SchoolFamily Voices

Join our bloggers as they share their experiences on the challenges and joys of helping children succeed in school.

10 Tips To Ease the Back-to-School Transition

Ideally, summer vacation has been relaxing, less stressful, and more laid back for your child. But now that August is halfway through, is she ready to gear up and start a new school year?

Here are 10 easy ideas to help your child boost confidence, brush up on skills, and ease back into a school routine.

For students about to enter kindergarten:

  • Practice alphabet recognition. Review the letters as partners (both upper and lowercase together). Teaching the letters as partners is easier—your child essentially learns 26 letters at once, rather than 52 if they are taught separately. Keep practicing until he can identify them randomly out of sequence, as well as in sequence.
  • Make sure she can legibly print her name. An easy way to practice this is to use a highlighter—any color except yellow, as yellow is too light. On a piece of white paper, print your child’s name, starting with a capital letter first and the rest lowercase. With a sharpened pencil, have your child trace her name inside the highlighted letters. The highlight provides a clear border for her to see how the letters are formed. The pencil can easily be seen inside the highlight color. Gradually eliminate one or two of the highlighted letters until she can easily print her name without them.
  • Practice counting orally to 20. Practice both forward and backward, as that will help him understand simple addition and subtraction.
  • For safety reasons, make sure your child knows his full name, address (street number and name, town, and state), and a phone number where you can be reached.

For 1st grade students:

For students entering 2nd grade:

  • Practice counting forward and backwards to 100. This is a great activity to do in the car.
  • Help her distinguish the sounds of long and short vowels and understand that adding the silent (magic) “e” at the end changes the vowel from short to long. Can becomes cane, kit becomes kite, etc.)
  • When reading stories together ask her to identify characters, setting, and the main idea of the story to check comprehension. Help her go back and reference the story, if needed.

Simple review and practice of basic skills helps your child gain confidence and get ready for a new school year, all while having some late summer fun with you!

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Math Fun for Summer (or Anytime)

Bring math into your child’s daily life this summer to keep skills current. Here are three simple and fun activities to practice math that your child learned this past school year.

Here is a geometry activity that I’ve done many times with my 1st grade students. They love the hands-on practice of making real shapes.

  • You’ll need a container of plastic drinking straws and some bendable twist-ties from plastic storage or trash bags.

  • Use the straws and ties to construct two-dimensional shapes (polygons). For a triangle, use three straws and three ties.

  • Connect the ends of each straw by inserting a tie about halfway into one straw, and then the other half of the tie into the next straw. They will bend at the corners to form and hold the shape of a perfect triangle.

  • To construct a square and a rhombus (diamond), your child will need four straws and four ties.

  • For a rectangle, six straws and six ties are needed.

For addition practice try a game called “add ’em up”:

  • You’ll need a deck of playing cards with all face cards removed. Use the aces to represent numeral one. This can be for two or more players.

  • Shuffle the deck and put it in a pile, numbers down.

  • Players take turns, picking two cards each. They add the number value of the cards to get a total. The player with the highest sum wins all the cards. To break a tie, each player takes one more card and adds that to the total.

  • When the pile is gone each player counts their cards. The player with the highest number of cards wins.

For telling time:

  • Call attention to clocks you may see around your neighborhood. For example, look for analog or digital clocks on banks, stores, billboards, and other community places. Ask him to tell you the time he sees displayed. Help him, if needed.

  • At baseball, soccer ,or other timed games that you watch, help her read and understand how much time is left in the half, or until the end of the game. Usually, these clocks count “down” so this can be a good time to help her practice counting backwards.

Try to find other opportunities involving simple math skills to challenge your young student as often as possible.


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Rainy Day Science Fun

Oh no! It’s finally summer vacation, and the weather forecast is calling for rain all day. But don’t let a rainy summer day spoil any fun. Use it as an opportunity to talk about and examine the wonderful natural process of rain.

Start this science dialogue by asking your child “What do you think causes rain?” Then do a simple experiment that I’ve done with 1st grade classes over the years. Help your child create indoor rain!


  • a small, plastic sandwich-size baggie
  • clear tape
  • a small amount of water


  • Let your child put a small amount of water (about ¼ cup) into the bag
  • Zip it shut until it’s sealed
  • Use the clear adhesive tape to attach the sealed bag to a window that gets a fair amount of sun
  • When the rain stops, and the sun is shining again, the sun will warm the water in the bag
  • The heat will cause the water to evaporate, and small drops will form on the inside surface of the bag
  • As the drops grow and get heavier, gravity will cause them to drip down. He’ll then see how it starts to “rain” inside the bag!

