How to learn this summer without breaking a sweat

I wish I could send my newly graduated kindergartners to first grade tomorrow. Yes, I know they look forward to summer vacation almost as much as I do, but I also worry they might forget some of what they learned this year. Letters, sounds, numbers, listening - all the things they will need when they begin school again next August.

However, it isn't just kindergartners who forget things over the summer. Older students lose ground too. In fact, it is often true that while bright students keep learning over the summer, average kids just maintain skills. But struggling students - those who can least afford it - actually lose skills during summer vacation.

With that in mind, parents, grandparents and caregivers might want to consider planning activities this summer to help keep skills sharp for their school age children. However, learning doesn't have to look or feel like school. Honest.

• Something to talk about

Simply having a conversation with children provides some of the best learning they get. They learn to take turns in a conversation. They learn new words and hear good grammar. They learn to ask and answer questions. Sometimes conversations are easier if you are working on a project together. Yard work, crafts, fishing, cooking, building or fixing things around the house provide great openers.

• On the road again

Planning a road trip this summer? Even a short one? Involve the children. Get out the maps and tour books. Build some background knowledge before you go. Get to the library or bookstore and find books about the places you'll visit. Help children search the Internet. Older kids can plot the route on a map and figure mileage. Let them calculate the miles per gallon at each gasoline fill up.

Travel journals and scrapbooks are great for every age. Even the youngest children can draw pictures of things they see and dictate a sentence or two telling about their picture. Older children can keep diaries or daybooks on their own. Pack a few supplies like a disposable camera, markers, crayons, scissors and a glue stick so kids can include photographs, postcards or brochures in their books.

One of my best parenting tips for traveling with children is to give them an allowance to spend on souvenirs. For our family, it minimized the begging and whining at every stop. As little as $10 that your child can spend as they wish on vacation may do the trick. One of our daughters would nickel-and-dime her money away on bubble gum and novelty pencils. The other would buy one nice stuffed animal. They learned to set priorities, make choices and live with the consequences.

And don't forget to let the children send picture postcards to Grandma and Grandpa and their friends back home.

• Food for thought

Cooking is a natural way to practice both reading and math. It reinforces following step-by-step directions, measurement and best of all, you get to eat the results! Let kids help plan menus and make weekly shopping lists. Many beginning writers can spell well enough to write a short list. In addition, think of all the language and math children can learn at a grocery store: a quart of milk, a dozen eggs, a pound of cheese. Children can also estimate the total and figure out the change.

• In the cards

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of playing cards with my family on camping trips. Hearts, Crazy Eights, War, Go Fish, even games of Solitaire reinforce number concepts, patterns and the following of rules. In addition, children also learn how to lose now and then - good practice for more serious disappointments later in life. And cards are cheap and really easy to pack.

• Right here in River City

Trips to the Children's Museum (, the Nevada State Railroad Museum and the State Museum ( are fun excursions for the family. Check their Web site for special events and programs. Hint: fourth graders study Nevada history. Give your child a head start.

• Books, of course

As an avid reader and former reading specialist, I can't ignore the power of books. Be sure they are everywhere your child spends time - baskets of books in the bedroom, in the bathroom, in the car. And don't forget the air-conditioned Carson City Library on hot summer afternoons - a great place to while away an hour or so every week.

While you're there, pick up a good chapter book to read aloud with your child. You might try the classics like "Where the Red Fern Grows" or "Charlotte's Web." In addition, you can't beat Beverly Cleary's Ramona books or anything by Roald Dahl. If you like "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," try "The BFG," "James and the Giant Peach" or "Fantastic Mr. Fox." The children's librarian can point you toward stacks of wonderful books that will thrill and delight both you and your child.

The best thing about these activities, of course, is that you get to spend time with one of the most important and interesting people on the planet - your own child. Your investment of time will pay off in school and in years to come in more ways than you can imagine. And who knows, you just might learn something too.

n Lorie Smith Schaefer teaches kindergarten at Seeliger School where she learns something new every day.


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