Summer Education for Kids: Fun Learning in Everyday Activities

Skip pricey enrichment programs and keep your child's mind engaged and growing with opportunities that lay groundwork for benefits and foster development.

When Nan Sabella of Grosse Pointe Farms took her sons – James and Joey – on a trip to Cedar Point, they were given enough money to buy a ticket and spend on snacks or souvenirs. It was up to the kids how they spent the remaining money. So, they stepped to the front of the line, purchased their tickets and snagged a couple of maps to guide the family through the Ohio amusement park.

They learned a few valuable lessons during that fun outing. Cash in hand, James and Joey used math to deduct the value of the ticket from that amount and figure out how much to spend on other amenities during the day. The brothers learned to use maps to navigate the park and, of course, find their favorite rides (the Magnum and Millennium Force), all while having a blast and creating memories.

“Summer is our time to decide what we want to learn,” says Sabella, who is also a teacher at Parcells Middle School in Grosse Pointe Woods and was chosen as a 2013 Metro Parent Top Teacher. “All year in school, the curriculum decides for us.”

This summer, take advantage of everyday moments, from summer trips to impromptu backyard fun, to open your kids’ eyes to lessons will that impact their development.

Plan ahead

Whether it’s a trip to the grocery store or a local museum, teachable opportunities are everywhere. All parents have to do is plan.

“The last two weeks of school, we start our bucket list,” Sabella says. “The kids can put anything their hearts desire on it.”

And they have.

“We do a lot of budgeting over the summer when times are tough and money is tight,” Sabella says. So, once their list is complete, she and her husband sit down to decide what experiences fit into their budget.

“We give (the kids) all of these options and they really have a say in what we do then,” Sabella says.

Anytime chances

Believe it not, something as simple and fun as a water balloon fight teaches kids fine motor skills – and that’s just the start.

By filling and tying balloons, kids exercise hand muscles. Setting up a plan of attack and working together to execute it helps with planning and teamwork. And, of course, playing fair teaches kids about sportsmanship.

Discover 10 more simple ways to slip a bit of learning into summer vacation.

Or play an old-school board game, Sabella suggests. “They are still one of the best ways to involve family. When you have a larger family, it teaches them to deal with all sorts of personalities” – a great skill for the business world. When kids start working, they’ll already have natural people-skill practice.

Grocery shopping and cooking are great experiences for kids, too.

“So many of us leave them home to grocery shop now, because we want to get in and out of there quickly,” Sabella says. Take the kids with you – and don’t just hand them an electronic device to play with while you’re shopping. Let them browse different fruits and vegetables. “A lot of times, kids will try new foods if they see it,” Sabella says.

And then, when it’s time to hit the kitchen, let kids in on the fun. “Every cooking experience is a science experiment,” Sabella says. It teaches kids about measurements, ingredients and nutrition.

Directions are another great teachable moment, Sabella says. Take a trip to IKEA in Canton to buy a buildable item. Let the kids read directions and help you put it together. They’ll learn about tools and problem solving.

“We walk through the woods, and I’ve tried to draw their attention to different things,” adds Jennifer Czajkowski, former executive director of learning and interpretation at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Czajkowski has two sons, says she’s used moments like this to teach them about the world around them.

Encouraging education

“I think what’s really important is to enjoy the day – if you’re at the orchard, the zoo, the art museum. Enjoy the day as you normally would,” Sabella says. Be careful not to pack in too much. However, you can prep the kids.

Let your children search for information. And remember, it’s all about what you do afterwards to remind them of the things they saw. If you check out the Detroit Institute of Art DIA@Home family programs or visit in person to see the Van Gogh in America exhibit, “try your own art experience based on one of the artists there,” Sabella says. Or, next dentist visit, ask kids about a piece of art on display in the office. What piece of work does it remind them of from the museum?

The payoff

“These teachable moments are a chance for you to still engage with your child’s learning,” says Jordan Blough-Orr, a mom with Early Childhood Investment Corporation.

There will come a point where you may not be able to help with your kids’ math assignments. But if you give them a budget at Cedar Point and they have to use math to add up items they want to buy, you’ve helped set groundwork through a real-life experience.

“This is a moment when you have a chance to teach your child something that is relevant to them in that second,” Blough-Orr says.

If your child has $15 left after his ticket and souvenir purchase but wants to eat lunch and play a few games, it’s up to him to figure out how much money he can allot for each.

“I’m going to buy this now, but what if I’m hungry later?” Blough-Orr says. This really gets them thinking. “It’s cause and effect, where it’s directly impacting your child positively or negatively.” Yet both Blough-Orr and Sabella caution parents not to overwhelm kids with educational moments this summer.

“It has to be enjoyable, and it’s really the memories,” Sabella says. “The learning is going to take place and be memorable when they’re having fun.” Adds Blough-Orr, “It’s also just a genuine interaction with your child.”

This post is updated regularly. 


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