Summer Learning!!!! Who is excited about workbooks and making your kids sit at little desks and complete daily math and spelling practice?? Anyone…anyone? Embarrassed to say that I’m totally raising my hand…actually, not just raising it, but also waving it obnoxiously and shouting oooh, oooh, call on me…you know the type.
This definitely stems from my childhood love of playing school. In an ideal Linzi world, summer would be my opportunity to set up my little pretend traditional school with my kids. Give me ALL the worksheets and a chalkboard, and maybe one of those cool teacher answer books that go along with the kids’ textbooks…yeah, I definitely need one of those…Heaven!
Not so much my kiddos’ idea of heaven, though. I will admit… I know it’s also not what their brains need during the summer. Multiple trips to the teacher supply store paired with sitting and listening to my unqualified teaching lessons doesn’t really work for them…or probably for most kids…other than my cabbage patch dolls that sat nicely every day of summer school back in 1984. So….we try to find more creative ways of learning during the summer, plenty of time and space to get bored, and a few traditional learning activities to make mama happy.
Here are our tried and true favorite “tools” and if you’re looking for more play and toy inspiration for the summer, check out Best Toys for All Ages: Our Ultimate Gift Guide for Kids.
The Best Toys For Summer Learning
1. Travel Journal
My absolute favorite learning opportunity for summer is travel. Travel across town to a new park to explore, travel to a new hiking trail, travel to see grandma in another state, or travel to the other side of the world…it really doesn’t matter where or how far, but I love that summer provides an opportunity to be somewhere new. My favorite for documenting trips is this Go! Adventure Journal for younger ones or older ones who find it a chore to write. It’s silly and very playful. A cool blank journal or this Kids’ Travel Journal are also good options.
2. Fact Practice Wrap-Ups
I’m all for open-ended play and problem-based learning, but facts are facts, and sometimes kids have to memorize them. In my opinion, practicing these facts over the summer during down time is not such a bad thing. These Math Wrap-Up toys were introduced to me by my brilliant math education friend as a fun way for the kiddos to practice their math facts. So many good things about these — 1. They’re tactile and my kids love the physical act of wrapping the string. 2. They can check their own work by seeing if the string lines up on the back. 3. Super portable — great for restaurants, the car, can carry one always in my purse. 4. Lots of learning options — adding, subtracting, multiplication, division, fractions…they even have some for memorizing the capitals and states.
3. Typing Games
Last year we got my son his own Chromebook and made it a priority during the summer to teach him keyboarding. He worked on Typingclub.com (this program is playful and awesome)and because my kids will do pretty much ANYTHING for ANY type of screen time, by the end of the summer, he was comfortably typing…as in more comfortable typing than writing! It has been a huge help for his 5th-grade year, but honestly…I wish we would have started even earlier. My 5-year-old begged to do it with him last summer.
4. Make-Them-Think Math Books
How Many? and Which One Doesn’t Belong? are more fabulous suggestions by my PhD math education friend. I actually bought them for my 11-year-old to spark interesting “math conversations” with his younger 6-year-old brother. They are very simple (good for all ages) but written to get the reader to think critically and look at questions from different perspectives with no right answers. Another good (but more traditional) way of encouraging math conversations is by incorporating Bedtime Math into your nightly routine. Three levels of questions for each problem, so good for different ages or siblings to work on together.
5. Family Card Games
Card games are probably my favorite way of playing with my children right now. My 11-year-old became obsessed this year with the 24 Game, primarily because of his amazing math teacher. So fun to watch him practice and get better and better. Sleeping Queens has some basic addition practice built into the game for little ones, and Sushi Go (a total family favorite) requires some strategy in the decision-making as well as addition practice keeping score. Set is just a good plain workout for anyone’s brain, but accommodations can easily be made for little ones to play too.
6. Books, Books, Books!
Some years I give my kids a local bookstore gift card and let them pick out a new series to get them excited for summer reading (so fun to tear through a great book series when you have big chunks of summer free time). Other years, we have made a big start-of-the-summer library trip. This year, I’m going to do an Amazon gift card (to be used JUST for books), and I got an Audible membership. I try to limit screen time during road trips and air travel, and audiobooks with headphones are a nice compromise.
7. Outdoor Exploring Tools
It’s hard when living in the city, but we do try and get our kids exploring some type of natural environment as much as we can in the summer. Whether it’s the beach, a local creek, hiking trails, or grandparents’ back yards….getting our kiddos to play and observe their environment is such a fun way to see those little brains churning.
8. Puzzle Games
We are kind of obsessed with Kanoodle in our house right now. Spacial puzzling for all ages, and a perfect size to have in your bag for on-the-go summer fun.
9. Drawing-Story Writing Set
Drawing and story writing supplies are toy “staples” for our family that get used ALL the time. My 6-year-old got this very special 72 count Prismacolor set for his birthday and he Loves Loves Loves it. So much fun to make art and stories with high-quality colored pencils. This travel case goes with us everywhere, but this beautiful journal would also be lovely for story writers and artists.
10. Building Toys
Spacial skills, creative engineering practice, problem-solving, imagination play — all good things that come from building play. I try to ALWAYS have some sort of building toy out and available — when my kids get SUPER-bored and have NOTHING to do, they almost always find their way to building (especially if I don’t prompt them, but they just find the activity themselves). Magnatiles, wooden blocks, and Legos are their all-time favs.
Obviously, there are an UNENDING number of fun things you can do to encourage summer learning: science experiments, cooking projects, theater outings, museum visits, inventing new board games, inventing ANYTHING, art play, puppet shows….the list could go on and on. If you’re looking for even more play and toy inspiration check out Best Toys for All Ages: Our Ultimate Gift Guide for Kids. Please chime in with any of your favorite toys or activities that keep your kiddos’ little brains active. I would be THRILLED to hear ideas for new ways of thinking about summer learning/playing or new toys to try.