Ten ways to keep your kids up to speed over summer

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJune 6, 2014 

summer reading

"She loves the library," says Gretchen McFarland of Sumas about her granddaughter Gabriella Waltz, 3, of Bellingham in the children's section of the Bellingham Public Library, Wednesday morning, June 16, 2010. The library has summer reading programs for toddlers to teens.

PHILIP A. DWYER — THE BELLINGHAM HERALD Buy Photo

When lockers have been cleaned out and that last school bell rings, releasing students from the day-to-day assignments of the school year, summer vacation is all anyone can think about.

A break from the stresses of every day classes can be a good thing, but studies have linked the long break with losing some of the knowledge gained over the school year.

Charisse Berner, a director of teaching and learning for Bellingham School District, said she understands wanting to keep kids on track academically, but it is also important that students get a renewing break from what feels like homework.

"They need that sense of shoulders down, to take a big deep breath and really enjoy themselves," Berner said.

Here are some fun ways to incorporate educational activities into summer vacation without making it seem like work.

1. READ FOR 30 MINUTES EACH DAY

There are many strategies to promote reading over the summer, one of which is to simply make sure to take the time to read with your kids.

"Reading to and with your child for 30 minutes a day has always been a bonus," Berner said.

Families can set aside time while on vacation where each person can read their own book for half an hour or everyone can read together.

One idea might be to pick out a series of novels to read together during a long road trip or each night during the summer.

The Whatcom and Bellingham library systems also offer summer reading programs for kids to keep track of how much and how often they read during the break.

2. USE SURROUNDINGS TO DEVELOP VOCABULARY

Whether it's a vacation at the beach or a hike in the mountains, chances are your summer trip can offer kids the ability to pick up some new vocabulary.

"Play with your environment, whatever is around you," Berner said. "Colors, textures, plants and weather systems are a few things you could talk about."

Even a walk through town or a trip to a local museum can present the opportunity for children to ask about the world around them. Help describe things they ask about, allow them to learn how things work and help them figure out the names of plants or natural formations they encounter.

3. KEEP A JOURNAL OR WRITE TO A PEN PAL

Encourage kids to write snail mail letters to a relative or friend who lives out of state to improve their writing skills. Becoming a pen pal with someone will keep them writing and give them something to look forward to.

Another way to keep them writing is to encourage journaling about travels, things they would like to do over the summer or things that are special to them, Berner said.

A journal could be used to store small mementos they pick up while on vacation, like a leaf or flower, and they could write about their discoveries.

4. BOARD GAMES AND PUZZLES

Games and puzzles are great for mathematical thinking and problem solving, Berner said.

Puzzles can help with visual thinking, and games like Monopoly or other games with point systems can help children learn and keep up their math skills.

"Some families set up a family game night during the year," Berner said. "If they don't have one already, summer would be a great time to establish that routine."

5. TURN ON SUBTITLES

Something Berner's family has tried recently is turning on subtitles while watching television or movies.

"Try watching 'Frozen' in French, or Spanish," she said. "It's fun to play with a second language that way, or enhance a language if that's their first language."

Families can also discuss what goes into making a film, from script writing to costume design.

"Think about what it takes to create some of the entertainment we enjoy," Berner said.

6. OUTDOORS AS SCIENCE

While enjoying a camping trip at the lake, near the ocean or on the river, explore the environment.

Many campgrounds offer guided tours or presentations - try and work in time to take a nature walk with a park ranger or someone who can teach you about the botany of the area you're staying at, Berner said.

While working at the North Cascades Institute, Berner said she enjoyed having the chance to take some breaks and learn about plant life with folks who could lead educational tours.

7. VISIT A MUSEUM

Museums are geared for learning, and many offer special programs for children.

When possible, take a guided tour at a museum while on vacation or drop by one of the various exhibits in Whatcom County.

The Whatcom Museum in Bellingham offers a Family Interactive Gallery, with classes and activities for young children.

The Mindport museum, just a few blocks away, offers a wide variety of interactive art exhibits where touching the art is encouraged.

At the Spark Museum of Electrical Invention visitors can listen to a docent explain the history of radios and electrical devices, and every weekend families have the chance to watch the loud and scary MegaZapper Electrical Show.

For a list of other art galleries and museums in the county, visit Bellingham.org/activities/museums-galleries.

8. PLANT A GARDEN

Gardening is a great way to get kids outdoors and teach them about nutrition and the environment.

The young gardeners may need to use some math skills to figure out how many seeds of a particular plant can fit in a garden bed without crowding each other out. Get kids to read the seed packet directions for how much sunlight and water a particular vegetable or flower needs to keep them involved in the process.

"This community seems so rich with people who love their environment and the science behind it," Berner said. "There are many places to go for tips about how to grow a garden."

9. PICK UP A HOBBY OR MAKE CRAFTS

Whether it's trying to play an instrument for fun or learning to do a new craft, summer is a great time for kids to try something new, Berner said.

For instance, knitting is a fun skill that can help with manual dexterity and counting.

"Those are all things that help enhance fine motor skills, things that are fun and helpful in school, but aren't 'school-ish,'" Berner said.

Families can find plenty of recipes online for crafts, including directions for making sculpting Play-Doh and the amusing and incredible liquid solid commonly known as oobleck.

10. LOOK TO THE SKIES

Something Whatcom County residents don't get to see much during the overcast days of colder seasons is the clear night sky.

Summer typically gives Whatcom families a few chances to get outside and see the moon and stars on clear nights. Sometimes on a good clear night you might find people with telescopes and other specialized equipment set up in a local park, and some groups may be happy to share the view with interested passersby, Berner said.

"You may have to stay up kind of late, but it's really fun to take advantage of this phenomenal equipment," Berner said. "It may be equipment your family doesn't own, but you can enjoy it with some guidance for a period of time, whether it's studying birds or studying the stars."

Reach Samantha Wohlfeil at Samantha.Wohlfeil@bellinghamherald.com.

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