Children get really excited by this experiment. It’s a perfect opportunity to segue into what happens in nature, and explain about the water cycle.

Just like the water in the bag, the sun heats up oceans, rivers, lakes, ponds and even puddles. The water evaporates and collects in the atmosphere as moisture particles grow into clouds. When the clouds get too full, the drops become heavy and fall back to the earth, creating rain. Then when the sun comes out, the process starts all over again.

Here are five books with great pictures and vocabulary that help youngsters understand the water cycle.  Most should be available from your local library. 

  • Water Goes Round: The Water Cycle, by Robin Koontz
  • All the Water in the Word, by George Ella Lyon,
  • Magic School Bus Series, Wet All Over, by Joanna Cole
  • The Water Cycle, by Helen Frost
  • A Drop of Water, by Gordon Morrison

A simple, hands-on activity like this makes understanding science very real for a young child.

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Combine Traveling With Learning for the Summer

Wherever your summer travels take you, there will be many learning opportunities for your young child. Places you visit can lead to fun exercises in both reading and math.

For reading:

  • Make a point to see any attractions that might involve books. For example, maybe there is an author’s home open for visiting, or a location that was a backdrop for a favorite story. If possible, go to that location’s library and compare and contrast it to your own town library.
  • Take time to read together all tourist information provided. For example, if going to a national park, be sure to read the signs and plaques that tell about the topography and wildlife you might encounter on a trail. Or at a zoo, help your child read informational signs about the animals and their environment.
  • Stop at a local bookstore and ask about a simple, inexpensive story that describes the area you are visiting. Purchase it for her as a keepsake of the trip.
  • Have him start a simple “travel diary.” In a small notebook, have him write the date at the top of the page. Then ask him to draw some of the things you did that day. Before bed, help him write some simple sentences to go with the pictures. This is a great reference if he’s asked to tell about “What I did this summer” once school resumes in the fall.

For math:

  • When getting ready to travel, show him how you calculate the distance from your home to the destination. Estimate together how many miles you will be traveling during the entire trip. Even though a young child might not understand more complicated math, he will remember and have a frame of reference about doing this as a family when he encounters higher level calculations in upper grades.
  • If you are visiting historic sites, pay attention to dates on buildings or statues and help her figure out how old the sites are. Create a comparison; for example, “Grandpa wasn’t even born when this bridge was built.”
  • Have him look for and count specific road signs. Point out and help him count forward (or backward numbers, depending on your route) the highway exit sign numbers. Ask him to predict which one will be next.

These easy and fun ideas make a young child involved and vested in using skills learned this past school year. Activities like these will keep skills sharp and ready for a new school year!

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Build True Reading Comprehension Skills This Summer

The faster a child can decode a word, the stronger a reader he will become. Recognizing words, using clues from the pictures and reading with fluency can make him a successful, comprehensive reader.

Here are ways to help develop these skills this summer.

Reinforce “starter” words: Below are 12 words that are considered the most commonly used in the English language. Instantly recognizing these words will give your child a head start in reading:

            the            in          of           is           it       I
            and           you         to           a           that     are

Print these words on small index cards, using lowercase letters. Practice all summer, two at a time, until she can easily recognize and say these correctly and randomly.

Teach him to reference the picture: Remind him to look at the picture before reading. In my reading groups, we always do a “picture walk” through the story before reading. If he stumbles when reading, have him reference the picture for a clue to get back on track.

Practice reading fluency: Reading fluency means smoothness, flow, and clarity of oral reading. The more fluent a child reads, the greater she comprehends. Like many things in life, this comes with practice!

Try reading with a timer. Set the timer for one minute. Have her start reading a page out loud. Be sure to start the timer when she says the first word. Have her stop reading when the timer rings, and put her finger on the last word she said. Help her count the total number of words she read in one minute. Set the timer again for one minute. Challenge her to read it one more time clearly and quickly, trying to increase the number of words before the timer rings. My students practice this as a partner game, and really enjoy it!

Fun activities such as these, combined with lots of practice this summer, can help your child become an avid, confident, and lifelong reader!

