Six fun ways to keep young brains active this summer.

Liz Witherspoon

Senior Marketing and Communications Executive, PTA UK

11 July, 2017 : 11:22

0     6

If you’ve heard teachers talking about ‘summer slide', it’s probably because they’re concerned that some students' numeracy and literacy skills take a dip over the summer holidays. As parents we tend to prioritise down time, but there are plenty of fun ways to stay on top of learning at the same time as giving the kids a well-earned rest. Here are a few ideas...

1. Holidays and days out

Family days out can be a relaxed way to experience a broader learning and bring subjects taught in school to life. Your kids might be surprised to find that mum, dad, granny or grandad do actually know a thing or two about a thing or two too! Museums come in all shapes and sizes, up and down the country, with lots offering free admission. Find a subject that sparks your child’s interest and spend a few hours or a whole day finding out new facts together. A quick internet search will turn up loads of suggestions for your area and further afield, but here are a few favourites from around the UK:

  • The astronomy centre, Greenwich is perfect for budding astronauts. Learn about stars, planets and the solar system or book a journey into space in the Planetarium.
  • Get kitted out with your hard hat and battery lamp at The National Coal Mining Museum, Wakefield, then descend 140m underground to discover the harsh realities of coal mining through the centuries. Former miners bring something really special to their tours.
  • Explore the shipyard, walk the decks, travel to the depths of the ocean and uncover the true legend of Titanic in the city where it all began at Titanic, Belfast.
  • Spectacular caves, towering stalagmites and a dinosaur park all on one site make the National Showcaves, Dan-yr-Ogof an absolute must visit.
  • Go on a journey of discovery through the history of Scotland and around the world, taking in the wonders of nature, art and science at The Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh. There’s a fancy restaurant with rooftop views of the city too. 
  • The Eden Project, Cornwall is nestled in a huge crater. Massive Biomes housing the largest rainforest in captivity, stunning plants, exhibitions and stories serve as a backdrop to striking contemporary gardens and exciting year-round family events. 

Look out for small local museums too, they’re often free, fun and quirky. Here are five ideas that might tempt you:

  • Derwent pencil museum, Cumbria is the home of the first pencil. Discover secret WW2 pencils with hidden maps.  
  • Housed in a group of three canalside buildings which once formed the largest “ragged” or free school in London. At the heart of the Ragged School Museum, London is a unique classroom, where children experience a glimpse of Victorian life.
  • The Gnome reserve, Devon. Fun for younger children and anyone who likes gnomes! 
  • Blink and you might miss it, the Phone box museum, Pembrokeshire is a photographic museum with a difference. 
  • The Shell Grotto, Kent is a bit of a mystery. Explore a series of underground passages covered in mosaics created entirely of seashells.

Going on walks can kick-start a child's relationship with nature and spark a love of the great outdoors. A treasure hunt is a fun way to learn. Come up with a list of things for the kids to find or spot - sticks, stones, types or colours of flowers, leaves from different trees, birds, insects etc. Remind little ones that while nests, eggs and insects are great to watch, they shouldn’t be touched.

Holidays abroad are the perfect excuse to learn (and try out) a new language, and keep on top of number skills calculating exchange rates!

2. Learning in everyday life

Joining in with everyday activities is an easy way of putting what’s been learned at school into practice, without children realising they’re developing their learning.

Take the kids food shopping (we dare you!). Make a list together, and let little ones check off items as you go. Ask younger children to identify, weigh and bag up vegetables. Older kids can keep a tally of how much you’re spending. If you go at a fairly quiet time, you might find a friendly fishmonger willing to demonstrate how to fillet a fish.

Cooking is great for children of all ages and helps with numeracy and literacy as they read through a recipe and find and weigh ingredients. Plus there’s the added bonus of eating the results! Our blog from The Food Assembly has more ideas about engaging children with the food they eat.

Ask teens to set up a housework plan. They can allocate jobs by day estimating the time each chore will take, and perhaps even factor in a points or reward system that will encourage all family members to get stuck in.

