Reading charts and math workbooks don’t work for our kids. To keep their brains growing and learning all summer, you’ve got to think differently — and get messy. Steal these ideas for low-cost, hands-on summer learning ideas from a mother who doesn’t sit still.
The summer slide is real — and real hard on kids with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) and learning disabilities, who work diligently and tirelessly for each and every academic gain they make. The last thing anyone wants is to waste three months re-teaching and re-learning all of the lessons from last spring. Yet you’re not sure where or how to begin a summer learning program. You also don’t want to spend your summer battling with your child. To be honest, neither did I, which is why I developed this summer learning plan for my ADHD: creative, fun activity ideas to help your child maintain their reading, writing, and mathematical gains through the summer.
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Simple fact: Your child won’t read unless she sees you reading. So pick up some books — together. Hit the library — the biggest, flashiest branch in the area with the most books. My sons won’t read Island of the Blue Dolphins(#CommissionsEarned) for any amount of cash money, but they sure will devour books that interest them: nonfiction books on alien and Sasquatch sightings for one kid; nonfiction books on frogs and toads for another. Graphic novels count as books, as do compilations of comic books. Then come home and read, read, read. Set aside screen-free time and hang a hammock or two to make sure it happens.
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Keep a Journal
Journals are a great way to keep focused, keep a record, and keep writing. I keep a garden journal - the more your kids can see you doing the things you’re asking them to do, the better. One of my sons keeps a journal called “August’s Amphibian Book” in which we write down all the things he does, thinks, or learns about amphibians in a given day or week. You can ask your child to focus on and write about Minecraft or Fortnite games, Lego builds, Pokemon cards, cool crafts, cute animals — the list is endless. All that matters is that they’re putting pen to paper on a regular basis.
Math is really important — and really hard — to do over the summer. Instead of shoving numbers in where they don’t belong, go online and pick a fun, interesting, rewards-based math program that your kids can do on their own time. If it isn’t inherently rewards-based, make it so by offering your own incentives. For little ones, I recommend Mathseeds and Miacademy; we also like IXL and Khan Academy for kids who don’t need bells, whistles, or in-game rewards.
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Go Find Some Science
Chances are you have a museum or park (preferably state or national) nearby. And chances are that museum or park has programs for kids — programs that will teach them about nature. Make a calendar of these events and attend as many as you can. Range out some — up to a three-hour drive — and see if you can find some interesting programs farther afield.
Look for local gem and mineral mines and/or shows. Seek out fossil dig sites. Go to the aquarium — and hit the shows and demonstrations. Consider attending local reptile trade shows, which can be hotbeds of science if you ask questions do a little research beforehand. Mostly, get outside, get muddy, and see what you can find on the trail — or even your own backyard. My budding herpetologist finds many a toad without leaving home.
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Make that Beach Trip Work for You
Find a beach with a museum/aquarium/science center. Go there, and plan your visit around the demonstrations and talks, even if that means you just get to watch feeding time (feeding turtles can be very exciting). Ask your kids to write down questions beforehand, then ask them to the staff, who generally are happy to oblige interested, engaged children. Buy a plankton sieve and use it to discover tiny sea life. If you really want to have fun, ask your kids to draw some of the plankton and add the pictures to a family journal. The journal can serve both as a wonderful memory of your summer and yet another chance to get your children writing.
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You’re Going to Need A Lot of Nets
You’re also going to need to get over your aversion to creepy crawlies. Bigger, looser nets (the kind big-box stores sell), work well for frogs and toads. Check out some library books and learn to identify what you catch. More fine-mesh nets work well for minnows and tadpoles — you can get these nets cheap in the fishing section of your sporting-goods store. For little kids, who tend to embrace animal capture like tiny Teddy Roosevelts, this is a chance to talk and read about metamorphosis. For older kids, it’s a chance to discuss anatomy and anatomical changes. To go after fireflies or salamanders, use large, fine-mesh aquarium nets. Identify what you find (there’s a lot to do there, from learning to use an index to practicing alphabetical order on up) and let it go.
Check out SciStarter, which will help you find a citizen science project to join. Citizen science projects welcome all participants. And those participants all do the same things to achieve workable data that “helps scientists come to real conclusions. A wide community of scientists and volunteers work together and share data to which the public, as well as scientists, have access.” There are 275 projects your family can do at home or online, and you can match projects to your child’s interest. Older kids may want to transcribe letters by 19th century botanists; younger kids may want to play games and take surveys, or learn to identify frog calls. This is a great thing to do because it helps real scientists collect data, and it’s a great journaling project.
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Explore Your Local History
Unless your town descended whole from an alien spacecraft, you’ve got some history going on, and someone is working to preserve it. Find those people — likely in a small, dusty museum or historical society somewhere — and visit them. Have your kids prepare questions (written, so they won’t forget!), which the historians will no doubt delight in answering. Attend battle re-enactments in the vicinity, and learn about the wars they are remembering. Don’t be afraid to buy some merch, either — you’d be amazed how much a Union soldier cap and pistol motivates a kid to learn more about the Civil War! If the Revolution is involved, do what parents nationwide are doing: turn on Hamilton(#CommissionsEarned). Hey, it’s the reason my 8 year old can tell you who exactly stormed the redoubts at Yorktown and why that was important.
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Just Give It Up and Geek Out
Kids with ADHD learn best by doing, right? There are plenty of organizations for that. Check with all the living history people at the battle re-enactments; they might be thrilled to enlist a drummer boy (or girl) and they may even have equipment to lend out. Is your daughter really swooning over colonial dress? Get her some books, a sewing teacher, and a sewing machine, and start taking her to re-enactments. The research on this stuff is meticulous, catalogued, and available on the Internet. You can also contact the Society for Creative Anachronism, whose members love to teach any child over the age of 8 to use a sword. History flows around us all like water, providing so many opportunities to learn — and even more people who want to teach.
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Check out poetry from the library. Younger kids will like Shel Silverstein; older kids may like authors like Eliot, Pound, Bishop, Atwood, or even just a collection of modern poetry. Make a practice of reading it out loud to each other. Your kids will roll their eyes at first, and keep rolling them, and roll them some more. But, eventually, they’ll come around — especially if you offer a really great treat for every poem they memorize. One more thing they can write down in their journal — along with illustrations!
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