Summer is almost here, and wow is it busy! There are festivals to attend, parks to visit, and picnics to enjoy. Those precious months between the last day of school and the start of a new academic year provide children — and parents — opportunities to decompress, to have a more flexible schedule, to play.
That said, many parents worry that those long, lazy days mean that kids are losing their academic edge, but research shows that play-based learning is the very best way for children to retain and grow their skills. Instead of making “academic enrichment” one more item on a long to-do list, know that you or your child’s caregiver may already be implementing this concept!
Summer Play-Based Learning, on behalf of The Prairie School
Kathy Boero, Head of The Prairie School’s Primary Division (pre-kindergarten through 4th grade), sees play as a necessary part of every child’s day. “Free play builds creativity and imagination. Playing with others supports problem-solving skills and builds expressive language and confidence. I always encourage parents to greatly limit time on technology and instead let their little ones explore. Allowing for play will build life skills well beyond structured activities.”
Here are some easy activities for every age that are both educational in nature and fun for your children:
- Blowing bubbles provides an opportunity to tie in science concepts such as light and chemistry (make your own bubble solution!). It also helps a child to coordinate their lips, cheeks, and jaw to produce airflow, which in turn enables the skills necessary to build speech production skills.
- Making play dough, painting, coloring, and using sidewalk chalk all strengthen fine motor muscles in little ones’ fingers, which makes handwriting development a breeze! Having your child write a letter or postcard to a friend or relative serves is another way to support handwriting skills.
- Simply using pots, pans, and other safe utensils to create musical instruments — and then playing along to favorite songs — is a strong foundation for lifetime musical enjoyment and understanding how to keep a beat.
- Never underestimate the power of a book! Listening to stories read aloud by a family member or to books on CDs builds relationships, comprehension, and creates a love of reading that will serve children for a lifetime.
- Take time to have a game night! Board games support taking turns, counting, social relationships, and other math and reading skills.
- When the weather is nice, venture outside! Outdoor activities are calming and healthy for all ages — and one great example is gardening. Digging in the dirt — informally or otherwise — is a fantastic scientific activity. Little gardeners can learn about the life cycles of plants, observe and discuss how bees pollinate flowers, or even practice their math skills by filling containers with dirt (volume and space). Take it a step further and make your garden an interactive, educational space by exploring the Edible Schoolyard Project — a wonderful resource for all age groups — or take a day trip to Bookworm Gardens in Sheboygan. This incredible destination allows children to explore a garden environment based on their favorite literature. More than 65 stories are represented, including Prairie’s 1st Grade garden representation of Drum Dream Girl.
These are just a few of the suggestions provided by some of Prairie’s Primary School faculty. The most important resources for you to have on hand are your imagination and a desire to watch your child connect with the world around them!