We all want summer to have that laid-back, spontaneous feel of yesteryear. But we also want to make sure our kids are ready when school starts. Teachers say it’s possible to incorporate fun and learning.

With so many choices in how to spend the summer months, a little planning goes a long way. Even a 1st grader can help in the kitchen. He can make a salad, work a timer, and knead bread. If the salad calls for tomatoes, lettuce, cheese, croutons, and cucumbers, how many ingredients is that? If the bread has been in the oven for half an hour and needs to cook for 40 minutes, how much time is left?

As children get older, they may need a set time to read, review math skills from the previous year, or work on constructive projects. By coming up with fun projects, such as creating a PowerPoint presentation about the family vacation, your child won’t feel like you’re the Grinch who stole summer.

Here are tips from teachers, principals, and parents:

  1. Talk with your child’s outgoing teacher about the summer. What does she recommend? If your child is weak in writing, reading, or math, seek advice on how to incorporate that without making summer feel like academic boot camp. Your teacher may suggest buying a workbook and having your child complete one page per day. Or he may think your child needs a break from worksheets and should focus on learning through experiences, such as making a pizza to understand fractions.

  2. Talk to parents whose children are a year ahead of your child in school. What’s coming? Is the upcoming grade a doozy, or is the pace about the same as the previous year? What do they wish they had done last summer to prepare?

  3. Check the school website for information about the next year’s curriculum. See whether there are ways you can incorporate some of it into summer plans. For example, if your child will be studying the solar system, make a point of visiting the planetarium.

  4. Find out whether your school has a recommended summer reading list. Reserve the books at the library or buy them so your child can get started ASAP. Stay on pace so your child doesn’t have to cram four books into the weeks leading up to the start of school.

  5. If your child’s school does not have a reading list, reserve books that match your child’s interests and reading level. Allow your child to read some easier, lightweight books and listen to books on tape. This will encourage a love of reading for pleasure and improve fluency. Set aside time at night or on the weekend for everyone in the family to read.

  6. Talk to your kids well in advance. Let them know that they will be able to have a fun summer and that learning is a year-round activity. Solicit their ideas on how to incorporate learning into the summer. If your child says she just wants to sleep late, assure her she can sleep late sometimes and make suggestions for ways she can stay busy. Maybe she’ll want to start a business like a lemonade stand or plant a garden.

  7. Using a wall calendar, map out trips, camp sessions, and other commitments. Check the websites of local museums and attractions and mark any special exhibits you want to see.

  8. Make sure your calendar isn’t so jammed that your child has no down time. Learning to cope with free time and make good choices are important life skills. Give your child a balance of outdoor and indoor activities as well as the chance to read for pleasure and play without the pressure of academics or competition.

Teachers want kids to return from summer rested, reinvigorated, and ready to dig in to a new school year. A summer of all fun and no structure will make it hard for your child to get back into the learning groove. Endless academic drills with flash cards and worksheets will lead to burnout before school even starts. Strike a balance, and you’ll be surprised how fast those warmer months fly by.

Journalist Patti Ghezzi covered education and schools for 10 years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She lives in Avondale Estates, Ga., with her family, which includes husband Jason, daughter Celia, and geriatric mutt Albany.