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Mom Congress Challenge – Learning Through the Summer

This week’s question for our Mom Congress delegates is something I’ve had on my mind the as the weather’s gotten warmer.  Like Emily, I’m excited for summer but I do worry about all the information they’ll be forgetting while we chillax and eat popsicles. 

What do you do to keep kids motivated to learn over the summer?  How do you prevent brain drain and help them retain their knowledge and skills for the coming school year?

The response I got was awesome! I'm ready to have the best summer ever with my kids.

With our children, I set up a calendar and I have daily activities written down for each.  The two younger ones do half-day sport camps that include tennis, ballet, and baseball.  When they get home for lunch, we then have cognitive activities.  We get three books for each child weekly at the library.  They must read x-number of pages and write about what they read.  In addition, we have math pages that I pull from the internet to review math skills.  We do weekly science activities, since that's my strength.  We visit zoos, museums, beaches/parks, and we do community service such as playing violin recitals at the various senior citizen centers.  We also volunteer at our parish.

Our summers are packed!

~Marilyn Zaragoza – Florida Delegate 2011


~Liza Weidle – North Carolina Delegate 2010

Teachers tell me that the loss of learning over the summer is one of the largest challenges they face each school year.  It takes them several weeks just to get the kids back in the groove of learning!  As a former teacher myself I have seen this pattern repeat year after year.  I have been determined to send my kids to school each fall doing better than they did when they left in spring.  Here are some ideas I have used and will be using again this summer in my role as a parent to support my child's education:

1.  Mini field trips- we go to free/low-cost places like the cheese factory to watch how cheese is made, the cemetery where we make grave stone rubbings and this is a great science experience by the way, local playgrounds/parks where you can take a tape measure along and record the size of the structures which is a great math enrichment activity, the zoo, local gardens, farmers market, museum, historical society buildings, etc.

2.  Workbooks- I buy a reading and math workbook each summer and my daughter spends 30 minutes a day M-F keeping her skills sharp. 

3.  Reading- this is a normal part of our everyday routine year round.

4.  Television- there are some great educational channels out there where you can go to enrich your child's learning.  The Discovery channel, PBS kids, and Animal Planet are some favorites. 

5.  Internet- educational websites abound on the world wide web!  All you have to do is do a search to find tons of free or low cost websites that will help your kids in many topic areas.  A couple of our favorite sites are-  and

6.  Kids Atlas- get a nice kids Atlas with color photos, maps, and lots of cool information in it.  Let your child choose a country to visit each week or each day and take a pretend trip there.  Read about it in your Atlas, then search online for a recipe to make for lunch or dinner representing the food in that country.  Check out a related story at your local library, head to a museum to learn more about your country.  The list goes on and on and while you are exploring and having fun your child is learning the entire time!

Whatever you decide to do with your kids over the summer make sure to relax and enjoy your time together while finding fun and creative ways to keep them engaged and learning.  As we work together to support our children's education they will become more worldly and grow and develop in so many ways!   ~Lisa Falduto – Wisconsin Delegate 2011

We do the public library's summer reading program and for each sheet that they complete, I buy them a new book.  When we travel, they each have their own journal and have to write in it every night.  We do it together because I also keep one.  We visit museums, they're responsible for planning certain day trips, and when we travel, they're responsible for researching where we're going and picking out some activities.  This summer, it's Greece, so they've each picked two things to do in Athens and a beach they want to visit on the islands.  Otherwise, I'm of the opinion that they should be able to hang out and chill during the summer, so we don't do work sheets or anything like that.  They work very hard during the school year (much harder than we did in elementary school), so it's a good break from routine, testing, and running around to scheduled events.  ~Christine Morin – Virginia Delegate 2010

Great question, one I’ve been giving a lot of thought to over the past several weeks!  From my conversations with older wiser moms and my own recesses of creativity, here’s my plan:

My kids are 4, 6, and 8.

