The excitement. The anticipation. The first day of freedom. It was true when we were kids, and it’s still true now – there are few things better than the start of summer vacation.
The summer months offer a much-needed break for both parents and kids from homework, reading assignments and rushed mornings getting ready for school. But extended time away from the classroom does have a downside. Research spanning 100 years has shown that all children can experience learning losses over the summer, particularly when it comes to math, where most students lose about two months of skills if not engaged academically over vacation.
“What research shows is that some parents really just let it go out the window in the summer. They don’t do nightly reading, they don’t have screen time limits, all the things they do during the school year,” says Sarah Pitcock, CEO of the National Summer Learning Association. “Kids get bored. The first week of summer is a novelty, but then a lot of kids run out of things to do.”
The summer slide is especially serious for kids in low-resource areas, who often struggle to have basic needs met over break, like regular, healthy meals and adequate adult supervision. Studies show that those students not only lose math skills, but also slip an average of two months behind in reading achievement when not involved academically.
“In more affluent neighborhoods, kids tend to go to camp or on vacation in the summer, but for some kids, those summer enrichment opportunities are not available,” says Trish Kitchell, Vice President of Youth Development for the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati, which runs several programs aimed at curbing summer learning loss. “With the children who complete our Y summer programs, we actually see a two-and-a-half-month gain in skills. Parents tell us that their children have more confidence after being involved in our summer learning programs and are more prepared for school in the fall.”
Fortunately, Cincinnati-area parents don’t need to look far to find fun ways to combat the summer slide. Here are a few programs and opportunities to keep kids sharp during summer vacation.
READING AND WRITING
Out and about
Summer reading programs are a great way to expose kids to new books. All of the area library systems have fun, kid-driven programs:
- Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County: With the theme of Read, Make, Create!, this year’s Summer Learning Program runs June 1 through July 31 and will focus on Maker and STEM topics. Kids can earn prizes for the reading they do during the summer months and attend a variety of educational programs at all library locations. For those who need more structure, the library’s Summer Reading Camp offers four weeks of intensive one-on-one tutoring designed to improve the reading skills of third-graders. The library will also host weeklong Brain Camps centered on Maker and STEM activities. Register here: www.cincinnatilibrary.org/summerlearn.
- Campbell County Public Library: The Summer Reading Program encourages kids, teens and adults to read throughout the summer and win prizes along the way. The library also offers more than 20 storytime programs each week, along with educational programs for elementary kids and teens, and there will be weekly kids events at 10 a.m. every Thursday at A.J. Jolly Park in Alexandria. The program kicks off June 4. More information: www.cc-pl.org/summer-reading-kickoff
- Kenton County Public Library: The Summer Reading Club runs June 1 through August 31 and allows kids, teens and adults to log the books they read or listen to over the summer in order to win prizes – from t-shirts for the youngest readers to tech toys for the teens. Each branch will give away a grand prize of an iPad Air 2. More information: www.92days.org
Apps and games
When it’s screentime they want, kids can still practice essential reading skills, such as phonics, spelling and writing. Starfall has your child covered from reading readiness to independent reading, while Endless Alphabet lets kids work on vocab words with the help of adorable monsters. This is my Story (and I’m Sticking to It) lets kids create their own story and discover new words.
Set a goal this summer to read every day with your kids. Also look for ways to incorporate reading into day-to-day life, asking kids to read signs at the grocery store, on road trips and on walks around the neighborhood. For older kids, keeping a daily journal can help hone writing skills.
Out and about
Summer is the perfect time to embrace your child’s curiosity about how things work. Camp Invention (campinvention.org) utilizes local educators at sites across the area to lead hands-on activities on topics such as circuitry, robotics and coding, while Classroom Antics Tech Camps (www.classroomantics.com/cincinnati-ohio) also serves multiple locations, focusing on stop-motion animation, coding and even LEGO robots. Check out the Cincinnati Museum Center’s (www.cincymuseum.org/programs/museum-camp) wide array of STEM-based camps on everything from space travel to dinosaurs and Star Wars, or explore the Biology, Gardening & Cooking camp at Xavier University Montessori Lab School (www.xavier.edu/reading/documents/Montsummercamp2016brochure.pdf) to study the science of growing and preparing food.
