Somewhere in my reading life, I read that Katie Couric grew up with the expectation that she and her brother would arrive at the dinner table with a new word they’d discovered in the dictionary. I was so jealous!! As a person who loves words, I’d be more than happy to search the dictionary for a word no one else would choose. However, my home was different. No one talked about school – not even during the school year – much less during the summer. It was a time to take a break from all that.

Do I hold that philosophy today? Yes and no. It’s definitely a time to refresh. Catch up with family and friends, poke at a bonfire, sleep under the stars. Build something, swim, daydream… all the things that seem a luxury from September through May.

However, those spongy minds of our kids can absorb considerably more than we realize and taking three months completely off misses opportunities to maintain the momentum begun during the school year.

Here are 5 ideas for moms who want their kids to keep learning while still embracing a lighter structure:

1. Have your kids plan a trip (even one that is already planned). I’m always surprised how few students know how to use a map – even a digital one! You could go old school and have them use a highlighter on a paper map to trace the route or you could have them make a word document listing the directions and stops along the way. Have them find a restaurant or a park along the way, then let them lead you there during the trip.

2. Have them tell you about a book – but not a report! For example, most kids have not read the Little House on the Prairie series. This low entry, entertaining read is an ideal read-aloud, but also non-threatening for those who are new readers or those who don’t want anything heavy. Simply ask questions like, how would your life be different if you had to live like Laura’s family? Name 5 of her possessions. What would be hardest for you to live without? Keeping it casual is best here…let it be a conversation, not a quiz.

3. Create an obstacle course. This is a fun activity with other kids, too. A group project like this can take hours and enable kids to plan, execute and realize their finished product. Indoors or outdoors, a course like this can even be run by mom and dad.

4. Experiment with seeds or foods. I’m not a gardener, but my kids were! I found this out when one of them started poking around in the flower beds with a packet of seeds. Her success (10 years later, those flowers still grace my window) led her to try a few vegetables. Her own exploration created the result for which I’d long been unsuccessful.

5. Paint! This might not be possible for everyone but one summer my brothers were going to have their room wallpapered. Before the paper went up, I received

permission to paint a mural on that wall. It was so fun!! I signed and dated it, then it was covered. 30 years later, the wallpaper came down and the new owner contacted my dad. I’d dated it on the day of the new owner’s birth. What a coincidence! My favorite take-away though, was having the freedom to paint whatever I wanted with leftover paint. It cost my parents nothing and kept me creating happily for hours. Maybe there’s a spot in the garage, a shed or even behind their bedroom door? You’d be surprised at how this seemingly taboo task can please a child.

Before we know it, we’ll be shopping for school supplies. Take advantage of these carefree days to keep those minds learning. All activities like these will bear fruit, both inside and outside the classroom.

If you have an idea that’s worked for your family, we’d love to hear it!

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