We plan to do ‘Summer School’ for the first half hour of each day.  They are still young enough that Summer School with Mom sounds like a fun thing to them!

We start the day off with a short devotion, usually in the form of a story.  Sometimes I have them act it out with stuffed animals if the story involves animals

I have binders for each child with math worksheets to retain the math facts they’ve worked so hard to learn this year.  I bought fun stickers to award them with.

We do show and tell each day, just because they love it.

In the late afternoon we do a half hour of individual reading time.  This is when I get my own reading in too!  Paige or Ben (the older two) read books to Curtis (the 4 y/o) or he can look through books on his own or listen to books on CD 

We are also going to do a ‘Rempe (our last name) Summer Rap’ each day which will be nothing more than them writing a few sentences about what we did that day and coloring a picture of it (Curtis will dictate to me).  This will be a neat way to record our summer fun and look back on.  They do this while I am getting dinner ready usually.

Other than that, to provide ME with a little structure, each day has a theme.  Sounds like a big undertaking but really it’s not.  Just gives us a focus of the day.

Monday-Nature Explorer Club, go on a hike, work on our garden…

Tuesday-Try it Day-try a new recipe or fruit…

Wednesday- Washdown Day-kids help with household chores-laundry, wash the car, whatever 1-2 things need to be done

Thursday-Thank You Day-find someone to thank with a card or phone call or cookies, etc…do something physically to thank them-sometimes we give the mailman a coke!

Friday Field trip day-just go somewhere different-a farmers market, car wash, downtown library, doesn’t really matter-just something new!

That’s my plan and I’m actually really looking forward to it!  I also think that involving the kids in the summer planning goes a long way.  We’ve been talking a lot about this plan and I’ve taken their thoughts into consideration to get more ‘buy in’ from them!  ~Emily Rempe – Ohio Delegate 2010

This is an area about which I am very passionate!  The summer months are tough on academics.

There are a couple of things that I do.  In Illinois, they have the Rebecca Caudill books that are up for nominations every year.  I usually pick one of those and then one other, either from the list or not, to do as a "book group" with my boys and the students from their class.  (They are in 6th and 3rd grade currently.)  It is for anyone who wants to join and be a part.  I just ask that they read the book and then we have our party night.  We go to a pool, discuss the book for about 20-30 minutes and then the kids can swim and play.  I also try to find a fresh book of brain teaser type things and we read those and have fun with those as well.  Anything to make learning and reading fun over the summer is critical.  This summer, I am also going to purchase some brain quest packs to put in our van and the boys can "quiz" me while I am driving.  That way they get to absorb the information as well.  ~Kim Kuhlman – Illinois Delegate 2011

Traveling with kids is one of the best ways to keep students learning over the summer.  Kids can read up on destinations, help plan itineraries and map routes, and learn while having fun. 

Other ideas for summer learning include "learning" parties that are called something else.  Inviting your kids' friends over to make and fly kites, create humongous bubbles and homemade bubble wands, cook a meal, or any other activities that combine friends and science, math, or reading.

I always preview the curriculum for the grade my daughter will be entering in the Fall.  Many districts offer the curriculum online.  Doing some "prelearning" on science and social studies objectives can make summer learning more meaningful and can create anticipation for the next year.  ~Norma Thompson – Alaska Delegate 2011

Our #1 summer learning motivator is to sign up for the library summer reading program.   It’s a great way to stay on the reading track.   If there is a movie coming out based on a book – the book has to be read, before we go to the movie.  We also plan trips to museums.  Our local museum has a Naturalist Center based on the Smithsonian Naturalist Center, so there are lots of learning opportunities every week.  We take a couple of trips to Historical Sites.   Next year “motions and forces” are State Standards for my son, so we will be studying this with library books and websites and seeing it in practice at the local amusement park.   I’m looking forward to setting up myi to have more control over the internet sites this summer to make sure more time is spent on the educational sites.  ~Windy Tuck – South Carolina Delegate 2011

