Most kids love the precious time off that comes with summer vacation — they’ve worked hard during the school year and they deserve some unstructured free time to have fun. Also, the freedom of summer contributes positively to a child’s self-esteem, well-being, and creativity. When kids have free time, they often come up with their own games and projects, causing them to feel good about themselves, thus boosting their self-esteem.
But there’s a downside: the freedom of summer can cause the infamous “summer slide,” where kids forget some of the reading, writing and math skills they’ve learned at school. Many students, especially struggling readers, go down in reading levels during the summer due to lack of practice. Math skills are also easily forgettable for kids during the two plus months of school break. A lot of teachers spend weeks playing catch-up in the fall to make up for the summer slide. To avoid this dip in learning, it’s up to parents to encourage continued learning during the summer.
Traveling can be a fantastic way for parents to encourage continued learning during the summertime, while also giving their kids a memorable experience. Whether taking the kids on a road trip to visit family, or hopping on a flight to explore a different state or country, the learning possibilities are endless. If you and your family have a road trip or vacation planned this summer, take advantage of this built-in quality time to incorporate some fun learning activities. With a little planning, parents can create learning opportunities that are so fun the kids won’t even realize you are sneaking education into their free time.
Here are five tips for parents wanting to convert a road trip into a learning experience:
- Research: Before going on the trip, spend some time with your child researching the place you are visiting. Ask them what they would like to know about the place and involve them in the planning process. For older children, encourage them to plan out tentative itineraries and figure out distances between sights. Incorporate math thinking by having them figure out the budget for activities, accommodations, and food. If you are traveling abroad, give your child a chance to practice converting the currency.
- Audiobooks: While on a long road trip, listen to an audiobook and discuss the characters, plot, and setting. Go to the library or bookstore ahead of time and have your child help you choose an audiobook that interests them and would also interest the grown-ups. Perhaps it’s time for your family to start the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, or you may prefer Chris Grabenstein’s nail-biting mystery Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.
- Make a Travel Journal or a Summer Trip Scrapbook: Maintain your child’s writing skills during the summer by creating a journal or scrapbook of their experiences. A journal is a terrific way to encourage writing practice. To further spark their creativity, encourage doodling and sketching as part of their journaling. Model this activity by writing in your own journal alongside your child. Consistent journaling is a healthy habit to get into as it fosters self-reflection.
- Board Games: While on the plane or in a tent/cabin, play board games that require problem-solving and math skills. Games give your child a fun, low-stress way to practice their math skills, such as adding or multiplying. Some games promote strategic thinking or spatial awareness, which also strengthens their math skills. Kids get to experience real-life application of math skills through these board games. See this blog post on math games for some resources on how to adapt classic games to your child’s level while also making them educational.
- Talk, talk, talk: Sign your family up for guided tours or classes on local art in the area, then discuss the experience as a family. Remind your child to observe and engage with the environment of the place they are visiting. Some trips are conducive to science conversations around landforms, habitats, flora and fauna. Other destinations are ideal for reviewing history. The crucial goal is to have rich conversations with your child, that center on the place you are visiting.
The most important rule of thumb to follow for successful summertime learning on the road is to follow your child’s lead. Be flexible as their interests will ebb and flow while you travel. One path for learning may lead to a completely unplanned teachable moment. Savor the spontaneity and go with it! The equation of “kids = curiosity” lends itself beautifully to another equation I swear by: “travel = learning”. You just have to facilitate these critical learning opportunities and let your child do the rest.
By Sarah Zegarra (M.Ed), educator and teacher leader who taught K-5 bilingual education (Spanish-English). She is passionate about project-based, whole-child, culturally responsive teaching, and integrating the arts into learning.