The phrase “summer slide” might make you think of a water park or playground, but it actually refers to the mental atrophy that many kids — especially those who don’t read — may experience during the three-month break between school terms. In fact, according to the National Summer Learning Association, two-thirds of the reading achievement gap among ninth graders can be attributed to summer loss. But just sticking a book in a kid’s hands isn’t likely to have much impact, especially if they’re not already naturally inclined to reading. Ahead, we’ve put together some less obvious (some might even say sneaky) ways to keep learning skills fresh and focused over the summer.
Math with baseball
Going to the ballpark or watching a game on TV? Keep track of the stats. There are plenty of opportunities for calculating averages, and it won’t even feel like work if it’s tied to what’s happening on the field. Play ball. Bonus if you track a specific team or players over the whole summer.
Measure twice (then multiply, divide, add or subtract)
Tackle a project that requires precise measurement. This could be building something (with supervision if needed) with wood, crafting something with paper, sewing, baking, modeling — if it requires careful measuring, it’s going to mean math practice. This is especially good for kinesthetic learners who learn best through movement and physical application of skills.
Fill a terrarium — and a field guide
Turn over rocks, logs and wherever else you might find insects and plants for a terrarium. This can be anything from an old fish tank to a clean pasta sauce jar. Large or small, put scientific skills to use by identifying different environments and habitats, predicting what’s likely to be found in various places and then creating a field guide to document discoveries.
Look to the stars
If you live near a college or university, find out if they have a planetarium that’s open to the public. If not, stargazing is free and available to anyone with access to real dark (this is tough for city dwellers). Kids can learn the constellations (and the origin myths behind them), then practice identifying them in the sky. If the city lights are just too bright for this, kids can recreate the patterns on a wall with glow-in-the-dark removable stars. Add-on for the arts — introduce kids to Gustav Holst’s orchestral suite The Planets and talk about why the planets sound the way they do.
Contact your local chamber of commerce and ask whether there are any historical treasures nearby — then go explore them. For more old-time learning, go to the library or your city or town hall and see what you can find about your discovery, especially interesting if you can find information from when it was first established.
Add-on for the arts — try to find a play or a movie that relates to this piece of history. For example, if you discover that there’s a statue of a Revolutionary War hero in your town, maybe you could watch 1776 (or listen to a song or two from Hamilton).
More: What celebrity moms are buying for their kids this summer
Interview an expert close to home
Call/FaceTime/write to an older relative and ask about a specific time in their life. If you know that she or he lived through a historic event such as the Vietnam War, you could ask for details about that era. Otherwise, just ask what it was like when they were young. You’re sure to get a whole new view of history. Reading tie-in — the I Survived series by Lauren Tarshis and the Dear America series by various authors give fast-paced accounts of historical events.
Check out a few books of poetry geared toward kids, such as Shel Silverstein’s, or one or two books in verse, such as Love That Dog by Sharon Creech or Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson for older readers. Choose some favorites, break out the sidewalk chalk and create a gallery of illustrated poems.
Add-on for the arts — find some kid-friendly slam poetry (like this) to watch (bonus if your local library or other youth organization sponsors an event like this that you can attend) and then maybe perform your own.
Form a group to book-swap over the summer — six is a good number of kids to include. Choose three books that seem interesting to the group and get two copies of each book. Two kids get book A, two get book B and two get book C. Then they switch. The ones who had A get B, the ones who had B get C and the ones who had C get A. This way, everyone always has someone to talk about their reading with — which can sometimes be all the motivation needed to keep going with a book.