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Try Quizlet for Summertime Math Vocabulary Review

Every subject students take in school has specific facts and vocabulary associated with it. In history, students must learn people’s names, events that happened, and important dates. In literature, there are character names to learn, symbols, and literary terms. We tend to think that math is different, but it is not. If the math terminology is automatic, then understanding the problems will be easier. This is especially true if doing word problems. Summertime is a great time to review. Coming back to school in the fall with last year’s math vocabulary secure in memory and a beginning level of next year’s vocabulary already learned will likely make math much easier. Quizlet is great tool for reviewing math vocabulary. Quizlet offers review in the form of flash cards, games, or tests.

There are two approaches that will help next year in math—reviewing last year’s math vocabulary and previewing next year’s. If your child just finished taking Algebra I and will be taking geometry next year, he should spend time reviewing Algebra I vocabulary. He can go to Quizlet and search for it. Many teachers and students have posted their sets of study cards, and almost any subject is already available. He should start by using the flash cards to make sure he still knows the vocabulary. After he feels comfortable, he can play Scatter and Race which make the learning more fun.

After spending time reviewing last year’s math course, your child can begin working on next year’s vocabulary. She can search for “geometry vocabulary” to find a set of terms to begin learning. It might be beneficial to search for terms from previous years. If she is in 7th grade, she could look for 5th grade geometry vocabulary. It is important that this review is not frustrating, and that she has enough success to enjoy playing the games. Any review of geometry terms will make math easier next year.

Quizlet is useful for reviewing almost any subject. The frequently used element names and symbols will be useful in almost every science course. Reviewing literary terms, states and capitals, and historical events can help. It is, however, most helpful in math. Many students struggle because they do not remember all the mathematics terms. It is hard to find the additive inverse of a negative number if you don’t remember what an additive inverse is! It is important to have some recreation and relaxation time in the summer, but just a few minutes a day reviewing math vocabulary can set your child up for greater success next year in math.

If your child needs to drill her math facts as well as vocabulary, you should read about some math games that help drill facts while having fun.

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Move Learning Away From the Classroom This Summer

Summer break has started, or will very shortly. It’s a perfect time to take those classroom skills and apply them to different, more relaxed summer venues. By keeping the learning process active, you can help your child subtly practice new strategies and avoid the “summer slide.” By engaging in some fun educational activities this summer, you can help her be fully prepared when the new school year begins.

For reading:

  • Check with your local library. Most libraries offer free relaxed summer reading programs, with creative motivational prizes for students.
  • Leave electronic devices home when going to the beach, lake or pool. Pack some favorite books and puzzles for quiet time on the blanket.

For writing:

  • Take pictures when on vacation. Use a photo as a “story-starter” to help him write about a vacation experience. Help him paste the picture at the top of a lined paper. He can tell the who, what, where, why, when, and how of the story by describing the picture. One picture for each page can create a lovely vacation memory book when put together!
  • For penmanship, have your child use some unsharpened pencils to practice letter and word writing in the sand at the beach, or in a sandbox. The thickness of the sand, when she prints the letters or words, enhances the feel of how the letters are formed.

For math and science:

  • Take a few different-sized and -shaped containers when going to the beach, pond, or pool. Have him put some water in a pail. Then have him pour water from the pail into the different containers. Help him understand that liquids (the water) take on the different shapes of what holds them. Have him pour the water out, and see what happens when the liquid is in the sand.
  • Have her collect 10 sticks of different sizes in the backyard. Or, collect 10 shells or rocks at the beach. Have her line them up from smallest to biggest or biggest to smallest to compare and contrast size. She can also use them to practice multiple ways to make 10 (1+9, 5+5, 6+4, etc.).

These simple yet fun summer activities reinforce the fact that learning is a continuous process, and takes place just about everywhere!

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Tips for Connecting With Your Kids During the Summer

Summertime! Kids everywhere are living in anticipation of release from school for the summer. What happens then? That is an important question to ask; parents everywhere should consider what is best for their children. When planning your child’s summer, I suggest you consider the following.

Encourage your children to read! Reading skills, like any other skills, get better with practice. Besides that, reading good books is a great escape from reality. For ideas of what to encourage your children to read, take a look at 50 Books Every Child Should Read. Some of these books are written for younger children (The Lorax and The Giving Tree, for example) and would be easy reads for your teen. They have important lessons to learn, however, and spending a little time reading them to younger siblings is a valuable experience. For great family time, read the same books together and spend time over dinner discussing the books. My daughter likes to read a book together with her children and then watch the movie of the book. The questions and discussion that follows is natural and fun for her and the kids.

