BY KRISTIN GUAY Summer offers children a much needed break from the hard work and drudgery of the school year, but it's important that they not "slide" back. Did you know that children can lose months of academic progress over the summer? "Summer slide" is a term used to describe the academic loss students may experience during the summer months away from school. But the good news is that you can easily infuse learning into plenty of summertime activities. Keep your kids' math and science skills sharp with these games and activities that are both fun and educational. The best part? All of these ideas can easily be folded into any of your summer plans.
Create traditional carnival games. Try bean bag toss, bowling, floating ducks, ring toss, or darts with balloons tacked on a board. When playing, actually take a minute and determine the probability of winning: "If there are 30 ducks floating in the water barrel and one duck has the winning mark on the bottom, what is the probability of winning if each player gets three tries?"
Explore the backyard. Learn about the different plants, trees, and animals that live near your home. Create an observation journal to record how an area changes during the summer (or even continue into the other seasons as well). There is a wealth of resources online to help identify the different trees and plants in specific areas based on bark, leaves, and flowers.
Chart it out. Have your child track what they eat in a week and then compare this to the food pyramid created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This chart shows the amount of grains, vegetables, fruit, milk, and meat and beans that should be eaten as part of the healthy diet. It is a great way for kids to learn what their body needs to function properly and how they can make healthy choices.
Shop around. Compare prices of grocery items, gas at different stations, hamburger meals at different fast food restaurants, movie tickets at different times of the day, the electric bill at different times of the year, etc. This helps kids become more aware of the cost of everyday items for the family. An added bonus: some of these can be done while simply running errands (gas prices can be seen while driving in the car).
Study shapes. Take photos of shapes and patterns in your world and create a photo book with the pictures. Identify the shapes and describe the patterns. Think of all the things that have a triangular shape (slice of pizza, wedge of cheese, side of roof) or a circular shape (top of birdbath, cake, button), or even a rectangular shape (brick on the sidewalk, building, photo album). Shapes are everywhere if you look closely.
Make colored flowers. Learn about the capillary action of plants and how it delivers nutrients from the root system, up the stem, to the rest of the plant -- and get a colorful bouquet of flowers at the same time. Place a few inexpensive white flowers, such as a carnations, in glasses of water colored with food coloring. Over time, the flowers will change color as the water is absorbed.
Price out your day trip. Do some research on the cost of different family attractions. How much would it cost for your family to attend an event, museum, or special amusement park? Is there a discounted time of day you can go that would save money? See if you can also find the best time to go to a restaurant (early bird special), movie, (matinee), or free or discounted days at museums.
Make homemade ice cream. Place ½ cup of milk, 1 tablespoon of sugar and ¼ teaspoon of vanilla in a tightly sealed baggie. Place this baggie into a larger bag filled with 10 cups of ice and 7 tablespoons of salt. Shake for about five minutes or until the milk mixture is solidified. The science behind this is that in order to make the milk mixture solidify, the ice needs to be even colder -- and salt does the trick.
Do puzzles together. Before you begin, start by sorting the pieces. Find all the end pieces first then sort the pieces by color. Puzzling develops many cognitive and physical skills in children as they manipulate the pieces to fit properly. A larger puzzle is also a great exercise in patience in that many of these puzzles require hours to complete.
Let them play sous chef. The next time you prepare a meal, instead of shooing your child out of the kitchen enlist their help. Depending on age and safety concerns, children can learn to wash fruits and vegetables, tear lettuce, measure ingredients, stir, knead and roll out dough, drop batter into pans, put icing on cakes and cupcakes, and even cut with assistance. Older children can learn to prepare their own fun healthy snacks (cookie cutter sandwiches, fruit and vegetable kabobs, yogurt and fruit parfaits, toast and smoothies). The is a perfect opportunity to teach your children about food nutrition and making healthy choices.
Learn about rocks in your area. Each rock stores a brief history. Learn about the three different types of rocks (sedimentary, metamorphic, and igneous) and how they are formed. If you travel over the summer, be sure to gather rocks of that region and compare those to rocks found in New England. Have fun using rocks as cairns along a path or trail to mark your way.
Experiment with 'paintbrushes.' Get out the paints use different kinds of "brushes" like feathers, cotton balls, sponges, even fingers add a unique element to any painting. A straw can be used to blow paint across the paper. Bubble wrap dipped in paint creates a unique textured design. Plastic forks and spoons create unique designs as well (a fork is especially great for creating the truffula trees in the Dr. Seuss book The Lorax).