15 ways to disguise summer learning as fun

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Young chefs cooking

because-I-said-so-REDHere’s a little parenting secret: Your kids don’t want to do math worksheets right now. Summer, in all its popsicle-and-pool-party glory, is calling. Good luck getting your kids to think about parallelograms and the periodic table.

But the cruel thing about it is, children need to keep learning in the summer. Otherwise, they face a huge backslide in progress come the fall. This is where you, sneaky parent, come in: Use these 15 ways to disguise learning as fun.

1. Bake

Baking is one of the easiest, most delicious and organic ways to review fractions and other math concepts. Kids as young as 2 and 3 can mix and measure with supervision, and it’s a great way to visualize what, say, one-third really means.

2. Have a French Day

Or Mexican Day, or Japanese Day. Encourage your children to pick a culture they’d like to learn about, researching foods and activities of a nation’s typical celebration. Then have a party. And as a parent, try to incorporate foreign-language vocabulary words into the festivities whenever possible.

3. Find a pen pal

Invite your child to correspond with a friend or family member in another state, either by mail or electronically. (Both have advantages: Snail mail is useful means for improving handwriting, while email will help your child become more comfortable with the computer.) It’s a great way to both practice writing and improve a relationship with a loved one.

4. Incentivize reading

It’s OK to bribe your kids to read, whether it’s a few pennies a page or a small prize for completing a chapter book. Some local libraries also have reward-based programs for summer reading. And let your kids choose the books: Don’t worry about the reading level or the literary merit of their selections. Just encourage your kids to read, read, read, so that they develop a love for one of life’s greatest pleasures.

5. Have a lemonade stand

Sure, it’s messy and will probably end up costing you way more than your kids will make. But starting a business will help your kids learn about both math and finance. And pay your kids for weekly household chores: Having an allowance will teach your children at a young age how to budget and save.

6. Take a day trip to a local historical site

Visit your state’s tourism office for ideas for fun, nearby historical sites. From Utah County, This is the Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City  has more than 50 homes and structures that recreate the early days of Utah’s settlement. Near Fairfield, the Camp Floyd State Park Museum and Stagecoach Inn has relics from a retired Army outpost.

7. Write and tell ghosts stories

Encourage unstructured creative writing projects in the summer, such as a family ghost story night. Each family member writes and then reads a ghost story, which can be enjoyed over s’mores roasted on a campfire.

8. Study the stars

Summer nights are perfect for introducing your children to basic astronomy. You can gaze into the dark sky and point out constellations, take your children to a local planetarium, or even play free games at KidsAstronomy.com.

9. Have a puzzle table

Keep a puzzle out in an easily accessible spot for your kids to work on during downtime. If your kids aren’t puzzlers, you could keep a stack of Mad Libs or word searches on hand instead.

10. Do a science experiment

Put pieces of ice on different colors of construction paper and see which melts first. Create an erupting volcano with baking soda and vinegar. Quirky home experiments are a great way to pique your child’s curiosity about science. You can find instructions here for dozens of experiments — biology, physics, chemistry, weather — on Funology.com.

11. Build a fort or a treehouse together

Or simply give your children a box full of items and tell them to make something crazy. Just make sure you are around to supervise anything that involves tools.

12. Have a neighborhood sidewalk chalk festival

Or do some other sort of art or craft. For example, you could buy inexpensive loom kits so your kids can weave pot holders. Summer is also a fantastic time to start learning a new skill such as sewing or playing the piano.

13. Buy your child a journal

The cooler it looks, the better. Encourage your child to write daily or even weekly, and consider providing some sort of incentive for doing so. You child could also keep a journal on the computer, where he or she could upload photos to complement the text.

14. Text friends

Make younger writers text their friends to set up play dates. And don’t let them get away with using emojis or abbreviations. Nothing but a politely worded invitation written in complete sentences will do.

15. Serve

What better way to learn about the community and its needs than through participating in a service project? Contact your local United Way for a list of community organizations that allow children to volunteer. In Utah County, visit the United Way of Utah County.

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Elyssa Andrus has worked as a journalist for 14 years, most recently as the lifestyle editor at the Daily Herald newspaper in Provo. She is a contributor to the KSL-TV show "Studio 5" and is co-author of the book "Happy Homemaking" (Cedar Fort, 2012) with Natalie Hollingshead. She lives with her husband and four young children in Utah Valley.

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