It’s the middle of summer, and parents everywhere are wondering what in the world to do with their kids so they will hit the ground running for the start of school in the fall. After all, the research shows that all children take a slide backward in their learning if they get the whole summer “off.” On the other hand, summer is a time for kids to relax and enjoy themselves. How do you get the best of both worlds?
For me, the answer is simple—give your child meaningful opportunities to explore, get messy, and play!
Einstein called play the “highest form of research,” and Maria Montessori called it “the work of children.” It turns out they were right. Scientists studying brain development are finding concrete evidence that there is real power in giving kids time and space to play. It’s not just “plain old fun;” it’s also crucial “work” for kids to learn about the world and hone the skills that will make them happy, competent, and successful adults: critical-thinking skills, communication skills, collaboration, and creative thinking.
Summer is a wonderful time for kids to go deep and really immerse themselves in activities they love. While the school year favors the generalist (a little bit of math, a little bit of science, a little bit of reading, etc.), summertime can be for the specialist. If your child loves art, do art. If she loves taking things apart, let her tinker. If he loves to read, surround him with books.
Here are some ideas to keep your child learning, engaged, having fun, and playing this summer!
1. Get outside: So much learning can happen if you give your child time to play outdoors. We’re lucky in this area to have access to great parks (mountains, lakes, creeks, etc.) right in the city and a quick day trip away. Encourage your child to get dirty, look for cool creatures and plants and observe the world around her. This will help them build their observation skills, learn to categorize and build their critical thinking skills. Kids who notice the world and make hypotheses about how and why things are the way they are the same kids who bring those critical thinking skills to bear in the classroom. For a less “wild” experience, have your child visit some of the local gardens (arboretum, botanical gardens). They have amazing opportunities for kids to learn from in-house experts.
2. Citizen scientists: Charlotte also offers kids real world, authentic ways to contribute to larger scientific projects. Organizations like the Charlotte Nature Museum and Audubon are often looking for people to engage in pollinator and bird counts—data which helps scientists around the world better study and protect our native species. Kids learn communication and collaboration skills, as well as hone their observation and data collection skills.
3. Building: Engineering is a great way to integrate math and science learning. Whether it’s laying out a garden plot, building birdhouses or just making things for fun (think rollercoasters and ramps!), building encourages students to follow directions, use math skills (geometry, measuring, etc.) and hone their design-thinking skills: dream, design, create, revise! Lowes and Home Depot offer weekend clinics for kids to learn how to use tools safely and independently— great life skill! If your child gets really inspired, s/he can apply for a space at the Charlotte Mini Maker Faire in October.
4. Cooking and baking: Cooking and baking are great ways for kids to practice all kinds of math skills (precision, measuring, etc.), science skills (chemical reactions!) and fine motor skills. There are cooking classes (flour power kids) or you can just open up your refrigerator and start experimenting. Add some additional math practice to the equation and have your child set up a bake sale! Donate the proceeds to your child’s favorite cause.
5. Coding: Get your child coding with Scratch! It’s easy to learn (for kids at least!), and they can create all sorts of fun games and visuals.
6. Reading: As a kid, I loved the public library summer reading contests (and the prizes!). Get your child a library card, sign up for reading challenges and get started. Your local children’s librarian will help you every step of the way, and the incentives are addictive! You can also stop by for story hour. Reading is the best way to improve vocabulary, fluency and comprehension, and it’s been shown to improve empathy skills as well.
7. Drama: If your child has a proclivity for drama, harness it! Charlotte offers all sorts of opportunities for kids to see shows in action and learn the craft of acting. ImaginOn is a particularly neat collaboration between library and theater. Acting is a great way to build confidence and communication skills and to foster empathy and perspective-taking. After all, when you act, you are literally stepping into someone’s shoes!
8. Art: Charlotte offers so many opportunities for kids to explore artwork—from the sculpture gardens at the Botanical Gardens to the exhibits at the Mint Museum. Not only can you spend time talking about great artwork with your kid (try these prompts from Project Zero) but your child can also create art him/herself. Many of the local museums offer opportunities for kids to do all kinds of art, from making jewelry to learning to draw.
Most importantly, share your interests and passions with your child, and model for them what it means to be curious, to take risks and to be a lifelong learner! Happy playing.