Sneaky Teacher: Summer Activities for Kids Can Be Educational and Fun

With some creativity, parents can show that learning happens outside school.

July 11, 2011— -- Betsy Brown Braun, author of "Just Tell Me What to Say: Sensible Tips and Scripts for Perplexed Parents" and "You're Not the Boss of Me" is a child development and behavior specialist, parent educator and founder of Parenting Pathways Inc. Braun shares ideas on how parents can redefine learning and make everyday activities educational and fun for kids this summer.

The Lazy Days of Summer

First it was red jello. Then it was sugary juice. Now summer is the enemy. And it's getting a bad rap. Summer Slide. Brain Drain. Whatever you call it, what was once the most carefree and welcome season of the year has been vilified as a threat to our kids' learning. Even a recent Rand Corp. study points to the ways in which children fall behind in their learning during the beloved months of summer.

Wait a second! Time out! This doesn't have to be the case. The problem lies in how one defines learning. And it is so much more than the three Rs and all that is associated with classroom activities. Learning is about thinking, exploring, questioning, expanding your horizons, having new experiences and using and growing the skills you have cultivated all year long.

Learning, and learning in the summer in particular, wears so many different faces that it doesn't always fall into the category of "learning" (hear the groan?) as kids come to know it. Learning in summer offers much that the school year doesn't. Summer brings time that is unstructured, schedules that are less encumbered, environments that are untraditional and ripe for discovery, and opportunities to create and follow your own interests and lesson plans. It is a time of year that is ripe with real learning opportunities for kids of all ages, learning that is not limited to the three Rs and drill and kill. Summer gives us the chance to stretch and expand thinking. So, let's reframe and put a whole new spin on that word "learning."

Wherever you are, learning opportunities abound. As parents we can keep our kids' brains active and sparking, with new synapses forming all summer long. Some of this happens with our help, and some happens if we leave our kids alone (and unplug the enemy screens). Remember, kids need time to play, with and without friends. In those unstructured, unscripted, unplanned times, they are growing ideas. Isn't that learning?

In the summer, the parent becomes a teacher of a different sort, seeing opportunities and potential in everyday activities and adventures. Whether you are in your own home, running errands, taking a family field trip, there are learning opportunities aplenty. With a little creativity and a dash of resourcefulness, parents can help children see that learning is fun and active, happens outside of the school walls, and is not limited to workbooks and forced reading assignments.

Car Games for Kids

The car is a learning environment. Instead of relying on the DVD and other tech devices, turn your child's brain and senses on. Old-fashioned car games, giving points for answers, involve the whole family.

Play "I'm Going on a Trip" and practice memory and alphabet skills. (Each person adds an item, going A to Z, and each turn repeats the whole list. Person No. 3 says I am going on a trip, and I am taking an Apple, a Basketball, and a Caterpillar. And then onto the the next person. I am going on a trip, and I am taking a ...

Play "I spy" using shapes in the world that is passing you by (Who can find a triangle shape?)

Play "Out of State License" spotting.

Play spotting games of all kinds: Who can find a license that has a G in it? Who can find a license plate whose numbers add up to more than 10?

Play math word games: Daddy can eat 3 pickles in 5 minutes. How man pickles can he eat in an hour.

Calling All Parents! How Do You Prevent Kids' Summer Brain Drain? Send 'GMA' Your Creative Ideas, Tricks to Sneak In Learning

Sneak Learning Into Everyday Errands

You can spice up the "learning" in your everyday errands:

At the grocery store:

1. Enlist your child's help in writing the grocery list.

2. Give your child her own a list to fulfill.

3. Involved your child in guessing the weight of produce, the total cost at checkout.

4. Ask the manager if he would show you both the meat refrigerator or the cold storage area where vegetables are kept.

At the bank:

1. Enlist your child's help in filling out the deposit (withdrawal) form.

2. Talk with the bank clerk about how people use the bank.

3. Ask the manager to give your child a tour of your bank and chat about where the money goes -- and where it comes from!

At the cleaners, ask for a tour of the cleaning and iron machines.

At the gas station:

1. Estimate how much gas your car will take, and watch the pump numbers soar.

2. Guess how much it will cost to fill up the tank. (Yikes!).

3. Show your child under the hood of your car, where the oil goes, for example.

4. Ask the attendant to show your child how to change a tire.

At the post office, ask to see where the letters get sorted.

And the learning continues with your discussion around the dinner table, as your child shares what he has seen.

Turn a Visit to the Park Into a Fun Scavenger Hunt

Turn visits to museums, to parks, and to recreation areas into hunts of all kinds. Give your children a list of things they need to find:

At the art museum: Find an artist whose first and last names start with a P and who painted faces with the eyes in funny places. Find a painting that uses only two colors.

At the Natural History Museum: How many animals can you find which are smaller that you are? Larger? Who has toes? Claws? Whose eyes are on the sides of their heads? Whose are in the front? Who has fur? Hair? Feathers?

On a nature hike: Find something that an animal might eat. Find evidence that an animal lives there. Find something that grew on a tree. Find something that is crunchy.

Start a Long-Range ProjectSummer is perfect for long range project...because you have the time. Be only the consultant, not the director, in these pursuits.

Put on a production. Your child writes the script, recruits the players, and puts on the show. She makes the lists and invites the audiences (homemade invitations), arranges the theater seating, even bakes the reception goodies.

Hold an art show. Your child is the artist, hangs her work in the home "gallery." She creates and distributes the invitations; she cooks the reception goodies.

Hold a recital. Your child can perform his talent-a drum show, piano recital, karate demonstration. He makes his guest lists, invitations, and reception treats. He arranges the room and the audience seats.

Hold a creative writing/poetry reading. Your child creates the invitations, the program, the setting, the reception.

Build something from scratch -- a skate board ramp, a doll bed, a mouse house. Anything that requires thought, planning, directions, supplies, and elbow grease will keep your child's wheels turning.

Start any kind of a collection-rocks, shells, coins, stamps, baseball cards. The organization and categorization (and storage) require plenty of skill.

And the business of everyday life at home, offers plenty of learning opportunities:

Pay your bills with your child, letting him see what things cost and how you do it.

Invite your child to cook with you-measuring is a math skill.

Ask your child to help you clean out or organize almost anything! Sorting, alphabetizing, categorizing take thought and effort.

Hold a gargage sale of your child's possessions of his choice. He makes the signs, prices the items, organizes the event, runs the bank...and counts his money made!

Starting with reframing your ideas about learning, whether it's a project, a field trip, or just the business of daily life, summer is ripe with opportunities for reinforcing old skills and learning new ones. Who says the days of summer are lazy? They are just filled with expanding your child's thinking and growing his mind.

Calling All Parents! How Do You Prevent Kids' Summer Brain Drain? Send 'GMA' Your Creative Ideas, Tricks to Sneak In Learning

Get more parenting tips from "GMA."

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