Get outside and enjoy the great outdoors! Kids do not spend enough time outside playing. Think about the games you played with other children and teach them to your own kids. For younger kids, Four Square, King of the Hill, Kick the Can, and Capture the Flag are fun and provide enjoyable exercise. Participating in summer league sports or attending a sports camp can help build skills and keep in shape over the summer months, as well. For some ideas for outdoor games, see 30 Outdoor Games for Simple Outdoor Play.

Limit screen time. It is important that teens do not spend all their free time online. It is true that there are great educational games and apps, but teens needs to develop their fine motor skills that are not developed when typing, using a mouse, or tapping a screen. Besides that, educational games are not often chosen by teens. They are more likely to play online games with friends that can consume all their attention. There is something to be said for becoming an expert in one activity, but teens’ brains are in a state of neuron development that needs multiple kinds of stimulation—not like what they receive playing the same games for hours.

Take some short trips in the car. Some of the best conversations take place when traveling by car. Parents rarely get that much time with their children. Engage them in deep, thoughtful discussions with open-ended questions. Perhaps you can start by asking “What was the most important lesson you learned in the last year of school? Why was that important?” Then next, “What goals are you going to set for next year? How will that help you?”

Relish the time you have with your child this summer. Spend time traveling, playing games, and reading together. Talk, talk, talk! Families can get so busy they forget to slow down and visit with each other. Adolescents like to pretend they do not need their parents any more. Truthfully, though, they are making decisions that can affect the rest of their lives. They need you now more than ever; the extra time you have together this summer is important time for you to provide the guidance they need.

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The Many Benefits of Summer Camps

Spending time away from home at a summer camp usually results in memories that last a lifetime. Children make new friends, learn new skills, and have loads of fun. The time away gives them a chance to be independent from parents and practice making their own decisions in a safe environment that fosters their growth. Children can excel at camp doing activities they love. This is so important, especially for those who struggle in school. Choosing a camp can be difficult because there are so many. I recommend that you involve your child in making the decision about where to go; and, you should make sure to select a camp that has an excellent reputation. Asking friends where their children have gone is a good place to start. Your school’s counselor is also a great source of information about summer programs for youth.

Many camps focus on building a skill such as athletic or academic skills. Swimming, soccer, basketball, or other sports camps are great for children who want to learn a new sport or improve skills. Coaching and practice in the summer can give them a better chance of making the school’s team later. Children who are interested in science or math may want to go to a technology or engineering camp. Some colleges offer these camps which provide the added bonus of experience living on a college campus. Foreign language camps immerse children in a language and culture they have been studying, and budding writers can attend a creative writing camp.

If you have a child with special needs, consider allowing them to attend a camp that specializes in helping him. It is important to allow your child to have as much independence as is possible, and a camp with trained counselors can be a great experience.

Children who will benefit from additional discipline may benefit from attending a military academy camp. At military camp, your daughter will learn about leadership and responsibility. At a Scout Camp or a wilderness camp, your son will learn about survival in the outdoors and will experience life without the internet or a smartphone for entertainment.

Churches offer camps where children can become more spiritually aware. These camps often provide opportunities for community service and children move from focusing on themselves to focusing on others.

Now is the time to select a summer camp for your child. Attending camp gives your child the opportunity to build skills, learn responsibility, and have an exciting adventure away from home. What they learn interacting with other children and their coaches and counselors will last a lifetime.

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Estimate for Summer Math Fun

Estimation is an important math skill because it allows for a reasonable guess before something is actually measured or counted. Coming “close enough” to the actual number is a real accomplishment, and part of higher quantitative thinking. Developing your child’s sense of estimation goes beyond school math—it’s a life skill.

As adults we are constantly estimating. How long will it take to get there? Do I have enough coins for the parking meter? Will that size sweater fit Dad?

Here are some great ideas for fun estimating during the summer, using common household items to help your child become a good at it.

Start simply with one or two of these items. Then mix it up any way you and your child would like.

Items that can be used include:

  • A clear, small jar full of pennies
  • A large pitcher
  • A plastic measuring cup
  • A pail or large bowl of water
  • Paper clips
  • Blocks or Legos of the same size
  • A timer
  • Forks or spoons of the same size
  • Any safe household items of uniform length and width or size

Use any of the items above to present a question that needs solving, such as:

  • How many pennies do you think are in the jar?
  • How many cups of water do you think it will take to fill up the pitcher?
  • How many Legos do you think it takes to fill up the measuring cup?
  • How many blocks will fit across the doorway?
  • How many paper clips, laid end-to-end, are needed to measure the long side of a book?
  • How many spoons, laid end-to-end, does it take to line the side of the table?
  • How long will we set the timer to see how fast you can pick up those paper clips?