Apps and games
Part sleek game, part chemistry lesson, ChemCaper uses the roleplaying genre to teach kids about chemical bonds and the Periodic Table, while the Meet Science apps explore concepts such as magnetism, electricity, light and sound through experiments and games. Plum’s Photo Hunt from PBS KIDS encourages young kids to get outside with their devices to snap pictures while learning about nature.
Get outside and plant some seeds, start a compost pile and watch when things bloom. Backyard camping is a great opportunity to look at the stars and talk about nocturnal animals. Science covers so much ground, so just follow where your child’s interests lead.
Out and about
Mathnasium (www.mathnasium.com) centers in Blue Ash, Mason and West Chester offer game-filled summer programs aimed at helping kids make math progress over the summer, while King of Kings Lutheran Church will host a Math Camp (www.koklcms.org/event/school-summer-camps) for younger kids to explore geometry, algebra and architecture.
Apps and games
Operation Math sends kids on a global learning adventure as an undercover agent, while DragonBox Algebra 5+ introduces the basic processes involved in solving linear equations in an intuitive, fun series of puzzles.
How can you work math skills into your child’s daily life? Try currency and cooking. Set up a family store, where kids can tally up the cost of things around the house. Or ask older kids to figure the tip at dinners out. Cooking together also introduces basic skills, like fractions and measurements. For a summer-long project, ask kids to budget a bedroom overhaul or a family vacation.
Out and about
Music, theater, dance, painting – creative expression can strengthen kids’ skills in all areas of academics. Cincinnati is fortunate to have a thriving art community with many summer options for kids, from day camps at the Cincinnati Art Museum (www.cincinnatiartmuseum.org/events-programs/families-teens/summer-camp) and the Taft Museum of Art (www.taftmuseum.org/education/summercamp), to your pick of subjects from guitar to musical theater or photography at the Fitton Center’s Camp Creativity (fittoncenter.org/classes-education/summer-camp-creativity). For the musically inclined, check out the Cincinnati School of Music’s (www.cincinnatischoolofmusic.com/summer-camps) singing, percussion and ukulele summer camp offerings.
Apps and games
There are plenty of ways to create art in the digital world, from the interactive Bug Builder for younger kids, to MoMA Art Lab, which highlights the techniques of classic paintings to inspire your little artist. Toca Band allows aspiring musicians to experiment with harmony and rhythm to create unique compositions.
Inspire an early love of art by providing creative materials. Kids learn valuable skills through the process of making art, so try to focus more on this exploration than the finished project. You can also get their creativity flowing by making music and even dance a part of your day-to-day life.
Not only are kids at risk of losing academic knowledge over the summer, studies show they tend to gain weight more rapidly when they are out of school, especially those who are already at higher risk for obesity.
Out and about:
Many day camps are focused on keeping kids active. Search for programs through the YMCA (www.cincinnatiymca.org), Boys and Girls Clubs (www.bgcgc.org) and your local parks department. There are also a plethora of sport-specific camps — the University of Cincinnati (www.uc.edu/summer/High-School-Students.html) hosts camps covering several sports, while the Cincinnati Reds offer baseball and softball camps (cincinnati.reds.mlb.com/cin/community/camps.jsp) at several locations. If your kids aren’t into organized sports, seek out something different, like swimming, martial arts or rock climbing camp options.
Apps and games:
Screen time and exercise can coexist. MotionMaze requires kids run in place to collect a series of prizes as they navigate mazes, while NFL Play 60 has would-be football stars running and jumping to get through the games. Consider Super Stretch Yoga HD for a kid-friendly introduction to simple yoga poses.
You don’t have to call it exercise, just find activities your child likes and encourage them. The more they see you moving, even if it’s just a little stretching in the morning, the more inspired they will be to do the same. Along with limiting screen time, try scheduling in daily opportunities for fitness, such as trips to the playground or walks around the neighborhood.
The key to avoiding summer learning loss is getting kids engaged, active and thinking critically – and it doesn’t have to feel like school. With a few ideas in place that appeal to your child, you can keep those academic juices flowing and get next school year off to a great start.