3. Holiday projects

holiday diary encourages daily writing. It’s also a nice way to reflect on and appreciate the day’s activities. Older children and teens might want to keep a photo or video journal or a private blog.

Science experiments are fun and provide the perfect excuse to get messy. Our blog from The Curiosity Box has great science experiments to try at home. Alternatively, there are loads of experiments that just require a few household items and instructions from the internet (search: science experiments for kids).

If your kids like entering competitions there are plenty around. Look out for any that involve writing a story or poem, art or cookery. Or what about working towards a Blue Peter Badge, they’re awarded for sending interesting letters, stories, makes, pictures, poems, good ideas for the programme, and for having appeared on Blue Peter. Badge owners can gain free entry into over 200 Blue Peter Badge Attractions around the country, like theme parks, zoos and castles.

Writing competitions for kids
Poetry competitions for kids

If you have a bit of extra time on your hands in the holidays, try learning a new skill. Pick something you can teach each other or learn together - perhaps someone you know is an avid knitter and would love to share their passion. Or if you fancy a physical challenge, check out the holiday courses at your local sports centre, or book onto an open session and give something a go – roller-skating could be a giggle.

4. Fun and games

Getting kids outdoors supports health and fitness and develops their sensory skills. Take little ones on a back garden safari - pitch a tent in the garden (think blanket over the washing line), grab a magnifying glass and a cup and hunt for bugs and plants.

If your tweens or teens enjoy a mental challenge, give geocaching a go. It’s a digital treasure hunt and is great fun for families. You can try geocaching at some National Trust properties.

On rainy days, why not try an escape room experience. They’re popping up all over the country and are really popular with families. Most challenges are themed, some involve dressing up, and whether you’re trying to break out of a locked room or retrieve an artifact, you’ll have a load of fun breaking codes and solving  puzzles together.

And of course you can’t beat a good board game. There are plenty that have been developed with learning in mind, but by playing most traditional games you’ll use maths and English skills in some way -  card games are great for number recognition, chess builds strategy skills and family board games like Monopoly involve counting, negotiation, reading and social skills.

5. Reading for pleasure

Reading with your child is a fun and simple way to support their education, whatever their age. The UK government’s Education Research Standards Team tells us, "Evidence suggests that there is a positive relationship between reading frequency, reading enjoyment and attainment."

If your child doesn’t particularly enjoy reading the books they’re given at school, the holidays are a great time to find something that really strikes a chord with them – graphic novels, comics or information books about a something they love (puppies anyone?!) can be a stepping stone to finding fiction they’ll love. Borrow a heap of books from your local library and see what sticks!

Ask your young readers if they’d like to take part in the Summer Reading Challenge; the theme this year is Animal Agents. 

6. Study clubs and work experience

If there’s a subject you particularly want your child to focus on during the holidays and you’re in a position where you can provide support and help with their learning yourself, then plan in some study time. But for lots of us a club will be a better option, so find out whether there are any holiday clubs in your local area. Look out for revision sessions for teenagers, and fun activities with specific learning objectives for younger kids.

If a club’s not your child’s thing, there are loads of online study programmes and challenges available. Or if you’re after something a bit less formal (and bit more free) plan in time to play online games. Ask at school for some website recommendations, or look at the BBC Bitesize and National Literacy Trust websites.

The summer holidays are long enough for teenagers to pick up a bit of work experience without it eating into all their downtime and study time. Help them find and approach local businesses where they could learn skills that support their learning and aspirations.

And here’s one last suggestion before we all rush off to book up the eleventy-hundreth activity… what would happen if we allow our kids to get a little bit bored? Don’t be afraid to give it a go – the result might just be something incredible!

Keep up to date with our latest news and blogs on Twitter @PTAUK.

Our blog is a place for a range of opinions and debate on parents and their role in their schools and their children’s education. Whilst we think this debate is really important, we don’t always agree with the views being expressed.

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