After your child has estimated how many items are needed to complete a task, or how long something takes, count and work the solutions out together.

Estimation is important for critical thinking and reasonable responses. Have fun practicing because the more young children can refine their estimation skills, the higher they develop number sense.

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Two Easy Games To Develop Motor Skills

Dexterity, a good grip, and eye-hand coordination are abilities that all young students need in order to print legibly. These require fine motor skills, which means using smaller muscle groups in the hands, and fingers. Yet before fine motor skills can evolve, kids must develop gross motor skills. These involve the larger muscle groups found in the arms, legs, feet, and torso. Play is a wonderful way to develop gross motor skills in young children. Here are two games to strengthen gross motor skills and eye-hand coordination with fun outdoor play. You will need a  Hula-Hoop, three small bean bags, and a soft tennis or small Nerf ball.

Activity 1:  Target Toss, for one or more players

  • Lay the Hula-Hoop on the grass in the yard, a park, or in beach sand (or rather than carry the hoop to the beach, you can draw the large circle, with a stick, in the sand)
  • Have your child stand about 2 feet away from the hoop and toss the bean bags, one at a time, aiming for inside the hoop.  Gather the beanbags so the next child or adult can have a turn.
  • As soon as he can easily get the bags inside the hoop from the shorter distance, challenge him to increase the difficulty.
  • Have him step back about 12 inches and try again. Play often, until he can easily get the bean bags in the hoop from 4 to 5 feet away.
  • Keep count of correct tosses. Player who lands the most bags inside the Hula-Hoop wins.

Activity 2: Squeeze and Toss, for one or more players

  • An adult or older child holds the Hula-Hoop vertically to create a target “circle” in the air.
  • Younger child takes the tennis or Nerf ball in their hand and steps about 12 inches back from the circle.  
  • She “squeezes” the ball three times, counting 1, 2, and 3 for each squeeze before trying to toss the ball through the hoop. The squeezes are an important step in strengthening the hands and fingers.
  • Next person takes a turn, squeezes the ball, and then tosses it. After each round, players step back 12 inches.
  • Keep count. Player with the most successful tosses wins.

The great thing about this kind of play is that it's easy and fun while fine-tuning skills needed for printing and writing success.

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Executive Functioning Practice During the Summer

The ability to plan, initiate, and carry out daily activities takes place in the part of the brain just behind the forehead. We call this ability executive functioning. It involves the ability to be flexible, to control one’s behavior, to hold and use information in working memory, and to be self-aware. Executive functioning tends to improve with time and does not fully develop until age 25. Adolescents need to have practice that develops these abilities. Allowing your children to plan family events and vacations provides great practice.

It is probably wise to start with something simple like planning the evening meal. You can provide guidelines, such as how to make it a healthy meal that doesn’t cost too much, but then allow your child to decide what to have, check the groceries in stock, decide what needs to be purchased, and go with you to the store to buy the groceries. He can cook, serve, and clean up after the meal. This is great experience for him. Not only is he getting excellent practice using his executive functioning ability, but he is also learning important life skills. In the beginning, he might need considerable help doing this. With practice, he should be able to manage this pretty much on his own.

Another idea might be to allow your child to plan a family outing. She could research options in the area, pick somewhere interesting, find out how much it costs to go, figure out a time when the family is available, suggest when to go, and decide whether to ask a friend to go along. This could be a simple outing to the movies, a trip to a nearby town for the day, or a weekend adventure for the family.

Many parents are uncomfortable allowing children to make important decisions. Parents plan every minute of their children’s time to make sure there is no time to get in trouble. It is good to be involved and to know what your children are doing. It is important, however, for kids to have some unplanned time. This is especially true in the summer months when they are not busy with schoolwork and extracurricular activities. Kids can learn to manage their own time, plan events, and entertain themselves. If children are allowed to make more decisions, they will learn how to make decisions that have good consequences. They will develop the executive functioning ability they need to be successful in school and life.


