss each week. (This is easiest when reading levels are comparable.) For more competitive families, a challenge that rewards every family member who reads at least a certain number of books with a prize—and perhaps rewards a grand prize to the “reading champion”—could be effective.

Incorporate learning into summer travel.

Visiting a new place can be a learning experience in its own right, but McCombs notes that children can expand their learning by creating their own travel blogs to share with family or friends. (Parents can take dictation for younger children.) Brushing up on a destination ahead of time could also be a fun way for children to learn.

Keep summer learning fun.

It's important for parents to convey that learning is fun, says McCombs. One important strategy is to tailor activities to each child's interests. Science lovers might enjoy science camp or conducting experiments from online resources at home, while aspiring young actors might be drawn to drama camp or putting on a play with neighbors or siblings. That said, parents can make learning activities fun, regardless of a child's particular interests. Making change at a neighborhood lemonade stand or “playing store” can keep math skills fresh, while games like Scrabble or Bananagrams, can reinforce vocabulary and spelling.

— Pete Wilmoth