Summer Fun Can Keep Skills Sharp

by Sharon Duke Estroff

During the school year, academic skills are reinforced constantly via homework. Summertime is a completely different story as most kids hardly pick up a pencil until September.

No wonder studies show that students forget as much as 80 percent of what they were taught the previous year during the hot summer months.

So how do we help keep our children’s hard-earned school skills fresh over the summer? By disguising academic reinforcement as summer fun and games!

Fortify Language Skills with...
A wooden block. Write the words who, what, where, when, why and how on each face of a block. After reading a book or chapter with your child, take turns rolling the block and asking and answering story-related question, starting with the word on top. For example, who are the characters in the story? Where do they live?

Magazines and comic books. Even kids who cringe at the thought of reading a book cover-to-cover jump at the chance to flip through comics and magazines. Sneak in extra reading practice by stocking up on kid-friendly periodicals.

Shaving cream. Cover a tabletop with plastic wrap and make a gooey shaving cream palette where little fingers can practice letters, spelling words and handwriting.

Mad Libs. These wacky fill-in-the-blank activities provide a fun and effective way to reinforce parts of speech. (And remember fart and booger are nouns).

A timer. Designate a few times a week as Family D.E.A.R. time (Drop Everything And Read). Set the timer for 20 or 30 minutes of silent literary bliss.

Index cards. Write the letters of a mystery word on blank index cards; scramble them up and have kids try to decode the secret word.

CD player. Round up the whole family to participate in “musical stories,” an adaptation of musical chairs. All participants sit around a table with paper and a pencil in front of them. When the music starts, they begin writing a creative story, stopping when it ceases. Participants then stand up and move to the chair at their left, leaving their story behind. When the tunes resume they add to the story at their new seat. Keep going until players are back where they started and can see what became of their original tales.

Sidewalk chalk. Writing your spelling words on plain old paper may be snooze city, but scrawling them across the driveway is a totally different story. Chalk up the mess to academic advancement and let the rain take care of the clean up.

Fortify Math Skills with...
A deck of cards. A version of the card game “War” provides an ideal means of solidifying basic facts. Begin by removing all face cards and placing the pile face down on the table. Players pick two cards each, then add, subtract or multiply the two numbers together (depending on the skill you’re practicing). The high scorer collects all played cards.

A soccer ball. Use a permanent marker to randomly fill the hexagonal sections of a soccer ball with the numbers 0-10 (repeating the numbers until covered). Throw the ball to your child and have him add, subtract or multiply the numbers closest to each thumb. See how many times you can toss the ball back and forth without making a mistake.

A basketball hoop. Get basic math facts in all-star shape with a slam-dunk competition. Every time your child answers a math question correctly let him take a shot. Offer a prize when he reaches a designated number of points.

Beads and string. Fractions can make a fashion statement when kids string necklaces with colored beads. Challenge your child to make a necklace that is half blue and half red, or have her design her own creation and figure out its fractional composition.

A calculator. Kids love anything that involves a race, so they’re all over the Calculator vs. The Brain game. Assign a “caller,” a “calculator” and a “brain” at the start of each round. The caller states a math fact; the “calculator” manually punches the problem into his number crunching device (even if he already knows the answer), while the brain solves the problem mentally. The first player to offer the correct answer wins the round. Keep switching roles. (Hint: you’ll know this game is working when kids start begging to be the “brain.”)

M&M’s. Give your child a math story problem and have her “act it out” using the colorful candies. For example: I had six M&M’s and my mom gave me eight more. How many do I have now? Subtraction problems work especially well when M&M’s are involved (for obvious reasons).

Loose change. Have children grab a handful of loose change, estimate the value and count out the true amount. Offer a 10 percent prize for close guesses.

Sharon Duke Estroff is a parenting columnist and author. Her book Can I Have a Cell Phone for Hanukkah? (Random House, $12.99) will be published this October.