Get Ready for Summer! Ideas for Teachers to Share with Families

By: Reading Rockets

Summer Learning

The school bell may stop ringing, but summer is a great time for all kinds of learning opportunities for kids. Reading Rockets packed this beach bag full of activities for teachers to help families get ready for summer and to launch students to fun, enriching summertime experiences.

In the beach bag you'll find materials you can download and distribute, but you'll also find ideas for things that you may want to gather and offer to students and parents and for connections you'll want to make to help ensure summer learning gain rather than loss.

Ideas for summer learning fun

Start with a Book

Check out Reading Rockets' new summer website, Start with a Book. You'll find a treasure trove of themed children's books, parent–child activities, and other great resources for summer learning.

Offer recommendations for active learning experiences. Check with your local department of parks and recreation about camps and other activities. Find out what exhibits, events, or concerts are happening in your town over the summer. Create a directory or calendar of local summer learning fun to share with your students and their families. (Be sure to note any costs involved.)

Encourage parents to build reading and writing into everyday activities. Some ideas to pass along: (1) watching TV with the sound off and closed captioning on, (2) reading directions for how to play a new game, or (3) helping with meals by writing up a grocery list, finding things in the grocery store, and reading the recipe aloud for mom or dad during cooking time. More ideas at PBS Parents (in Spanish, too) and ReadWriteThink.

Summer trading cards. Kids can dive deeper into summer reading by exploring characters with the Trading Cards activity from ReadWriteThink, which provides students with the opportunity to expand their understanding of the reading by creating new storylines and characters. A nifty Trading Card interactive tool provides additional support.

Encourage writing. Give each of your students a stamped, addressed postcard so they can write to you about their summer adventures. Or recycle school notebooks and paper into summer journals or scrapbooks. Another way to engage young writers is to encourage your students to spend some time researching and writing community stories — not only does it build research and writing skills, but helps kids develop a deeper sense of place. And check out the pen pal project at Schwab Learning.

Everyone's blogging! Arrange for a safe, closed community so that your students can blog over the summer. Edublogs offers teachers and students free blog space and appropriate security. Students will need an e-mail address in order to create an account. Free, disposable e-mail accounts are available at Mailinator. Students can create an account there, use the address long enough to establish the blog and password, and then abandon it. Or have parents check out SparkTop (originally created by Schwab Learning) for blogging and other writing opportunities.

Be an active citizen. Kids who participate in community service activities gain not only new skills but self-confidence and self-esteem. Help them zoom into action! Resources from ZOOM can help them get the most out of helping others this summer.

Active bodies. Active minds. First Lady Michele Obama is leading the national Let's Move initiative — with the goal of raising a healthier generation of children. Let's Move Outside has lots of ideas to help kids get the 60 minutes of active play they need everyday. At Your Library has suggestions for fun outdoor games — everything from the classics (remember Capture the Flag?) to how to invent your own, plus a list of books that will inspire you to "let the games begin."

Get into geocaching. Everyone loves a scavenger hunt! Get in on the latest outdoor craze with geocaching, where families search for hidden "caches" or containers using handheld GPS tools (or a GPS app on your smart phone). Try a variation on geocaching called earthcaching where you seek out and learn about unique geologic features. Find more details about geocaching plus links to geocaching websites in this article from the School Family website, Geocaching 101: Family Fun for All, in Every Season.

Watch a garden grow and build research, reading, and writing skills with this summer project from ReadWriteThink. Children are encouraged to write questions and observations in a summer garden journal. Or check out the Kids Gardening website for lots of great ideas and resources for family (and school) gardening.

Make cool things. "Dad, dad, dad, can we make a samurai sword?..." Dad Can Do is a wonderful site full of crafty ideas that bring fathers and kids together. Make a wizard's wand, paper planes, spaceships, ex libris, and quirky things like an origami cowboy shirt (think Woody from "Toy Story") — mostly from inexpensive or recycled materials.

Help parents plan ahead for fall. Work with the teachers a grade level above to develop a short list of what their new students have to look forward to when they return to school. For example, if rising third graders will be studying ancient cultures, suggest that parents check out educational TV, movies, or local museums that can provide valuable background information on that topic.

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Ideas for summer reading fun

Make sure kids have something to read during the summer — put books into children's hands. Register with First Book and gain access to award-winning new books for free and to deeply discounted new books and educational materials or find other national and local programs and organizations that can help.

Get your local public library to sign kids up for summer reading before school is out. Invite or ask your school librarian to coordinate a visit from the children's librarian at the public library near the end of the school year. Ask them to talk about summer activities, educational videos, and audio books at the library and to distribute summer reading program materials.

Get to know your community public library better. Find out if your public library is part of the Collaborative Summer Library Program, a grassroots effort to provide high-quality summer reading programs for kids. The theme for 2013 is Dig into Reading. Colorín Colorado has tips for parents in English and in Spanish about visiting the local library. Or check out our top 9 reasons to rediscover your public library.