At the Taylor House our kids are tweens/teens so they're on their own while Mom and Dad are at work.  We set a Taylor Family Summer Schedule for M-F activities and expectations.  The expectations part is especially important.  If you don't expect your kids to do anything ... they won't.  Last year we bought two computer-based learning programs:  Mavis Beacon Typing Tutor and Math Avenger.  Both helped to keep our kids' brains engaged and build skills.  The kids have a standing goal - they will earn $25 from Mom if they can consistently reach a 25 wpm typing speed.  This will give them some spending money and some skill to help get through the upcoming high school homework a lot faster!  They spend 30 minutes per day on each program.  They also have chores to do (outlined on the schedule) and designated reading time, then art time and free time.  The schedule is developed during a family meeting with substantial input from both kids - it's their schedule!

We pick out our reading list for the summer and usually try to purchase a few books from our local Barnes & Noble (or reserve them at the library).  Right now they are reading the new Rick Riordan series that builds on the Percy Jackson books, called the Heroes of Olympus, as well as the 39 Clues series.  We've got all 11 books in the Clues series and all the clue cards.  The kids are bound and determined to figure out the clues and solve the mystery that awaits!

They'll also be attending a one-week art camp at re-Create - a fabulous earth-friendly program in Roseville, California.  Then it's on to the local park district camps to build new skills.  My son will participate in JET - Job Experience Training - a one week training camp and 30 hour internship to teach kids how to work at a summer camp.  My daughter is enrolled in the Super Sitter's course.  She'll be getting her first aid and CPR certificates and learning creative ways to engage youngsters, make them healthy snacks and create some super crafts!

If you set out with a purpose for your summer - it will serve that purpose and have meaning and substance... and, best of all, prevent boredom!  ~Laura Taylor – California Delegate 2010

In the State of Utah we have a number of programs designed to support parents in "summer brain drain."  Our most successful is the Read Today Program.  Here is a link to the program, a short video and additional information.  

We have also partnered with these great companies and invite youth and their parents to visit their web sites which have a ton of information and activities that help keep the "spark" during the summer months. 

I believe that by teaching our youth the importance of caring for others, providing service to peers and their community during every month of the year will deepen their commitment to each other and strengthen our communities as a whole.  A lot of the activities and ideas are also focused on family engagement.  When we strengthen the family, we strengthen our youth.  ~Lori Harding – Utah Delegate 2010

This can be a hot topic at times, what with discussions about making schools year round so children do not have the “brain drain” occurrence. And while I have seen this phenomenon happen on several occasions as a teacher, I also firmly believe that our children do need that vacation from the school building. However, this should not mean they stop learning! This is a great time to spend with family and friends, learning and growing together. Here are a few of the activities that my family does over the summer months to prevent that drainage of knowledge:

*Get to the library! All the libraries are free and have some amazing summer programs for both children and adults. Many of them offer free books to children as well, and prizes for reading over the summer. Can’t beat that!

*Be a tourist in your own city. Check out the local attractions and learn about something new. We are members of our city zoo, so of course we visit there frequently. There are also several different museums in our area (from art to science) and also some locally owned businesses where we can take tours and learn about what goes on there.

*Host family game nights. Playing those old fashion board games helps children learn a plethora of skills that they need in the classroom and in life (strategy, problem solving, turn taking, good sportsmanship, plus the concepts of each individual game such as colors, numbers, word building, and so on).

*Organize a block party or a small gathering of your child’s friends for a themed party. Maybe you could start a book club with their closest pals and help facilitate weekly meetings. Perhaps you could hold a science is fun party and have easy and messy experiments outside for the kids to try. The options are endless! This one requires much more time and planning on your part, but they are super fun.

