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What To Do With Your Kids During the Summer: Read, Write, Play, & Hack

As school lets out for the year, and the summer months approach, we often have two frames of thought. Some parents worry about how to enrich learning so children don’t fall behind in school. Other parents wonder how they’ll fill up the days until school starts up again. :)

Recently I was asked by Monica Kreber, a reporter for the Summerville Journal Scene, for guidance about what to do during the summer months to make sure your children don’t fall behind in school.

In this post I’ll share some basic insight about what you should do with your child during the summer months. In my responses below, I’m using my background as an educator and a parent. My responses all focus on exploring and celebrating your child’s interests.

Read

Use the summer months to build a love of literacy with your child. Too many of our children either struggle with reading, or don’t view themselves as a strong reader. During the school year, your teacher will build up the literacy practices necessary to learn to read, and then read to learn. Spending time during the summer months identifying reading interests is an invaluable gift that educators often do not have time for during the school year. “Reading” can include fiction, non-fiction, periodicals, audiobooks, and podcasts. Your library usually offers free audiobooks. Podcasts are freely available online for any topic. Find a topic of interest and dive in.

Make it happen: Take your child to the local library. Get a library card if you do not have one already. Spend time with your library media specialist to identify books that interest your learner. Be sure to make literacy a habit by returning to the library every two to three weeks and get lost in the library. Most libraries also offer summer reading challenges to entice your budding reader.

Write

Writing is also a literacy practice that can also be an important tool for future growth. I don’t think we can spend enough time writing and learning how to express ourselves. I also view “writing” as being a broad concept that includes many creative processes. With my own children we make stop motion animation movies, creating worlds in Minecraft, paint, make music, etc. Find different ways to allow your child to express herself or himself using the medium of their choice. It doesn’t matter if it is print, pixel, palette, or phase. Help your child find ways to express themselves to their full capabilities.

Make it happen: Start up a regular practice of writing or journaling each day. This could be a spiral bound notebook in which they write document thinking during the day. Keep it simple by perhaps using only three prompts each day (What did I learn yesterday? How did someone help me? How did I help someone else?). It shouldn’t be too taxing. This journaling can be text, sketches, etc. You might also consider building up a website to conduct this journaling. There are a number of free, easy to use options online that your child can use to build up a domain of their own for journaling and expressing themselves. If you’re going down this route (and you should) please get in touch with me for more support. :)

Play

Provide unstructured time in which you provide opportunities for your child to explore their own interests. This should be viewed as “down time” in which they can explore, think, reflect, and get their imagination flowing. This may include playing Legos in their room for hours. This may also be building and exploring in the backyard. Play can be individual and also collaborative. Play is essential as it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of your child. This important time is sometimes frowned upon in our schools. In addition, our hurried lifestyles, attention to academics and enrichment often takes precedence over free, child-centered play.

Make it happen: Generally, if you’re trying to make this happen…you’re trying too hard. To learn a bit more, read this post in Parents or this guidance from the National Association for the Education of Young Children. If you want to get involved, check out this guidance from Derek Sivers as he outlines long, unstructured times for him to spend time playing and exploring with his child. As life gets hectic and we are drawn into our work and devices, I try to find times to unplug and play with my children. You should find this time as well.

Make

As a possible balance between play and structure, making usually identifies time to build, engineer, code, and make. In making, there are opportunities to find or make the right toys and tools to allow your child to inquire about their world. Making is an intellectual challenge of creatively overcoming limitations of tools or systems to achieve novel and clever outcomes. Making can involve crafting, cooking, knitting, remixing, or working with digital code or content. In my home, we’ve made projects with inexpensive light emitting diodes. We’ve also spent time learning how to code on Code.org or learning more about anything through Khan Academy. In the past we’ve played with rockets and some backyard science. Many schools and libraries are adding makerspaces to encourage this activity. There are also lots of inexpensive ways to start up a makerspace in your house or neighborhood.

Make this happen: Start by investigating the interests of your child. I’ve found that YouTube offers videos from a variety of makers to help you start hunting down ideas. Each week in my newsletter, I include a video from YouTube that has me thinking, and a section on a “Make” for the week. After you find an interest, start searching online to find low cost ways to get started. If you want to start coding, play with an hour of code. Also check out this list of resources and this game from Google focused on digital safety and citizenship. If you prefer more hands on makes, Instructables and Makezine offer tons of options. This list from Common Sense provides even more options.

Interest based inquiry

With all of these options, the key is to carve out time in your summer to get to know your child, and let them explore their interests. You may choose to share your interests and let them get to know you. This might also be a great time to push pause on your own work and reflect on the experiences your child is having.

Let me know if this helps out in the comments below. Feel free to share via social media. You can find my social connections up top on this website. If you want more info, subscribe to my weekly newsletter for more tips, tricks, and tools as I make sense of technology, education, and literacy.


Originally published at W. Ian O’Byrne.