Let parents and kids know about the free summer reading incentive programs. Pizza Hut's Book It program has a summer component called Summer Break with Book It! It's for kids grades K-6, and features a minute tracker app, book recommendations, recipes for readers, printables, games, and activity calendars. The Scholastic Summer Challenge encourages kids to log the minutes they spend reading and map their accomplishments. Kids can participate in weekly challenges, earn digital rewards, and enter to win prizes. The iVillage Summer Reading Community Challenge begins on June 17th: Sign up for four weeks of daily e-mails filled with literacy-building tips from the experts at Sprout, games and activities to help foster a love of reading, and more. With the Barnes & Noble Imagination Destination challenge, your child can earn a free book after reading eight books and keeping track of them in a reading log. With the TD Bank Summer Reading Program, kids read and keep track of 10 books and can get $10 added to their Young Saver account.

Help kids build math and science skills over the summer. Share our Literacy in the Sciences series with families. Each one-page tip sheet (in English and Spanish) suggests easy hands-on activities as well as fiction and nonfiction books to extend the learning. Encourage parents to find out if their community is involved with NASA's Summer of Innovation project — which provides grants and teaching resources for summer school programs to introduce kids kids in grades 4–9 to science through problem-based activities. The project focuses on reaching kids who are traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields.

Encourage parents to start a neighborhood book club with other families this summer. It's a great way to keep the summer learning social and low-key. Warmer weather can inspire some not-so-run-of-the-mill meeting places, too: a tent or picnic blanket in the backyard. If the book club catches on, it's something to continue throughout the school year. PBS Parents has a wonderful collection of tips on how to start a club and encourage great discussions.

Real world books. Interesting Nonfiction for Kids (I.N.K.) introduces kids to writers who are presenting nonfiction in new and engaging ways. For more book ideas to share with parents, check out the Orbis Pictus Award winners — outstanding nonfiction for children, presented by the National Council of Teachers of English.

Suggest to parents that they set up a summer listening program which encourages their children to listen to written language. Research shows that some children with learning disabilities profit from reading the text and listening to it at the same time.

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Online activities for families

Share examples of good interactive educational websites that parents and young kids can explore together. Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) has an excellent bilingual site called Let's Read as a Family designed to help Latino families read, sing, and share stories together at home. There are lots of other quality websites for kids. Here are a few more of our favorites:

  • National Geographic Kids: offers great nature videos, activities, games, stories, and more
  • CoolMath4Kids: take a trip through an amusement park of math and more at this extremely interactive math website
  • Smithsonian Kids Collecting: how to start your own collection and see what other kids collect
  • Explore Dinosaurs: FAQs and top 10 myths about dinosaurs, a virtual dig, behind the scenes tours, and more from the National Museum of Natural History
  • Smithsonian Digging for Answers: a site that tests your research skills and knowledge
  • NASA Quest: interactive explorations that engage students in real science and engineering. Topics include robots, helicopters, lunar exploration, and designing your own human-friendly planet
  • My Wonderful World: a multimedia tour of our seven continents
  • Time for Kids:an online weekly magazine written for kids, with news from around the world as well as fun games.

Introduce your students and their families to stories from around the world. Let them know about the International Children's Digital Library, an amazing (and growing!) collection of international children's books available to read online in their original languages. Big Universe is another online library of fiction and nonfiction books for kids 0-12. The site also offers adults and kids the chance to create and publish their own stories.

Suggest audio books as an alternative to print, especially for kids with learning disabilities that make reading a struggle. You can now download stories to iPods and other mobile devices, perfect for car rides or a lazy hot afternoon. AudibleKids has an extensive collection of downloadable books, and some of them are free through a partnership with RIF.

For students with vision or learning disabilities, tell your parents about Learning Ally (formerly Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic), which provides free audio books for kids to listen over the summer.

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Print and share with parents

Distribute a checklist for parents that provides tips on how to find a great summer program. This one, developed by the National Summer Learning Association, is a good basic resource.

Build background knowledge. Put an article about summer learning in your school or PTA newsletter.

Use books as a springboard for conversation, creativity, and acquiring new background knowledge by sharing the Reading Rockets Reading Adventure Packs with your students' families. These themed packs combine fiction and nonfiction books with simple, hands-on activities that kids and parents can do together.

Give parents a tool to help them promote healthy and balanced media use at home during the summer months. The PACT from the National PTA may help families come up with good screen time compromises. (The PACT is also available in Spanish.)

Help parents create a literacy friendly house for the summer (and all year round) with these tips from Reading Is Fundamental.

Offer reading reminders to parents with these tip sheets from Reading Rockets available in 11 languages.

Recommend good summer reads that match your students' interests. You might start with the 2013 Big Summer Read book list from Reading Rockets.

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Print and share with kids

Promote simple, fun items that support the reading habit. Reading Rockets has created a "Warning! Reading Rocket in Orbit" door hanger in English and Spanish.

Recommend some great summer reads thast match your students' interests. Books about summer stuff are fun summertime reads. Download the Reading Rockets Big Summer Read book lists, with lots of good suggestions for kids up to 9 years old. Or ask your school or public librarian for an age appropriate reading list. See the U.S.A. through books this summer, with this great list from the American Library Association — and keep a 'travel' journal while you're reading!

Some students enjoy doing worksheets while others get very excited about puzzle books and word scrambles, so you might send home a few of these types of activities as an option. Teacher Planet offers loads of links to summer-themed printable activity sheets. And HarperCollins Children's Books has literature quizzes, games, and printables in their Games & Contests section.

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Reading Rockets (2012)