*Go camping! There is so much to learn in the great outdoors! Many survival skills can be taught out there in the woods, from reading a compass to lighting a fire to what types of bugs and animals are about and how to avoid danger. You can also learn how to fish, how to canoe, and how to identify birds by their colors and calls. Many campgrounds also offer free programs, which provide another opportunity for learning.

*Create a book about your summer adventures. Take lots of pictures of fun experiences you have had over the summer months to put in the book, and then write a few sentences together about each one. Bind the book together and you have a treasure that you can read together over and over again.  ~Jennifer Lavender-Schott – Michigan Delegate 2011

Good topic, for I am looking through the resources on the internet to include with my parents at the Parent Center here in Nevada. I utilize the for their summer kits to pass along to the families in several areas. Here is the link so you will know what I am talking about:

For Early Childhood ideas simply type into the browser Early Childhood Ideas and make selections from what pops up, i.e, literacy, crafts, math, science, etc.

There are loads of resources for families to use and get ideas from the internet that you don't have to stay online to do, simply make a copy and follow the directions.

Research local locations to visit along with all the summer activities at the local libraries and museums. Parent Involvement is a key part of not only supervising, but being engaged in life-long memories with your children. You may help other mothers out by inviting their child to go along with your youngster as a buddy.  Make good memories by bringing along a camera and documenting the experience when you return home with writing about it. They make wonderful keepsakes that the children will read again and again. 

As a footnote, my children did these types of activities and used them in college when they had to do presentations about themselves. The books with photos they made and experience diaries were a nice touch for display. They got a kick out of how they were thinking at those times in their lives.

I so enjoyed my children and they are now wonderful adults doing the same kinds of things they experienced with their own children.  None of the grandkid are glued to the TV or computer.  They use them as entertainment for a limited amount of time and they have their day scheduled just as their parents are scheduling their activities. Pass this along to the Moms and let's get those kids active with learning and retaining knowledge!  ~Ethel Archibald – Nevada Delegate 2011

Read, read, read, read, read, read, read! Make it fun - your kids can pick whatever they want to read about, even if that means Captain Underpants. Many local libraries sponsor fun activities, especially over the summer. Pick a chapter book and read to your kids a chapter every day (this is a great tool for road trips!) Find or create fun places to read - a hammock, the poolside, even at the park. Wherever you decide to vacation this year (even if it's just a camping trip), find a piece of nonfiction to learn more about where you will be going. Be relaxed and keep it casual. Summer is an awesome time for kids to really develop a true love of reading - no timed tests, no reading level groups - they get to read what they want at the pace they want.  ~Jamie Pearce – Idaho Delegate 2010

I keep my kids reading.  I love to read so encourage (ok...force!) them to sit down and spend time every day reading for at least a half hour.  The best part of that is I actually had my nine year old ask me the other day if she could read for a while - best thing she could say!  I also try to limit tv time and will provide all kinds of arts and crafts for them to do. As it's so hot in Tucson, they can't play outside much so as many inside fun cooking projects, scavenger hunts that require reading and detective skills, etc. that I can plan for them the better.  ~Shayne McCaslin – Arizona Delegate 2011

We make learning a part of our daily life even in the summer with routines.

We make weekly trips to the library and spend time reading daily. (Even me!)

In the morning, the girls get to pick any learning activity to do for our daily learning hour. We've brainstormed options in math, reading, writing and science from which to choose.

I teach writing classes at my house which my children love. It's very motivating to them and the other writers to socialize around what they're writing.  ~Melissa Taylor – Colorado Delegate 2011

We fill our summer with activities the girls do not always get in school, mainly educational camps.  I try to find art, music, theater and hands-on science camps.  There are many many really neat camps available if you put the effort into finding the right ones.

This year we are doing 4-H.  The girls signed up to raise and then sell sheep, fishing, cooking and sewing.  Before we moved we did a lot of camps through the YMCA.  They always had wonderful robotics classes, many sport focused camps and often theater, music and art camps.  Plus, their camps were based on income, which made it more affordable.

