By Kristin Guay

The term "summer slide" might conjure up images of children flying down a sun-dappled playground slide on a beautiful summer day, but the reality is the complete opposite. "Summer slide" is a term used to describe the academic loss many students experience during the summer months.

While extended time off from school is necessary for children, it comes at a price. Research shows that at the end of summer, students, on average, are a month behind where they left off in June, with low-income students suffering the largest losses.

Families can enjoy their summer and their favorite activities, and sneak in a little education along the way to help keep children's minds active.

"Everything that happens is enrichment. It all has an educational purpose, but we don't want the kids to think that they're in school," says Mike Bachman, executive director of a summer-learning initiative in Indianapolis. "We infuse the education into everything we do."

That can mean sneaking leadership lessons into afternoon soccer games, teaching principles of fitness during outings to the local swimming pool, or wrapping planning skills into preparations for a picnic at a state park.

To plan enriching summer activities, reflect on your child's strengths and weaknesses during the school year. Think of ways you can support a skill they struggled with or bolster their self-esteem in a skill in which they excelled. Having a child help with family expenditures during a special outing helps the struggling student with basic math skills, yet also allows a child with math strength see how math concepts are used in everyday life. Retaining skills learned in the school year does not require structured lessons and worksheets, but rather a basic approach that learning can occur anyway with just about any summer activity. Take advantage of the summer months to explore some of these enrichment projects to reinforce your child's academic progress. Entertaining ways to retain math skills Sorting. Use a variety of objects such as crayons, Legos, shells, rocks, stuffed animals, or toys to practice sorting. Have your child count and compare the totals of each object (Are there more red Legos or green Legos?).

Go on an observation walk and observe patterns and shapes in your neighborhood, school, park, and community. Some examples might include brickwork on the sidewalk, designs on a rug or blanket, tile in a bathroom, seats in a movie theater, windows in an office building, patterns on a clothing item, or petals on a flower.

Try tangrams, pentominoes, and pattern block shapes (templates for all of these can be found on the Internet). These pattern games are a fun and imaginative way to create a variety of images from beginner to advanced.

Have your child help prepare meals. Teach them the entire process from reading a recipe, gathering supplies, and rereading the recipe as they prepare the meal. When cooking with others, there is constant communication and collaboration, which supports and develops their oral language skills. Math skills are constantly honed during any cooking activity. Skills such as measuring, timing, weighing, and estimating are all exercised during cooking. The best part about working with your child in the kitchen is that you are helping them with these important literacy and math skills during an engaging (and delicious) activity.

Practice addition and subtraction skills using money. Have your child earn a small amount of money that can be used as a "bank." When they want to buy something, they will need to withdraw (subtract) from this bank. They can earn more money to deposit (addition) into the bank as well.

Suggested reading to retain math skills: Math Curse (Jon Scieszka, Lane Smith), What's New At The Zoo? (Suzanne Slade, Joan Waites), Actual Size (Steve Jenkins), The Mission of Addition (Brian Cleary, Brian Gable), Elevator Magic (Stuart Murphy, Brian Karas), Hershey's Kisses Addition Book and Hershey's Kisses Subtraction Book (Jerry Pallotta, Rob Bolster), Fraction Action (Loreen Leedy), Piece=Part=Portion (Scott Gifford, Shumel Thaler), Multiplying Menace (Pam Calvert, Wayne Geehan), 365 Penguins (Jean-Luc Gromental, Joelle Jolivet), One Grain of Rice (Demi), Shape Up! (David Adler, Nancy Tobin), If You Were A Polygon (Marcie Abof, Sarah Dillard) and the Sir Cumference series (Cindy Neuschwander, Wayne Geehan). Exploring science concepts outside of the classroom Go "fishing" for ice: Take a glass of water and add several ice cubes. Next, take a piece of string and place it in the water. The ice cubes will rise to the surface of the water. Try to fish the cubes out of the water with the string. The string will float around the water, but you will not be able to "catch" any of the cubes. Now, sprinkle a little salt onto the cubes and try again. Pull the string out of the water and see what happened -- did you "catch" any ice cubes? Research why this happens.

Make homemade ice cream. You will need one small plastic bag filled with ½ cup milk, 1 tablespoon sugar, and ¼ teaspoon vanilla. Take a gallon-size bag and fill it with 10 cups of ice and 6 tablespoons of salt. Place the smaller bag inside the larger bag a shake for about 10 minutes. The milk mixture will thicken and turn to ice cream. Be careful to completely rinse the salt mixture off the smaller bag before opening.

