Keeping Your Kids Engaged Over the Summer

kid on a bike with a backpack and helmetBy Jaimie Hutchison

It is summertime and the kids are out of school. Ah, I remember summers with my family, visiting relatives, riding bikes with friends and daily chore lists. . . which we will incorporate into summer fun, too! If you are like me, you have been scrambling to put a plan together since April! If not, I am sure you are thinking about it now. Our daughter has been enrolled in summer camps for most weeks she is on “vacation.” Some of the camps are half-days and some of them are full day camps. We put a lot of thought into making sure she got a little bit of everything.  She will be exploring science, culinary arts, photography, basketball, musical theater, animals, and she will go to a week of Grandma Camp with her cousins. Our goal was to expose her to camps that kept her learning and active while meeting new people and having a good time. Camps are expensive though, and even with only one child and a dual-income household, it is hard to manage! So, what else can you do to keep your kids active and learning this summer?

Research has shown that a student’s skills and knowledge often deteriorate during the summer months. Some kids like their screens so much that their activity declines, often leading to weight gain. Academic activity during the summer months can improve achievement. Children also need one hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily. How can we accomplish those goals? Here are some ideas.

  1. Make the most of screen time. Experts recommend limiting screen time, but if your child is on a screen, make it count! Find educational programming for kids. Anything from Animal Planet, to Sesame Street, to historical fiction can be a great way for kids to soak up some knowledge while they are on their screens. Last summer we watched “Anne with an E” (based on “Anne of Green Gables”). Each Sunday we have an animal show that we enjoy watching together while learning!
  2. If your child prefers tablets or games, try one that will improve a skill or help them learn something new. For little kids, there are apps like PBS Kids and older kids might be interested in learning a language. They can download Duolingo, where they can choose from 23 languages. (I am using this app to prepare for a family trip to Brazil!)
  3. Email teachers for packets or online materials to work on over the summer. Our school sent a link to Schoology courses that they want the students to do to prepare for next year. Or, you can use Khan Academy, which has free online courses, lessons, and practice for all ages. Our daughter is going to do some math through Khan Academy this summer to be ready for next year. As a former school counselor, I can tell you that I have seen Khan Academy help a lot of students if they were persistent. 
  4. Add learning to vacation. We are going to Chicago next weekend and we tasked our daughter with calculating the tips (to wait staff) when we dine out to get some practical math practice. As we prepare to visit a local theater, she is doing research about the history of the theater and she is going to present this to us during the car ride there!  There are a lot of ways to add learning to fun trips! Budget, read a book about the city or environment that you will be visiting, check out a museum. . . I like the odd ones, like a shoe museum. There are always things to learn.
  5. Make reading part of every day. A few summers ago, we started reading the “Little House on the Prairie” series together. We would alternate reading chapters. When we finish the series, we plan to visit a historic site in Wisconsin! Does your kiddo want to watch “Harry Potter,” “Captain Underpants,” or “Charlotte’s Web?” Great! Have them read the book first so they can compare the two.
  6. Cook together. We often start Saturdays at the Farmer’s Market where we compare prices on vegetables and, of course, grab a breakfast burrito. Then, we plan meals. Cooking together is the most fun part. A lot of learning comes from cooking. There is math, timing, and reading recipe directions. There is also creativity! Make a lasagna with zucchini or try eggplant parmesan to add more veggies to your meals.
  7. Try geocaching near you! This activity combines walking, exploring, and using technology!
  8. Have a neighborhood sprinkler party! Maybe your child will meet some new kids and they can run around and enjoy the simple pleasure of jumping through the water. Having a limited budget in our house growing up, this was one of our favorite things to do! (Hose games can be fun too! I am sure you can remember kinking the hose so you wouldn’t get wet.)
  9. Walk the dog! We have a 9-week-old Yellow Labrador Retriever. If we want to sleep, or want Leia (the dog) to sleep, we need to walk her to exhaustion. If you don’t have a dog, I am sure a neighbor or friend does. They would probably love it if you offered to walk their dog! We already have plans for a friend to come over, play with the puppy, and take her for a walk!
  10. Get the bikes out. Does your kiddo not know how to ride a bike? No problem! MSU Bikes has been known to give lessons! Also, kids can teach other kids.
  11. Go on family walks. We have an Ingham County Parks parking pass that allows us to park for free all year at Burchfield Park in Holt, Hawk Island, Lake Lansing South, North, and Boat Launch, Potter Park, and more. If the price of a parking pass is not in your budget, please ask the attendant to waive the fee with a hardship pass.
  12. Check out a nature center! We have several in the area that are all beautiful and unique. Bring binoculars if you have them. When we go on a hike, we like to identify birds, too! We have also done a hiking scavenger hunt where we must find five unique living things and write them down.
  13. Invite friends to play. Being active can be so much more fun when you have a friend with you! Have a jump rope contest, play PIG, play on the playground, or play sports together.
  14. SWIM! We are surrounded by water. Yesterday, my daughter met up with friends and picnicked at Lake Lansing South. Check out a Great Lake beach or check out a local pool. 
  15. HAVE FUN. Summer memories are some of my favorites. Whether you will be spending most days working or if you have some time off, there are more daylight hours and quality time together is the most important part of it all. Enjoy your summer and help your kids start off their next school year in a good place. 

If you would like to learn more about keeping kids engaged or advocating for your kids in school, please set up a consultation by emailing