With constant pressure to have kids do more in school, and do it sooner, parents who spent their own summers playing outside until the streetlights came on might feel compelled to push academics over free play.
Good news: You can do both at the same time.
Keeping your childs mind sharp in July and August doesnt have to mean sitting at a table doing work sheets or flashcards. Educators recommend that parents incorporate learning into play and plan fun day trips to give kids a chance to stretch their minds while still enjoying summers more relaxed schedule.
Its going to be beautiful weather, and parents should take advantage of not having the constraints of formal school, said Colin Reinhard, a math specialist for Montgomery County (Md.) Public Schools.
We talked to several educators and professionals about how parents can slip learning into their kids summer vacation without making it seem like a chore.
Here are some of their suggestions.
Read, read, read, then read more
Even the youngest students have suggested summer reading lists. Pat Fege, the language arts coordinator for Fairfax County (Va.) Public Schools, suggests that parents read with their children, both young and old. With high school students, even if you dont have time to read the whole book yourself, ask your child to recommend a particularly interesting or difficult chapter, then talk to him about what you have read.
The Allen County Public Library has a childrens summer reading program through July 27 that offers kids prizes for reading. On the librarys website, www.acpl.lib.in.us/kids, there are suggested books to read, upcoming programs and a spot for grown-ups.
Write your way to stronger family ties
For elementary school students, Fege suggests writing letters to relatives, either by hand or email. Have the child use the proper friendly letter format. That means include the date, a greeting, a body and a closing, as well as correct spelling and punctuation.
Older children could interview a relative, asking questions about her own childhood, then write a memory book to give as a present, she said. A bonus: They will get a lesson in family history and have quality time with a grandparent, aunt or uncle. More reluctant writers can get their writing in short doses by making a photo album from a trip or the entire summer, and writing captions to go with each photo.
Venture beyond the exhibits
Some of us have seen the Hope Diamond and dinosaur bones during trips to the Smithsonian in Washington, but museums have so much more to offer.
There are several museums in Fort Wayne and northeast Indiana that offer a wealth of information for students. Here are a few:
The Fort Wayne Museum of Art, 311 E. Main St., offers exhibits from both local and national artists. It is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free every Sunday and Thursday.
The History Center, 302 E. Berry St., maintains a collection of artifacts, photographs and documents on the history of Fort Wayne and Allen County. Check out local inventors of everyday items we use and visit the old jail cells. It is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, noon to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. the first Sunday of each month.
Science Central, 1950 N. Clinton St., provides hands-on science education for all ages. Check out its new exhibit, Mars in 3D, which shows images from Mars. It is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Make the beach your classroom
Lindsay Knippenberg, an educator fellow at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, suggests getting Beachcombers Companion, a virtual beachcombing and collection kit that is especially good for elementary school-age children.
The kit, which is $16.95 at www.beachcomberscompanion.org, includes 50 waterproof cards with photos of common Atlantic coast invertebrates on one side and facts about them on the other.
For older scientists, Knippenberg recommends the Marine Debris Tracker app for smartphones. It is free and allows teens to log debris they have found along the beach.
Get a jump on college preparations
High school students in any grade can spend part of their summer preparing for college.
If, in the transition to high school, your child didnt do very well in a subject, he can take the class again between his freshman and sophomore years, says Colleen Ganjian, the founder of D.C. College Counseling in Arlington, Va. It wont change the grade on his record, but admissions officials will like to see that he made the effort.
Rising juniors, she says, should focus on preparing for the SAT and/or ACT and try to find a summer activity or a course at a local community college that relates to what they want to study in college. Ganjian recommends that rising seniors try to complete all of their college applications during the summer.
But now is not the best time to take a campus tour, Ganjian said. It is better to go when school is in session to get a feel for the campus.
Get a move on
Patty Swanson, a physical education teacher in Prince William County, Va., likes inexpensive or free street games to keep kids moving on days when you cant get to the pool.
Tie a tennis ball to the end of a rope and twirl it around, having your child jump over the rope as it passes. Create an obstacle course with things you have around the garage. Or play a game of tag with old plastic grocery bags. Have the children put bags in their pockets, and the appointed it person tries to get as many bags as possible.
Math is all around
Ride a train, Colin Reinhard says, and have your child estimate how many passengers it holds, its average speed or the total number of passengers on a busy day.
Closer to home, a deck of cards is a great math tool for practicing probability. Ask your child what the odds are of drawing a red card, a diamond or an ace. You can also have him draw two cards and add, subtract, multiply or divide the numbers to reinforce basic math facts.
Make time to practice planning
Summer is a great time to have your child sharpen the planning skills she uses every day in school to finish her work on time or figure out how to get started on, and complete a project, says Kristina Hardy, a neuropsychologist at Childrens National Medical Center in Washington.
Have your child come up with a research project about a topic that interests her, such as the solar system, says Hardy. Then use that topic as a jumping-off point to get her thinking about what steps she needs to bring to complete the project, the order in which to take them and how to budget her time.
For example, she can plan a trip to the moon and figure out what she would need to take and how long it would take to get there. Trips to the library or a museum to do research can also be planning exercises: How do you get there, how long will you be there, what do you need for the trip?
Terri Richardson of The Journal Gazette contributed to this article.