> Executive Functioning: How It Affects a Student in School

> Homework Binder: A Strategy That Helps With Executive Function

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Simple Summer Science for Young Learners

Summer is a wonderful time to introduce your young student to “simple science.” One great way to start is to encourage your child to become a “weather watcher.” After watching or listening to a local weather report together, invite your child to:

  • Make some temperature predictions, and then observe different temperatures during the week on various thermometers that might be found in your home, on municipal or bank buildings, in-car thermometers, etc.
  • Look for signs of rain such as, dark , thick clouds and cooling temperatures.
  • Talk about thunder and lightning: Small bits of frozen rain move around and bump each other. All those bumps cause electricity. When it builds up enough, it connects with charges on the ground and zap…it’s lightning! It is like rubbing your feet across a carpet, then touching a metal door knob. When lightning travels it causes a sound wave—thunder. It comes after seeing the lightning because light travels faster than sound.
  • Have a “rainbow alert” if there is some intermittent sun while it rains.
  • Look for signs of wind and wind direction. To do this, Make an easy “wind sock.” You’ll need five items: an empty plastic liter bottle with cap (soda, juice, etc.), some string, a plastic grocery bag, scissors, and a stapler.  To make a wind sock:  
  1. Screw the cap tightly on the neck of the bottle. Cut the bottom of the bottle about 3 inches from the bottom, so that the bottle is completely open. Discard the bottom of the bottle.
  2. Help your child cut six 1 1/2 inch thick x 12-inch-long strips from the plastic bag.
  3. Staple the strips, on the inside of the open bottom perimeter, about an inch up, leaving most of the strip hanging below.
  4. Cut a 20-inch piece of string and tie one end tightly below the bottle cap.
  5. Tie the wind sock to a low-hanging branch where she can see it. Watch which direction the strips blow, and how strong the wind is blowing! Help her understand that he wind is coming from the opposite direction that the strips are pointing.

All of these activities are fun to do with your child and might spark a lifelong interest in the science of weather.

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More Healthy Play for Summer Learning and Fun

Summer is the time to have fun while learning! Here are three more healthy play activities to build a child’s coordination and body control, as well as enhance gross- and fine-motor skills.
Walking the line

You’ll need a jump rope or a long piece of clothesline. This activity is best done barefoot, and can be for one or more players. Stretch out and lay the jump rope or clothesline on a grassy, flat area of yard or a park. Then brainstorm the different ways your child could travel along the line, such as:               

  • walking on the rope.  
  • walking backwards along one side of the rope.
  • hopping or jumping from side to side, not touching the rope.
  • walking with one foot on each side, moving without touching the rope.
  • any other creative way that he might want to navigate the “line.”

Plastic bottle targets
This game can be for one or more players. You’ll need six same-size plastic bottles, half-filled with water, and a marker and a tennis ball.

  • Mark a big number in the middle of each bottle from 1-6.
  • Line the bottles on the grass in your yard or in a park.
  • Have your child stand about three feet back, and call out the number of the bottle she’d like to “target.”  She has three tries to hit that number. 
  • Keep playing until all the “targets” have been knocked over.
  • As she gets really good at the three-foot distance, increase the difficulty by stepping back twelve inches to lengthen the distance of the throw.

Water painting
You’ll need pails and small, clean paintbrushes. This activity can be for one or more children.

  • Help your child fill the bucket or pail with water.
  • Take the pail with water and paintbrush outside.
  • Dip the clean paintbrush into the water and let him “paint” the side of the house, garage, or shed with up-and-down and side-to-side strokes. See how much can be done before the first strokes dry. 

This activity was a personal favorite of my children when they were little! It kept them productively busy on sunny days while toning muscles needed for coloring and writing.


> The Pleasure of Healthy Play

> Make Learning Fun With Classic Childhood Games

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In Summer Months, Practice School Skills as a Family

In just a few weeks, school will close for the summer! It is important that students have some time for fun and relaxation while off. There are some skills, however, that students need to practice even through the summer months. No matter what subject you think about, there are fundamental facts that must be memorized. Math facts and vocabulary can be reviewed during the summer months without kids feeling like they are back in school.

Students should learn to add, subtract, multiply, and divide numbers through 12 to an automatic level. In other words, your child should be able to answer “What is eight times seven?” without having to think about it. Practicing math facts can be made into fun games. For some ideas for how, read Math Games To Keep Skills Sharp in Summer.

If your child is taking a foreign language such as Spanish, she will benefit from continued practice throughout the summer. Depending on the level of skill she has, watching television shows or movies in the language is one way to practice. She needs to practice speaking the language, as well, so spending some time conversing with others who speak the language is helpful.

