Secrets of Summer Learning Fun

We often hear that the minute kids leave school for summer recess, their brains begin to drain. Not so, say many educators and parents, who believe that summer family experiences can be very educational. All it takes is a little focus on ways kids can learn as they enjoy their summers.

Make a Summer To-Do List

Grace Wadell, a Radnor, PA mother of four kids ages 6-15, is a firm believer in creating a summer to-do list. “On the first day of summer break we all sit down at the kitchen table and I ask them to give me a list of everything they want to do this summer,” she explains.

Kids Learn as Volunteers

Summer is a great time to encourage your kids to volunteer and give back to the community.

According to Carolyn Zogby, director of curriculum and instruction for the Red Clay Consolidated School District in Wilmington, DE, “Community service contributes to healthy development.”

For volunteer ideas for your children, visit (scroll to Great For and check Kids or Teens).

Each child’s list might include activities such as making ice cream from scratch, going to the shore or visiting a museum. Together the family chooses activities, then turns them into enjoyable learning experiences.

Wadell uses each experience as the centerpiece for learning more about a particular subject. For example, one summer the family visited the Franklin Institute, and she enrolled the children in a science camp to tie in with the trip. She also took them to the library, where they checked out books about science-related subjects.

Field Trips

Summer provides opportunities for families to visit the zoo, museums, parks and other attractions. Even everyday errands to the grocery store and dry cleaner can be educational and fun. There are dozens of affordable, educational day trip opportunities in the Delaware Valley.  For ideas, check the searchable MetroKids online Attractions Guide and the MetroKids online Calendar.

“Think of the common experiences that we have as parents that our children can benefit from,” suggests Valarie Lee, EdD, assistant professor of reading at Rowan University in Glassboro, NJ. “If you’re going to the hardware store or Laundromat, think of all the opportunities there are for measuring, sorting and counting.”

More Learning Fun


  • Let your children read comic strips, cereal boxes and magazines, not just books.
  • Be sure kids are reading at their appropriate reading level so they don’t get frustrated.


  • The kids can share summer experiences in letters or e-mails to grandparents, relatives or friends.
  • Let the kids write out the week’s shopping list for the grocery store.
  • Encourage them to keep a private journal where they can write about whatever they want.


  • Your kids can help you cook and bake, allowing them to read the recipe and do the measuring.
  • Have them count out money at the store, then figure out what the change will be.
  • Give kids a budget and let them do some of the shopping. Discuss their choices.

Take the things you do every day and view them from the perspective of a child. “How can I help my child understand how to make a prediction from this, how to ask questions, how to use math skills and literacy skills,” says Lee.

She points out that language is an area where many students suffer, so the more you can talk to your children about what you’re doing, the better. For example, in the grocery store, have your child read the word “milk” on the shopping list and then let her find the word on the carton. Once the milk is in the cart, she can scratch it off the list.

Find Free Programs

You don’t have to pay a lot of money to discover wonderful learning experiences, both near home and online. Many programs are offered free through townships, school systems and libraries. You can easily find free events in the MetroKids online Calendar (sccroll down to Free? and select Yes.)

Use the computer to find great websites that the kids can tap into. National Geographic, for example, offers interactive activities at different levels at If you can’t physically visit a museum, go to the museum’s website to take a virtual tour of an exhibit. “It gives the family and children an opportunity to experience something,” Lee points out.

Match Reading with Kids’ Interests

How to Judge a
Book’s Difficulty

Marlene Schreiber, English Language Arts Supervisor K-12 for the Red Clay Consolidated School District in Wilmington, DE, suggests the Five Finger Method for choosing a book that’s on the right level for your child.

Pick a page midway through the book with no pictures and have your child begin to read. When he reaches a word that is too difficult or he doesn’t understand, he should put up one finger. If he completes the page with five fingers up, the book is too difficult.

Dr. Schreiber says the big point is to keep children reading. “The more reading kids do, the better readers they become,” she says.

Summer reading helps kids maintain and build their vocabularies. But simply telling kids to read or do vocabulary exercises often doesn’t work.  “The teachers try to encourage me to do workbooks with my children over the summer, but the kids never wanted to do that. It was such a battle,” recalls Wadell.” Instead, she matches books to her children’s interests — for example The Magic School Bus series, which relates to science.

To find great summer books for your kids, check the MetroKids Summer Reading List provided by The Horn Book.

Outdoor Play

Kids need plenty of time to play outside, but you can add fun learning experiences to their play. One idea is to create a scavenger hunt in which children collect specimens of insects or flowers, and then make observations about the things they’ve collected.“That’s a fun, easy-to-do activity and you don’t have to have lots of materials, just a little imagination,” says Lee.

Check out for more outdoor fun suggestions. For kids’ gardening ideas, visit

Terri Akman is a local freelance writer.

Categories: Education & Child Care