Drops of water on a coin. Determine how many drops of water will fit onto a coin. You will need a penny, nickel, dime, quarter, plastic pipette, water, and a chart to record your findings. Before beginning, make a guess (hypothesis) as to which coin will hold the least amount of water and which coin will hold the greatest. Set the coins on a flat surface and slowly drop the water onto each coin. Watch how each coin eventually has a dome of water, which ultimately collapses with the final drop of water. Why does this happen?

What happens when you mix oil, water, and a little food coloring? Take a clear glass and fill it halfway with water. Pour enough oil into the glass to make a thin layer on top of the water. Place a few drops of food coloring into the water. You will notice that it will bead on top of the oil and rest for a while. Wait a little longer and you will see the food coloring slowly break through the oil and fall to the bottom of the glass.

Create some colorful cabbage. This easy experiment shows kids how plants absorb water and nutrients up through their stem. All you need is cabbage, clear glasses or jars, food coloring, and water. Fill the glasses about 75% with water and add 10 drops of food coloring. Now, place a single cabbage leaf into the water, about half under the water and half above. Leave it to sit overnight and watch what happens. You can also use flowers or celery stalks in place of the cabbage leaves.

Go on a five-senses observation walk. You can do this in your home, in your neighborhood, at the beach, in a park, or another place you enjoy spending your time. Take the time to really focus on one sense at a time. Try this activity with other members of the family to see if someone can hear or see something that others may not (the rumble of a road in the distance or a single bird high up in a tree).

Take a virtual field trip to a science museum. You can take a virtual tour of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History or the Science Museum and view all their special exhibits.

Check out great science websites designed especially for kids. Sites include Science Kiddo, Edheads -- Activate Your Mind!, Science Kids, Try Science, and National Geographic Kids. These offer fun experiments, detailed photographs, interactive games, and field trips and adventures -- all designed to make learning about science engaging and informative.

Great science reading: The Book of Totally Irresponsible Science (Sean Connolly), The Usborne Big Book of Experiments (Usborne), Science in the Kitchen (Rebecca Heddle), Science Arts, Discovering Science Through Art Experiences (MaryAnn Kohl, Jean Potter), The Science Book for Girls, and Other Intelligent Beings (Valerie Wyatt), Parts and More Parts (Tedd Arnold), Disgusting Digestion (Nick Arnold), Magic School Bus Inside the Human Body (Joanna Cole, Bruce Degen), Why I Sneeze, Shiver, Hiccup, and Yawn (Melvin Berger, Paul Meisel), The Magic School Bus Explores the Senses and Magic School Bus and the Science Fair Expedition (Joanna Cole, Bruce Degen). Gardening supports classroom concepts Seeds to sprout. Use clear plastic cups to help your child see how a plant grows from a seed. Use a variety of seeds and some good planting soil. The clear cup allows you to watch the roots grow deep into the soil. Once established, these can be planted into a larger pot or an outside garden.

Seed Sorting. A variety of seeds can be used for math activities when learning about size, counting, sorting, sequencing, and identifying specific properties.

Seed Art. There are some amazing art projects that can be created using seeds, either with their natural color or painted. You will need a sturdy piece of paper (or even cardboard), glue, and a variety of seeds. Depending on the age of the child, you might need to create the outline of the design on the cardboard. These activities require kids to sort the seeds by size and color to better fit the design they are trying to make.

Tree Seeds. Go for a nature walk and gather tree seeds (tree seed identification charts can be found online). This might require some digging around in leaves or soil because some of these seeds are stored by animals for food during the winter months. See if you can observe some seeds still on the trees (such as pinecones).

Check out virtual tours of amazing gardens. U.S. Botanic Garden, I Love Gardens, United States National Arboretum, Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, Lan Su Chinese Garden, and the Gardens of Versailles. These websites can provide additional information about gardening with kids: Kidspot, Kids Gardening.

Want to read more on gardening? Check out any of these titles: Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt (Kate Messner), The Carrot Seed (Ruth Krauss), Mortimer's First Garden (Karma Wilson), From Seed to Plant and The Vegetables We Eat (Gail Gibbons), Planting a Rainbow and Growing Vegetable Soup (Lois Ehlert), Zinnia's Flower Garden (Monica Wellington), Grow Your Own Pizza: Gardening Plans and Recipes for Kids (Constance Hardesty), How Groundhog's Garden Grew (Lynne Cherry), The Gardening Book (Jane Bull), One Bean (Anne F. Rockwell), Garbage Helps Our Garden Grow: A Compost Story (Linda Glaser, Shelley Rotner), and Butterflies in the Garden (Carol Lerner).

In our August issue, look for Part Two in this series, in which you'll learn real-world, fun ways to flight Summer Slide via everyday activities surrounding cooking, recycling, nature, the sea and sea life, and more.