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Oregon Family Magazine

Warding off summer slide

07/10/2015 14:44 ● By Sandy Kauten
Have you ever hidden vegetables in your child’s favorite food just to get them to consume something green? A similar strategic tactic can be used when it comes to staying connected to learning over the summer. By incorporating educational activities into your family's summertime fun, your students can get their daily dose of learning—and they might not even know it!

Parents and kids look forward to summer break for vacation, but it is also important to plan for activities to keep learning alive. Did you know that students who are not engaged in educational activities during break may experience the “summer slide"—sliding backward academically?

Research from the National Summer Learning Association shows students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of the summer than on the same tests at the beginning of the summer. As a parent, you can help halt the summer “brain drain” by incorporating reading, math, and other school subjects into family activities to help keep kids engaged in learning, allowing them to hold onto previously learned knowledge and be better prepared for the new school year.

The good news is, when it comes to summer learning, a little goes a long way. Investing even 30 minutes each day in educational activities will give your child a big advantage come September. To help prevent summer learning loss here a few suggestions for family-friendly activities:

Vacations offer learning opportunities
Traveling to a new destination offers an opportunity for students to explore the history, agriculture, government and culture of a vacation spot. Have your child research the places you'll visit, read maps and prepare a list of historic sites, local restaurants and other attractions to visit. Enhance math skills on a car trip by working out the mileage between locations and estimating how long the trip will take.

Take a learning “stay-cation"
Be a tourist in your own town. Check with the local Chamber of Commerce for guidebooks about your town, then visit a local park or historic site and ask your child to research the location ahead of time. A trip to a local museum or zoo can become a mini-field trip. When you get home, encourage your student to write about their day.

Service-based learning
Summer time is a good time for local service activities to help your child learn the importance of making a difference in their community. Whether it's cleaning up a nearby park or assisting at a local animal shelter, you can show your child the benefits of volunteering for a charitable organization. Even encouraging your child to assist on a smaller scale— by mowing the lawn or washing the car for a neighbor—makes them feel invested in their local community.

Exercise the body as well as the brain
Studies show physical activity not only helps grow strong muscles but also strong brains, so make sure kids get out and play. Riding bikes, shooting basketball hoops, walking, jogging and swimming are all great outdoor activities to stimulate the mind and the body. So send your kids outside to play—bonus points if they make up their own games!

Performing arts
Music, art, and theater help to foster creativity, and there are plenty of cultural activities for children to engage in during the summer months. Try visiting local art and photography exhibits, music and cultural festivals, or community theater performances. Maybe your student will be inspired to write a play or musical, put on a puppet show or act out some of their favorite story books.

Read every day
Reading is important year round, so don't forget to set aside time each day this summer for reading with your child. Summer break is a great time to visit your local library and explore the shelves together, when children have more time to explore their interests in various topics and enhance their knowledge. Encourage your child to start a book club with friends—another great way to practice interpreting what they read as well as promote their public speaking skills.

Record summer memories
Promote creative writing, boost vocabulary, and practice grammar and spelling by having your child keep a journal about their summer activities. Ask them to write about their favorite summer events, new friends, or the books they are reading. They could even combine the journal with a scrapbook full of mementos and photos from the summer.

Money and math
Give math skills a boost over the summer, and have your student operate an old fashioned lemonade stand. Have your child determine the ingredients and supplies necessary to stock the stand, and then estimate the cost. Following a lemonade recipe uses math to measure, mix and pour. Once in business, your students will have to figure out how much to charge, count change for customers and keep records.

Family game night
Board games are not only fun, but can also help enhance learning in a variety of ways. Set aside one night a week for family game night. Trivia games are good for teaching history, geography and other topics. Scrabble boosts spelling and vocabulary, while chess supports analytical and problem-solving skills. You could encourage your students to create a scavenger hunt around the house for the whole family with riddles to find objects and prizes.

Implementing just a few of these suggestions into your summer break can have huge academic rewards for your children when they return to school. Summer is also for family fun, so remember to keep things low-key, simple, and relaxing!

Courtney Whittington is a 4th grade Gifted and Talented teacher at Oregon Connections Academy (ORCA) from Eugene, teaching since 2005 under a charter with the Scio School District. ORCA is now the state's largest tuition-free online public charter school with enrollment of over 4,000 students during the 2014-15 school year. For more information, call 800-382-6010, or visit