I look for camps early and try to find scholarships.  With 5 kids, living on one teacher's income, the girls can only do camps with scholarships.  I also look carefully at the camps and make sure they are camps focusing on a single subject and not just daycare with a fancy sounding curriculum.   Most are day camps.  I do try and find at least one overnight week camp.  Usually Girl Scout camp.  Also a very wonderful program. 

Thank you to all the foundations that provide support of scholarships for these wonderful programs. I am very thankful, that even though we are poorish, my kids are able to participate in these wonderful educational opportunities.  ~Candice Larsen – Idaho Delegate 2011

I adore summer! And brain drain has always been a concern of mine. I like to keep a light structure going at home and I've always found that my morning and afternoon checklists keep everyone on track.  Here is the link to the inspiring Moms free summer checklists. We have ones for both working and stay at home moms.

Now, for your question, here are a few ways that I help the kids stay sharp over the summer. The first to help the kids keep their writing skills up is with their summer journal. 

Each child receives one on the first day of summer. Writing in it is a daily "chore," for lack of a better word. As you'll see on the check list, it happens in the morning before the "fun" of the day kicks in. The little ones who can't write yet dictate to either me or an older sibling, and or draw pictures. I cherish their journals and they have grown to enjoy them, too. "Mom what should I write," prompted a list we made of all the things they could write about. We brainstorm as a family each summer and one child captures it all on paper and posts the list for all to see. 

Another way is weekly and sometimes daily trips to the Library. It's free and Most every library has summer reading programs or contests. This is just a fun way to make their daily reading "pay off." I love the library. It is my favorite resource, both for myself and my kids. I am a huge fan and adore all of our librarians. The library is the ticket to keep brains active for the whole family.

Another way I combat brain drain is to plan one enrichment field trip each week. I call it Mom's Day out. I take the kids to a museum of my choice. They have no say. How about that for being a mean momma! :) We all learn new things, me included. I always combine my outings with an ice cream parlor treat. Again, Mom wins there, too! 

As is throughout the school year, we don't watch TV. You would flip at all of the ways a child will enrich his or her brain because they have to. Crayons, paper, markers, recycling bins all provide wonderful opportunities for the kids to use their imaginations to create.  ~Amy Hilbrich Davis – Kansas Delegate 2011

The summer is always a difficult time to keep learning up. I have a few resources that I know I'll be turning to this summer, and I hope other parents find them useful! First is, which parents can use to determine the difficulty of the texts their child is reading (or that they would like their child to read). You register for the site--it's free--and type in a portion of the text; the website will then give you an idea of what your child's reading ability is and how difficult the text is. You can also look up the book and see if it is already in the Lexile database.

The second resource I'll be using this summer is First in Math. The cost for an online subscription is $8 a year. It provides comprehensive math content in game formats, and covers the range from basic to advanced math skills. It's also a way for children to get immediate feedback on how they're performing in whatever lesson they are doing. It works over the internet on any computer, 24/7, and children are able to move forward at their own rate. To learn more about the program, go here:

And finally, there's the best summer resource of all: the community pages of your local newspaper. Warm weather and long days mean that all kinds of family-friendly activities will be available, and most will be free or for low cost. For instance, in my area I am looking at the Philadelphia Zoo, which has the Roars and Snores overnight program; for a small fee I can camp out with my family at the zoo.  The Kimmel Center also has free programs all summer long, including Saturday morning specials for families all summer long.   ~Melissa Bilash – Pennsylvania Delegate 2010

