prevent summer learning lossSummer enrichment activities that encourage school skills and prevent summer learning loss.

This segment originally aired on WGN Morning News, Chicago, featuring Beth Engelman of Mommy on a Shoestring.

Neighborhood outdoor movie night: Encourage your kids to organize a neighborhood summer movie night. You set up the projector and screen (available at most big box stores) while the kids are in charge of choosing an appropriate movie, creating and delivering invitations to neighbors and managing the concession stand. Kids can “sell” bottles of water/soft drinks, popcorn, nachos, and their home-made super cute Popcorn Cupcakes.

To make popcorn cupcakes, place vanilla and chocolate cake in small popcorn containers. Add frosting and top with “faux popcorn” (white and yellow mini marshmallows).

Poetry Blocks: Turn boxes into a cool poetry block activity that inspires kids to get creative with words and language. Simply gather an assortment of boxes (shoeboxes, cereal boxes, packing boxes, etc.) paint them with acrylic or chalkboard paint and then use chalk (or stickers) to write different words on each side. Be sure to use plenty of nouns and pronouns (I, the dog, a tree) verbs (run, walks, sways) and add flourish with adverbs and adjectives (big, quickly, happy, etc.)  The more words you write, the more opportunity your kids will have to build their own poems and stories. Note: This idea was inspired by the Edmonton Poetry Festival.

Soccer Ball Bowling: It wasn’t until I became a teacher that I realized how important bowling is for understanding basic addition and subtraction. To make your own bowling game, fill 10 recycled bottles with water and then add food coloring. Use a kickball or soccer ball when playing. Be sure to reinforce the “Make 10” strategy – which is key when adding and subtracting. Note: the “Make 10” strategy means understanding the various pairs of numbers that equal 10 (which happens in every bowling frame).

DYI Miniature Golf Course: This is a great activity because it involves engineering and creativity to create the course and geometry and arithmetic skills to keep score. To make a course use recyclables such as shoe boxes, pizza boxes, oatmeal canisters, paper towel rolls and any other fun recyclable.

Family Color Walk: I love this activity that comes courtesy of Kerry Finnegan director of the Gardner School in Naperville. Go to your local hardware store and collect paint samples. Tell your children you are going on a “color walk” and have them match the colors on their samples with the colors they find in nature. Matching will not only help with their color recognition, it also allows them to classify in small groups.

Summer Reading Bingo Card: This free downloadable Bingo Card offers fun incentives to get your kids reading. Courtesy of, a non-profit bookstore that uses its proceeds to fund literacy programs for underserved communities.

summer ideas for kidsSummer Tips for Parents

1. When it comes to enrichment activities the first thing to remember is to have fun. These activities are designed for families to enjoy together. It should not feel like “work.” It should feel like fun!

2. If your child is having trouble with one of these activities, don’t push. Many of the activities are designed to be opened-ended and collaborative and your goal is to nurture a love of learning so if there is resistance, re-frame the activity or try again on a different day.

3. Make time to read to your children (whether they are 4 or 14). This is a great way to introduce them to wonderful stories and characters while strengthening their vocabulary and comprehension skills. Choose a book the family can enjoy together and designate a few nights each week to reading the book together. Our children are young for a short time so let’s embrace this time!

4. Don’t forget your local library – many of our libraries have summer reading programs with fun incentives such as free books or trips to 6 Flags. Model your love of reading by showing kids that you read too.

5. Finally and most importantly have fun this summer; get your kids outside moving their bodies and playing. Summer is often a time when kids make big developmental leaps so embrace this time with playful activities that promote creativity, decision making skills, and risk taking.