Practicing vocabulary is another great summer activity that pays off later in school. Once again, this can become a fun game the whole family participates in. For some ideas, read How To Help Your Child Improve His or Her Vocabulary. Reading is also important to help to improve vocabulary. For the most part, allow your child to read books that match his interests so he will enjoy reading and want to read more.

Most children need to be encouraged to spend less time on their electronic devices, but a fun educational app can actually be helpful when it comes to practicing basic skills. Commonsense Media is an organization that reviews educational apps and provides an independent voice on what is available for education. There are many fun apps for practicing math, Spanish, and vocabulary, as well as a myriad of other skills you feel your child should practice.

Even though summertime is supposed to be downtime, your child should not lose or forget basic skills. The trick is for you to be enthusiastic about learning and to provide fun opportunities that involve the whole family.

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A Letter "Puzzle" Game for New Kindergartners

There are simple things that parents can do to easily prepare their child for kindergarten success. Summer is a wonderful time to help young children get ready for September, by doing a fun academic activity each week.

In the next few weeks I’ll share with you kindergarten Language Arts or math activities that align with Common Core State Standards.

A reading/foundational skill for kindergarten is to recognize and name all uppercase and lowercase letters of the alphabet.

Here is a simple activity to help your child learn this skill.

You will need:

  • 26 index cards
  • A black or brown crayon (I use a crayon, rather than a marker, so the ink does not bleed through the other side)
  • A pair of scissors



  • On the left side of the card print one capital letter. On the right side of the card print the same letter in lowecase, leaving a 1- to 2-inch open space in the middle.
  • When the printing is complete, you will need the scissors. Working with one card at a time, make a different and distinctive zigzagged, curved, or shaped cut in the middle of each card, between the uppercase and lowercase letters. You are essentially creating an individual puzzle piece for each partner letter.


To play the game:

  • Help your child match the upper and lowercase letter puzzle pieces together. When together, line them up from A-a to Z-z and practice saying the letters. To increase the difficulty, randomly pick letter pairs out of sequence to identify. Let him play often until he can easily match and recognize both upper and lowercase letters.


These cards can be stored in a ziplock bag to be used again and again. They can also be taken to the beach, park, or pool for a quiet activity after swimming or playing.


> Get Ready for Kindergarten

> Kindergarten Academics: What To Expect

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Turn the Night Sky Into Memorable Summer Learning

Summer is a wonderful time to teach children about the night sky. It’s great fun to identify and observe the various constellations of stars. Incorporating a child’s natural curiosity with a clear and dark evening can lead to memorable summertime learning.

This is a lesson that is much better conducted in a backyard, apartment rooftop, or city park than in any classroom! You can start with a very helpful book about astronomy for children, Find the Constellations by H.A. Rey. It can be found on Amazon.com, or at your local library. My own children used this for years and loved it!

A good way to start is to help your child locate the Big Dipper in the northern sky. On a clear, dark night it’s easy to identify. Note that the second star on the Dipper’s handle is very bright. This is because it’s really two stars, very close to each other. Ask if your child can see the two stars.

In the Dipper’s “pan,” the two outer stars always point toward Polaris, the Pole Star, also known as the North Star. Our earth’s rotation makes it appear that the other stars are moving around at night. However, Polaris always remains in the same place, and has been used as a navigational mainstay for centuries.

When your child can comfortably find the Big Dipper, draw an outline of it in a notebook and have her add small colored stick-on stars to the outline to form the Big Dipper constellation. Add a star above for Polaris.

Try to help her identify a new constellation each week, all summer long. As she learns new ones, add them to the notebook.


> Summer Fun and Learning

> 13 Summer Learning Activities

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Improve Subtraction Skills With a Fun Pennies Game

An interesting yet easy game to enrich “mental math” subtraction skills is “Penny Hide and Seek.” It uses visual and hands-on practice to help young children quickly and easily remember simple subtraction facts. This aligns with Common Core State Standards, and can be played just about anywhere!

You will need:

  • Five pennies
  • A paper plate

To play:

  • Have your child count the five pennies, and put them in a row.
  • Cover the five pennies with the paper plate.
  • Ask, “How many pennies are under the plate?” Your child will answer “5.”
  • Say, “That’s right.” Then ask him to close his eyes and turn away.
  • Remove two pennies from under the plate, and put them on top. Leave the rest under the plate.
  • Ask him to open his eyes and look at the plate. “How many pennies do you see on top?” He’ll say “2.” Then say, “I moved two on top. We started with five, so how many are still hiding under the plate?”
  • When he says “3,” say the subtraction sentence—5 - 2 = 3—and have him repeat it.


