6 ways to help your child learn this summer—while having fun

By Rita Buettner  |  Photos by Rita Buettner

As summer vacation begins, students are sent home with summer reading lists and instructions to keep children’s minds active over the summer.

How do you balance trips to the playground and pool with cultivating academic excellence?

Loyola magazine asked Wendy Smith, Ph.D., associate professor of teacher education in Loyola’s School of Education, to offer advice to parents on how to keep their children learning through the summer.

1. Focus on your children’s interests. “Summer is a more relaxed time. Spend some time talking with your children, and find out what they are interested in. Maybe your child likes dogs or nature or space exploration. Maybe they studied about the Holocaust this year, and your child was intrigued by that. Figure out what your child is really interested in and you can do all kinds of things. You could join a nature museum or take them to some places in D.C., like the Holocaust museum. Ask yourself, ‘What kind of day trips could we take as a family that might enhance what my child loves?’” Smith suggests.

2. Read books aloud together. “You can do this any time of the year, but summer lends itself to more reading when people seem to have a little more time as a family,” Smith says. “When my children were young, my husband read the Hobbit books to themeven when they were teenagersin the evening. It was a really special time. Then you can talk about the issues you find in the books. A lot of the time people say, ‘They’re 8 years old. They can read themselves,’ and there’s nothing wrong with that. But older kids still do like to be read to.

When you’re picking a book to fit a wide variety of ages, look at Newberry award winners. The winners this year cover a wide variety of issues, and they can give you some things to talk about as a family.”

3. Avoid formal, structured learning. “I definitely wouldn’t recommend workbooks or formal education, unless the child is behind and needs a tutor. Children need this opportunity to think about their learning and not in a formal way.”

4. Incorporate fun learning into a family trip. “You don’t want to make anything you do too much like schoolwork, but if you’re planning a trip, you could have your child help plan how many miles is it and how much gas will you use. They can use some math skills, but they’re not really thinking about math—and you can tell them your goal for the day and let them follow the map along the way.”

5. Sign up for your library’s summer reading program. “Find out what kinds of books your child likes to read so you can help find them at the library. Sometimes we just assume our child is going to love this book because we loved it,” Smith explains. “My daughter loved nonfiction, and I didn’t realize that for a while. The city libraries and the county libraries have these wonderful children’s librarians helping children find out what’s best for them.”

6. Don’t put pressure on yourself or your child. Enjoy the summer. “Summer is a time when you can focus on who they are and what they like and help them pursue that.”

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