As the many droves of children leave school for summer break, the baton of learning is handed off to the parents.  In order to keep the “momentum” of learning INCREASING instead of DECREASING, there are fun and easy activities to do with your kids over the summer.  In the subject of math, playing family board games and card games are a great way to bond as a family and keep math concepts fresh.  I have also found great math websites online and each ½ hour session, my children received a quarter (in different coins).  One of our favorite activities to share in over the summer is GARAGE SALING….the kids use their math money to buy treasures.  My kids are lucky that they do not get “car sick” and we have a “reading-while-traveling-rule”.  We live ½ hour out of town, so my kids have learned to love to read while we are out on our adventures.    Many of these adventures involve science.  There are many free hiking trails, parks, outdoor art centers and free community events that involve exploration and science.  We look through newspapers and flyers for events.  Both of my children write down a list of “activities” that they want to attend over the summer and we try our best to accomplish them.  Summer doesn’t have to be a “BUMMER” when it comes to brain drain.  Good Luck!   ~Renee Berry – Washington Delegate 2011

I think the main things that I do to keep my kids motivated to learn over the summer is spend time with them, listen to them, and engage them.  These are actually things that my husband and I do year round.  Because I was a classroom teacher who opted not to work summers and I’m now a “stay-at-home mom,” I’m relish my role as “summer activities coordinator.” 

This summer, they’ll most likely take swimming and tennis lessons.  We’ll visit the golf range and in early August they’ll begin to prepare for football season.  My nine year old would like to take a cooking class, my seven year old wants to start a blog, and my five year old wants to read and play.  They’d all like to go to the beach as often as possible, go camping (it’s become an annual summer tradition), and they’re up for any and all travel – they’d love a trip to New York.  They want to visit museums/centers that are “hands-on.”  Spending time with their extended family (grandparents, cousins, etc.) is also a priority. 

More than anything they want to be able to sleep in some days and they want to have their time be as unscheduled as possible.  I’ll encourage them to read and write about the things that we do this summer.  Since I taught elementary school for fourteen years, I am pretty adept at making any and everything into a learning experience and frequently take advantage of teachable moments.  We’ll work in some math, science, and art activities.  By the time August 31st rolls around, they’ll be well-equipped to begin fourth grade, second grade, and kindergarten – brains eager, knowledge and skills intact. :-)   ~Cushon Bell – California Delegate 2011

We do our teachers a favor and we implement structure even throughout the summer.  We do adjust bedtimes to accommodate the fact that it's still daylight when they normally go to bed.  We have a huge sticker system that we use in the summer that we don't use normally.  It allows them to earn credits to choose one activity each a week.

We take advantage of free movie mornings at the theater, free bowling Thursdays, the swimming pool has a discount day and then we go to the library once a week.  That's 3 days of activities in exchange for clean rooms, cooperation, and over all helpful behavior while I'm working since I do work from home.  It does mean a huge adjustment to my work schedule but those adorable little guys are why I chose to work at home in the first place. 

I know everyone doesn't have the opportunity and I feel for them.  This is the first summer that we are going to include a friend for the boys in one of our activities.  We will be including children whose parents work and don't get to do the extra stuff in the summer that my kids are fortunate to experience. ~Jerri Ann Reason – Alabama Delegate 2011

I love the freedom that comes with summer break so I encourage my kids to get outside and experience nature.  That’s something they don’t often get to do while they are in school, especially living up north.  We go canoeing, hiking through local metro parks, as also visit our local zoo.  These outings encourage inquiry and questioning in all sorts of science related subjects.  Often times, we’ll see something out in a local park or zoo and then decide to some more research online or at the local library.  Experiencing nature first hand and then connecting it to research deepens learning for my kids, as they can connect science to life in their local habitat.

I think it’s important to keep it loose over the summer.  My 2nd grade daughter struggles with math facts and spelling, so over the summer I plan to integrate some math and spelling during the day while she’s at home with me.  If I sat her down with worksheets, the summer would be miserable for both of us.  We have magnetic letters on our fridge because she’s a visual learner, so I can ask her to spell words from her 2nd grade word log.  Again... since she’s does best with visual aids, I bought an abacus to help with her math facts.  She likes playing with the colorful beads and they help her to recognize patterns as well as work through math facts.  ~Hilary Frambes – Ohio Delegate 2011