Repeat often with different combinations of 5. For example, put four pennies on top and leave one under the plate for 5 - 4 = 1.

Don’t forget to practice the zero fact also. Have your child hide her eyes and put all five pennies on top, so there are zero pennies under the plate for 5 - 5 = 0. Turn the facts around. Put none on top for 5 - 0 = 5.

Once she has easily mastered all the “5” subtraction facts, start the game with six pennies. Keep increasing pennies, by one, until she can easily do all the combinations to 10, and eventually to 20.

This kind of math practice gets your child thinking about numbers in a concrete and versatile way, and puts the “fun” in math fundamentals!


> Math Games To Keep Skills Sharp in Summer

> An Easy Way To Improve Math Fluency: Count Backward

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A Fun “Mental Math” Addition Game for Summer (or Anytime)

Summer is a great time to practice improving “mental math” skills through games. The "Counting On" game is a great activity that uses visual, auditory, and hands-on techniques to help your child instantly solve addition within the numbers 1-10. This falls neatly in line with Common Core State Standards, and can be played indoors or outdoors, rain or shine!

The “Counting On” strategy helps a young child count forward from an existing number to arrive at solutions faster. Often, when young students are asked to solve a problem, they go back and start at “one. “ For example, if asked “What is 5 + 3?” a child will put up five fingers on one hand, three on the other, and count from one to five then six, seven, and eight, and say “eight” to answer the question. The “Counting On” game teaches a child to start from a specific number, and “count on” for a solution.

Tools needed:

  • A few large, sturdy paper or plastic cups, a dark permanent marker, and 10 pennies.

To play:

  • Take one cup. With the permanent marker, write the number 3 on the outside of the cup.
  • Ask your child to drop three of the pennies into the cup. Then ask “How many are in the cup?” He’ll say three.
  • Have him close his eyes. Then you say, “We know there are three pennies in the cup, now listen while I add more.”
  • Slowly drop two more pennies into the cup. Then ask, “How many pennies are in the cup now?” If he says there are five, say, “That’s right: 3 + 2 = 5.”
  • Take out the two pennies that were added, so you’re back to three pennies in the cup.
  • Have him listen again as you drop different additions to “3.” For example, as he listens, drop four more pennies to make a total of seven.
  • You can write on other cups, to start with different base numbers.
  • When your child can easily “count on” different combinations of 10, increase the difficulty to totals of 15 pennies, then 20.


The faster young students can use “mental math” to solve addition problems, the better they will understand good problem-solving strategies. Check back next week for an easy “mental math” subtraction activity!


> Hands-on Math Games

> An Easy Game To Help Kids Practice Important Math Skills

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Math Games To Keep Skills Sharp in Summer

Summer vacation should be just that. It should be time for students to relax and enjoy life without worrying about school. This is especially true for those who find school difficult and exhausting. On the other hand, summer is also the time when math facts are forgotten. When facts are automatic, they are easily used to solve higher level problems. When students are fluent in basic math skills, their mental energy can be used to work on more complicated math concepts. So, the trick is to figure out a way to make practicing math facts during summer vacation fun so students will practice without feeling like they are still in school.

One option is to find games children enjoy. My favorite math facts game is called Math War. This card game can be played with regular decks of cards. Here are instructions to learn how to set up the decks as well as to find variations for how to play the game. The game can be set up so that two siblings of different ages can play together and both be challenged. For example, when play starts, both people put down two of their cards face up. The younger player can be asked to add or subtract their cards and the older player can also add or subtract, but for them red cards are negative numbers and black cards are positive numbers. This adds a level of challenge to make it fair to the younger child. Depending on the variation of Math War, sometimes the largest sum wins and sometimes the smallest.

There are many free apps for smartphones or tablets that are fun ways to practice math skills. The trick is to find something your children enjoy playing so that it doesn’t seem like school. In fact, a variety of math games is best.

I hope you and your children have some quality fun time together this summer. Please let me know if you have some fun learning games your children enjoy. I encourage you to play with your children so they will see that you enjoy math games, too.

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Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?

Yes - 31.6%
Sometimes - 25.4%
No - 37.4%

Total votes: 4919
The voting for this poll has ended on: June 25, 2016