By Rich Nickel                                                                  

Ways to keep kids learning over the summer without overwhelming them

School has looked very different over the past year and a half due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students have been experiencing a mix of online, hybrid and in-person learning on top of also navigating trauma and loss caused by the pandemic.

Now that we have moved into summer, it is a time for students to recharge and rest. As they do, it is important that students have opportunities to keep their minds active and continue learning so that they do not lose what they absorbed from the last school year. For some, summer may be a time to catch up on missed academic growth from this year. Wherever your child is, this summer can be a fun time of learning and engagement.

If you’re not sure where to start, here are some ideas:

  • Read every day. Reading is one of the most fundamental skills students learn. But over the summer, reading shouldn’t feel like homework! Talk to your child about their interests and find novels, magazines, graphic novels or biographies – there are so many to choose from! Many libraries have re-opened for exploring in person or to arrange for pick-up. Most Arizona libraries even have summer reading programs to help kids get excited.
  • Gamify your learning. Everyone loves a good game…especially when there are prizes involved! Seek out educational board games (think Scrabble, Set, Bananagrams, Balderdash, etc.). You can even make up your own games with prizes for reaching key milestones.
  • Get hands on. Nothing aids learning more quickly than getting hands-on. Cooking can be good practice for reading, following directions, math and even creative thinking. And YouTube is full of videos and tips for learning a new instrument. You could even seek out age-appropriate science experiments. Have extra paper on-hand? Try origami!
  • Engage with the everyday. Don’t overlook learning opportunities during everyday activities. For instance, children could practice budgeting, math, colors, matching and more during a trip to the grocery store. Cleaning could elicit research about chemistry and meal planning could invoke discussions on healthy choices. Your family could even explore genealogy, the history of countries where you came from and more.
  • Get off the couch. Physical activity is healthy for both brains and bodies. Get outside for a brisk walk, learn a new physical skill, build an indoor obstacle course, do something active as a family!

Another opportunity to keep your child engaged during the off season is for them to participate in a more formalized summer program. Many schools are offering opportunities for summer learning to help students catch up. They’re utilizing COVID-19 relief funding from the federal government to provide programming to kids of all ages at no cost to families. Check with your child’s school to find out if they are planning to offer summer school options.

If not summer school, consider summer camps. They’re a great way to get kids both social and educational time. Sleepaway camps and even day camps (like those from Arizona Science Center, Arizona Humane Society, Phoenix Center for the Arts and so many more) can help to light a spark in children.

Additionally, the Governor’s office allocated funding for all Boys and Girls Clubs across the state to expand their hours and provide programming to keep kids learning over the summer. The Clubs are also providing scholarships to serve 4,000 students per week for eight weeks at all locations across Arizona. Youth will be able to participate in full-day programs that include meals, gym time, outdoor play, art and music.

Research has shown that participating in high-quality summer programs can help boost math and reading skills, and build social and emotional skills, according to the National Summer Learning Association. These are skills that will help them not only in school, but also in their careers and life beyond the classroom.

Summer learning can take many forms, but what’s great about it is that it helps students increase their confidence and feel more prepared at the beginning of the next school year—setting them up for success right from the start.

Rich Nickel is the father of three sons, married to an Arizona educator, and president & CEO of Achieve60AZ, College Success Arizona and Expect More Arizona. The three entities have pooled their resources and teams to become one organization, which will be renamed later this year. The enhanced organization will advance a cohesive education agenda to reach the goals outlined in the Arizona Education Progress Meter and support the success of all Arizona children and adults along the education continuum, from early learning through postsecondary attainment.

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