By Ashleigh Pike

So, summer is here! Time to sleep in, relax by the pool, go on vacation and not do any homework………..wrong!! Ok, well maybe not “homework” technically, but no need to let those smart young minds atrophy during the summer months. Here are a few tips on what you can do with your children this summer to keep their minds sharp and maybe (gasp!) have some fun too!

1. READ! Ok, I know you may think, “Why is this woman telling me this? Of course we will read this summer!” But I am going to say it anyway: read to your child, have your child read to you, read together, just READ! We have D.E.A.R. time at our house. D.E.A.R. stands for “drop everything and read.” My 7-year-old reads to herself (and sometimes to her brother) and I either read to my 4-year-old or just have him look at books. It is a wonderful quiet 15 minutes of the day. Go to the library and check out books, especially ones on subjects your child is interested in. Before you go on vacation, read about where you are going or about what will be there (ie: read about sea life before you go to the beach). You can also have them read signs to you while you are driving, recipes, game directions, whatever!

2. Write! I just loved my son’s preschool teacher this year! She gave great advice at the end of the year. “Make sure your child picks up a crayon, marker, pencil, whatever, EVERY day!” Preschool children need to keep up with their fine-motor skills. They don’t need to necessarily write their name or the ABC’s everyday. They can just color a picture. Have older kids keep a summer journal, especially when you go on vacation. It is a great memory keeper! We took the kids to Disney when my oldest was in kindergarten and I had her write one sentence in her journal everyday and draw a picture. (See picture below). I love looking back at it now! You can also have older children write letters to friends and family or send postcards to friends when you are on vacation. Just keep them writing!

3. Play games! My kids love games and they can learn so much from them. For example: taking turns, being a “good sport,” counting, colors, strategy, I could go on forever! A few that we really like are: Uno, Sorry, Toss Up, Guess Who? and Connect Four. If you have older and younger children like I do, you can be a “team” with your younger child and play against your older child.

4. Puzzles! I have to admit that I do not get puzzles out as often as I should because they are not my favorite activity, but they are wonderful for any age. They are great for working on spatial relations and critical thinking skills. Plus one feels a great sense of accomplishment after finishing one! Get out a large puzzle (100 plus pieces) and put it on a table you do not use much (for us it is the dining room table) and then you and your children can work on it a few minutes each day.

5. Maps! Most children do not know geography very well, so help out your children this summer! Look at a map before you go on vacation and talk about where you are going and how you are going to get there. Talk about where friends and family live. We have a giant U.S. map in our basement that we use (I bought it at Costco). Have family send you postcards and then look at the map and see where it came from. Draw maps on the different ways to get to the pool or the park. Anything you do will be great!

6. Math! There are SO many fun activities to do! Have your preschooler count ANYTHING. How many pretzels does he want with his lunch? Have many red Hot Wheels cars does he have? Cook with your children. Have them measure the flour, sugar etc……. Get out a ruler and have them measure different things in the house. My two kids love to try and measure parts of the dog, especially his ears and tail. Have your older child make a schedule for the day to have them work on telling time. Have a calendar out so you can talk with your pre-schooler about days of the week, what month it is, how many days until Grandma comes, etc……… Memorizing math facts is very important with school age children and the best part is that you can quiz them anywhere- the car, the kitchen table, the pool, wherever! ANYTHING to do with numbers and/or counting will be helpful!

7. Field Trips! Go out and do fun activities with your children! Yes, going to the zoo is fun, but it is also a great learning experience! Pick a few places (include your children in this process) to go this summer that your children have not been before.  Talk about where you are going, what will be “cool” to see there, what you can learn about, etc. Have your child write or draw a picture about it when you get home. Even going to places that you have been to before, can be a learning experience. My kids have been to SciWorks countless times and they still discover something “new” every time we go!

8. Summer Bridge books! The Original Activities Summer Bridge book by Rainbow Bridge Publishing is a great resource to use in the summer. You can find these books at most bookstores and Amazon. They start with the summer before kindergarten and go to the summer before 8th grade. They cover reading, writing, math, and language arts skills. They also provide motivational charts that offer an incentive that you and you child decide on once they have finished a certain number of pages. I like these books because they work on a broad range of skills. My daughter is excited to get started on hers!

9. Mother/child book club! My daughter and I have joined a mother/daughter book club. It consists of the girls in her Adventure Guides group and their moms. Our first meeting will be this summer sometime. My friend thought this would be a great idea and we all agreed! We will meet every 4-6 weeks at a different child’s home. The mother/daughter team who is hosting gets to pick the book we will read. We will meet for about an hour and discuss the book. Our girls will be second graders in the fall. We realize that we will have to do a lot of the leading at first, but hope the girls will soon lead the group themselves. All of us love to read and want to foster that love with our daughters! I will have to get back to you all in a few months and let you know how it is going! I think the idea is fabulous and can’t wait to see all that my daughter will learn from this experience!

Have a wonderful summer with your children! Remember that learning and having fun go hand-in-hand!