Summer learning should focus on fun

heatherChildren do not need to slouch on the couch during the summer and lose months of hard-won academic progress. In fact, summer is a great time to awaken kids to the love of learning and help them discover that learning can be joyful—even if they think that school itself is not. Here are three ideas for encouraging joyful brain development over the summer:

Make reading the centerpiece of summer. According to Jennifer Sloan Combs, Ph.D., a senior officer at the RAND Corporation, reading tops the list of activities to do during the summer to stay smart. Children of all ages benefit not only from free reading, but also from having books read to them. The beauty of summer is that it frees students from book reports and comprehension tests. Unbound by those formalities, many students are surprised to discover that freely reading can be fun! A few of our family’s favorite read-aloud books include The Princess Bride by William Goldman, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and The Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.

Choose a weekly theme. Adults can model a love of learning by living summer with enthusiasm. Choose a weekly topic and dive into it together. Our list of themes for this summer includes horses, coding, water, rare coins, and eggs. Each week we obsess about the chosen topic—including by tracking down relevant books, online sites, YouTube clips, day camps, crafts, and activities in community centers, libraries, and museums.

Rethink screen time. Everyone knows that many children spend too much time with videogames and TV during the summer. But instead of trying to reduce screen time across the board, think instead about replacing empty-calorie screen time with beneficial screen time—the online superfoods. Practice math on Dreambox or Khan Academy. Learn to code on Scratch. Write and publish an illustrated ebook. Discover your ancestors online. When it comes to screen time, children should be picky eaters.

Some education reformers would do away with summer vacation. I take the opposite view. Summer is an important time for informal learning and discovery. Adults who facilitate that positive relationship with learning are the first to realize that summer is in fact the most important season for warming up children to a lifetime of curiosity.

by Heather Staker, author of Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools (San Francisco: Wiley, 2015), chief learning officer of Brain Chase, and mother of five Pre-K and elementary students. Follow her at