If you ask a child what their plans are for summer vacation, chances are that “learning” won’t be one of them. A lot of children see summer break as a time to step away from studies and have fun before the next school year starts. However, if they don’t practice what they’ve learned, they could lose it. So how do we, as parents, keep them learning and having fun during the summer?

We embed learning into fun summer activities.

Whether you’re spending summer days together or braving a Weekend Warrior schedule, there are plenty of ways to keep kids learning while having fun during the break. All you need is an educational plan that disguises itself as summer fun.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Create Summer Goals:
What new skill would they like to learn before the next grade? Is this the summer they’ll learn to swim or ride a bike? Will reading 10 books earn them a prize? Have your children create goals they wish to accomplish over the break at the beginning of the summer. This will create excitement, give them incentive to stay on track, and, more importantly, it will keep them learning.

Have a Weekly Theme:
There are only about 11 or so weeks of summer vacation, so make them count! Each week, explore a new subject and base activities/reading materials around that subject. For example, if you have a little one who loves dinosaurs, visit the Witte’s Naylor Family Dinosaur Gallery or take a hike to the real dinosaur tracks found at Government Canyon State Park. At home, you can read literature on dinosaurs, rent a movie about them or play with a dinosaur excavation kit. You can also freeze dinosaur figurines in ice and have the kids excavate and identify them outside on a warm summer day. As the theme changes each week, they will be gaining a wealth of knowledge on various topics over the summer.

Visit Your Local Library:
The library has so much to offer kids of all ages. Age-specific clubs and activities can get your children learning while they’re having fun. Set reading goals for the summer and reward your young learner for meeting them. You might also consider joining Our Family Reads: The Mayor’s Book Club and read along with the community. Each month, a new topic is explored with selections for readers of all ages. Contact your local library or visit www.mysapl.org for more information on activities and events. At home, you can access the library’s eBooks from your Kindle device, too. This especially comes in handy when you’re on vacation!

Plant a Garden:
Your kids can gain a huge sense of accomplishment in planting a garden. It’s a great lesson in the life cycle of a plant and sustainability. You can start off small with a planter box, seeds and garden soil. Children can personalize their planter and decorate popsicle sticks that act as plant markers. Have your children care for their plants and reap the rewards once their garden grows. It’s a perfect way to get them to eat their veggies, too. If a family garden isn’t possible for you right now, consider volunteering in the Urban Garden at San Antonio Food Bank. Children of all ages are welcome to help maintain the garden, so long as they are accompanied by an adult. They not only learn about gardening, but know to give back to the community!

Take Nature Walks:
From plants to creepy crawlers and wildlife, there’s a lot to see on the trail and even more to learn. Make hiking or nature walks even more fun by letting your little ones snap photos of things that interest them on the trail and then research them online. If your child loves treasure hunting, consider geocaching on the trail. It’s as easy as downloading the app and locating the different geocache “treasures.” Geocaching can go beyond the trail, too. There are so many places to explore while learning about coordinates in the process.

Find a Pen Pal:
Do you have loved ones in another state? Or friends they’d like to keep in touch with over the summer? Having a Pen Pal not only gets kids working on writing skills, but keeps them in touch with friends and family over the summer. Kids will love getting letters in the mail, and you’ll love all the practice they’re getting.

Vacation Fun:
Planning a summer trip? Take this opportunity to create excitement and study the place you’re visiting before you get there. Pick up a book or film on your vacation spot. From location to weather and history, what is different about your destination? For younger kids, create a scavenger hunt and have them record what they see when you get there. For older kids, have them search for interesting facts about your destination.

Day Trips:
There are so many educational and fun places to visit in our area. Start with what your child’s interests are and create a plan around it. Do they love exploring? Do they enjoy playing Minecraft? A visit to Natural Bridge Caverns will have them exploring caves and panning for precious gems and fossils — all while learning about mining, stones and natural rock formations. They’ll enjoy the relation between their virtual and real worlds — away from the screen. If they are hands-on learners, a trip to the DoSeum allows them the freedom to learn in a fun space. Check out the places you plan to visit online before heading there, as a lot of them offer educational resources right on their website.

Summer Nights:
Summer nights are a great time to stargaze and learn about astronomy. It’s as easy as sitting outside and documenting the shape of the moon and all the stars you see. Try to pinpoint constellations or have children create a star map and see if it changes over the break. For more astronomy fun, visit the Scobee Planetarium for one of their family-friendly presentations.

Keep a Summer Journal:
Where have they been? What did they see/learn? Keeping a summer journal will keep information fresh, get them writing over the summer and make a great keepsake to look back on years from now.

While you’re having fun over the summer, be creative and extract the educational value in each activity your family participates in. It doesn’t have to be overly complicated. The idea is to keep children learning something new or practicing something they’ve learned while having fun.

By Pamela V. Miller