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School's Out, but Summer Experiences Keep Kids Learning

Summertime. ​The word evokes images from my own childhood; daily chores in the house, walks with my siblings on the "south road," cheese sandwiches and jarred water in the timber, preparing projects for 4-H, and laying out my grandmother's quilt in a soft, shady, grassy spot in the yard where I could read my favorite books.
Looking back, I realize my parents provided me with many opportunities that established lifelong habits. I still have the daily chores and I still love to walk. Cheese sandwiches and water are my all-time favorites. Projects are a way of life. And I have never lost my love for reading. The "wonderment and awe" (Costa & Kallick, 2000)* that were a part of my childhood have never left me.
Such is our responsibility as parents. We are instrumental in the development of habits that encourage our children to become lifelong learners. Costa and Kallick (2000) call intellectual behaviors that are advanced through knowing how to act on our experiences in life, "Habits of Mind." According to them, a "Habit of Mind" is knowing how to behave intelligently when you DON'T know the answer. The Habits of Mind developed during the crucial years of our childhood establish patterns and ways of thinking that remain with us throughout life. The learning opportunities we provide for our children assist them in cultivating this intellectual behavior.

According to the research of Entwisle, Alexander, and Olson (2001), students who are not provided with summer learning opportunities start each school year with a learning deficit, compared to students who enjoyed experiential opportunities for summer learning. Their work refers to these types of experiences: organized sports, day camps, swimming lessons, and trips to the zoo, local parks, and library. Recognizing that organized sports, day camps, swimming lessons, and trips to the zoo cost money, this article will focus first on summer learning experiences you, as a parent or caregiver, can provide for your children at little or no cost. Later, we'll share information and suggestions for the remaining activities.

A walk with your child is a great way to "gather data through the senses" (Costa & Kallick, 2000). A walking trip to the park could be a planned event with a simple map that shows the route you will be taking. Depending on the age of your child, the walk will allow him or her to:

  • Count the number of blocks you walk or the footsteps you take, and enter the information on the map.
  • Count the number of animals, houses, stop signs, etc. you see.
  • Experience textures (e.g., a rough sidewalk, a silky flower petal).
  • Identify objects along the way. (You can have your child write the objects' names on the map or you can keep a list for later reference to help with word recognition and spelling.)
  • Identify colors. (Write the appropriate colors next to the objects your child identifies.)

The ideas are endless. You know your child and his or her learning needs best. Use this valuable knowledge to help you plan summer experiences and any follow-up activities you might want to develop from the information you gather in these adventures.

The library is a great place to visit. Local libraries offer great summer learning opportunities for children that allow them to experience the world through print as well as interact with other children socially. According to Entwisle et al. (2001), children in their study who often went to the library did better in fall testing than children who made limited visits or didn't go at all. The study also found that children benefited from library visits in both reading and math.

Have your child join a local club. An Internet site ( provides a wealth of information you and your child can explore together to find different types of clubs available in your area. If you do not own a computer, take advantage of your trip to the library to use one there to search the Internet for information specific to your area.

Zoo trips create excitement for children. Before journeying to the zoo, take some time to plan out the visit with your child. Work together to develop a budget for the trip. Have your child earn an allowance for doing age-appropriate tasks around the house so he or she can be responsible for purchasing some of his or her own food or a souvenir at the zoo.

As you are planning the trip, ask your child questions like:

  1. What do you think we will do on our visit?
  2. What animals do you think you will see at the zoo?
  3. What animal would you like to see most of all?
  4. Is there anything you would like to do besides see the animals?

The cost of summer day camps can range from free to beyond $100.  Once again, an Internet search will provide information specific to your area. When I typed in the name of our community along with the words "summer day camp," I found a large number of experiential opportunities for children ranging in cost from $10 for three hours of "camp" to $80 and up for daylong experiences. If you would like your child to attend a day camp (or take swimming lessons, join a club, or play organized sports), but don't think you can afford it, ask if scholarships based on family income are available.

Enjoy your summer with your child. As your child's caregiver, you are the most important person in his or her life. The time you spend with your child providing summer learning experiences will create lasting memories and lessons he or she learns will last a lifetime.

 *Well-known educators Art Costa and Bena Kallick provide 16 Habits of Mind, which are defined as "dispositions displayed by intelligent people in response to problems, dilemmas, and enigmas, the resolutions of which are not immediately apparent."​  While these are not the focus of this article, I used them as an enriching structure to share the variety of ways you can support the learning needs of your child.


Costa, A.L., & Kallick, B. (2000). Discovering and exploring habits of mind. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).

Entwisle, D.R., Alexander, K.L., & Olson, L.S. (2001). Keep the faucet flowing: Summer learning and home environment. American Educator, 25(3), 10. (Retrieved online on May 7, 2008