How I Tricked My Kids into Learning During the Summer

Making the Grade

Summers were the best when I was a kid. I would swim and roller skate and have sleepovers for 90 days of sunshine-filled bliss. Then August would come, and getting my brain back into learning mode was brutal.

When I became a mom, I told myself I was going to keep my two kids, Rowan and Skylar, in tiptop learning shape between belly flops and “all-nighters.” The summer before Rowan was entering second grade and Skylar was going into first grade, my husband and I got out workbooks and flashcards every day. The kids would have to complete a certain number of pages or set amount of time before they could go off reveling in their youth.

I thought this was genius. Sure, there was plenty of grumbling, but the kids got it done and my husband and I were pretty darned proud of ourselves.

On the first day of summer the following year, Skylar and Rowan came padding down the stairs, sleep still heavy in their eyes. Their dad was making breakfast and I was sitting at the table, a cup of coffee in one hand and pristine new workbooks in the other.

Before I could utter a “good morning,” Rowan took one look at me and said, “Ugh, not this again. You already ruined one summer.”

I must admit, I was a little shook. Was he being a bit dramatic? Probably. But it got me thinking. I loved my golden days of freedom as a child, liberated from backpacks and bells. Yet here I was, shoving workbooks at my kids before 9 a.m.

There had to be a way to help keep their brains active while letting them enjoy their break.

Right then, I decided I was going to try to sneak in lessons without my kids suspecting a thing. Before I tell you what we did, I must admit that some lessons took research and effort, while others were happy accidents.

Here’s how we tricked our kids into learning during the summer:

Closed Captions: My son loves the remote (or, as he used to call it, the ga-mote). He’s always messing with it and has turned the closed caption feature on more than once. One time, instead of huffing impatiently and turning off the captions immediately, I left them on, turned down the volume and had my kids try to read the words of their favorite show. We even chose characters and acted out the scenes as they played on the TV. Not only were they reading, but we were having a great time!

See the Sites: Part of my summer fun as a child included trips to Virginia to see relatives. That often meant visiting nearby places like Washington D.C., Antietam Battlefield and Monticello. I learned more about history on those trips than I did sitting in a classroom. Las Vegas may not have the Smithsonian, but we do have reimaginations of some of the world’s most famous landmarks. On particularly warm summer days, my husband and I packed the kids in the car and played tour guide up and down the Strip. We armed ourselves with fun facts about Egypt, Rome or Paris — or people like Caesar Augustus — and would rattle off info while the kids stared out the windows in awe. On the way home, we quizzed them about what they saw. We got to look at our town in a different way, and everyone learned a bit in the process.

Get Cooking: Engaging kids in mealtime is a great way to get them interested in what they are eating, but it’s also a sneaky learning tool. Whenever I decreased or increased a recipe, I asked the kids to do the math for me. Going through the recipes also helped teach them how to read and follow directions. I tried to talk about where the ingredients came from or what country the dish was inspired by. Sometimes we even themed our weeknight meals that way. Italy has been a running favorite, thanks to homemade pizza and this homemade marinara sauce.

Get Growing: That delicious marinara sauce also inspired us to grow our own little tomato garden. Tomatoes are one of the few things that can survive Vegas’ harsh heat, and we turned that into an opportunity to squeeze in science basics — talk about how things grow, what they need to thrive, where other foods come from, and more! Plus, it was really cool for my kids to watch the fruits of their labor result in actual fruit.

Play Chess: On our second date, my husband brought over chess pieces to teach me one of his favorite games. He had noticed I had a table that featured a chessboard as the top. Little did he know, I bought it only because I thought it made a cute and quirky conversation piece, not because I had any intentions of playing chess. When we started playing, I realized this was more than a game. It was a lesson in strategy, critical thinking and patience. Looking deeper into it, I discovered chess may help children and adults improve their focus, think more creatively, and more! We started incorporating chess into our family game nights, and Rowan and Skylar surpassed me in skill quite quickly.

The day before school started, I asked my kids what their favorite part of the break was. I fully expected answers like “Charlie’s birthday party” or “the slide at Naomi’s pool.” To my surprise, and delight, Rowan said playing chess with dad, and Skylar said taking care of the baby tomatoes and making pizza. Now my husband and I really did have something to be proud of.

I hope these tips help inspire even more creative ways to keep your kids learning during summer break!

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