Teachers offer their favorite ideas to combine education and fun.
Some popular cookbooks are making the rounds among parents. They teach you how to tuck veggies into kid-friendly treats like muffins and cookies. Such sneaky techniques will give your children the nutrition they need without a battle at the dinner table, the cookbooks promise.
Parents might want to use the same strategy for summer. Sneak learning opportunities into everyday life and your child will be more than ready when school starts.
If you’re running short on ideas, just ask a teacher. That’s what we did, and we got many fantastic ideas. Here are some of our favorites:
Plan a party. Give your kids a budget; let them pick the theme and the menu. They can send out the invitations, make the decorations, and prepare some or all of the food. This project appeals to crafty kids and those with a social-butterfly streak. Kids will learn to work together, and they’ll use math skills to stick to the budget.
Work on jigsaw puzzles as a family. Puzzles help children with spatial awareness, says Susan Black, a teacher at Trinity School in Atlanta. Start with a small puzzle and work up to a larger one with 500 or more pieces. Take a photo of the family with the finished puzzle. Then take it apart and trade it with another puzzle enthusiast.
Make up silly stories to build language-arts skills. Do you remember “Mad Libs,” those funny fill-in-the-blanks stories? Start with a commercial book of Mad Libs, then make your own for vocabulary-building and storytelling skills. Have kids type the stories on the computer and draw the illustrations. By the end of summer, you’ll have a whole book!
Give your child a tape recorder. She can record herself reading a story, telling about an adventure she had, or making up her own story. At night or in the car, listen to your child’s recordings. Type her stories on the computer and have her illustrate them. “Talking into a tape recorder helps a child feel less lonely when they don’t have anyone to play with, like someone’s listening,” says Nicole Magee, also a teacher at Trinity.
Play “restaurant” at home using takeout menus and play money. Have one child place an order and another child tally up the bill. Encourage your kids to make their own menus on the computer, using creative vocabulary. Try to create some of their adventurous dishes in the kitchen.
Enlist kids’ help with laundry. Count socks by twos. Organize clothes by color. Count shoes. Reorganize the closets and dresser drawers.
Paint. Use finger paint—find recipes online to make it yourself or use commercial watercolor or tempera paint. Find a scenic spot outside or set up a still life to build observational skills. Talk with your child about her painting. Which colors did she choose and why?
Make a scrapbook. Gather photos, mementos, and notes and compile them into a summer memory book. Each child can make his own scrapbook, and each will reflect a different point of view.
Practice grammar and vocabulary with word magnets. Buy magnetic tape and write words with a marker. Using a cookie sheet, have your child arrange the words to make a sentence. “Make it challenging by asking for a four-word sentence, then a five-word sentence and longer,” says Ashley Burgess, a veteran Atlanta teacher now staying home with her daughter, Anna. “Up the ante by requesting specific types of sentences: declarative, interrogative, or exclamatory.”
Have a math or vocabulary question of the day. Burgess recommends buying one or more whiteboards to survive the summer. Write a daily math problem or vocabulary word, and have your child write the definition or the answer by dinnertime. Assign each child a different color marker. Keep a log of vocabulary words so you can start reviewing toward the end of the summer.
For a fun summer filled with learning experiences undetectable to the average child, think like a teacher. If your kids love making forts when it rains, encourage them to calculate the area. If they love to play board games, enlist them to create a new board game using vocabulary words. If your child needs to work on math skills, challenge her to “invent a secret code and write notes back and forth in code all summer,” says Trinity math teacher Beryl Horton. Like sneaking some shredded zucchini into pancakes, you can find a way to slip a little math and language arts into just about any activity.
And here’s a final idea for getting the summer off to a good start: Write a thank-you note to your teacher! Incorporate as many vocabulary words learned during the year as you can.