Education Cheat Sheet: Help Kids Learn and Play This Summer

Many families are heading into the fourth month of learning at home. Here are games, kits, a new way to read and other simple ideas to keep your child's mind stimulated.


Photo: Dragos Gontariu via Unsplash

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of mending pottery with a precious metal. Dating from around the 15th century, the practice makes beautiful that which has been broken, honoring the journey of the piece. With similar intention, the journey of our families through the COVID-19 pandemic can also be strengthened and lined in gold.


Every family has felt the effects of this period of uncertainty and loss in a unique way. As parents, our vulnerabilities are exposed, no matter how old or young our children are. Yet, as a member of a school community, I have seen parents do the remarkable—every day. As another “unprecedented” season approaches, here are some ideas for keeping summer learning robust, growing social competence and, when possible, filling in the cracks with gold.


Take a step back to look at the big picture. This is a great time to work on issues like reading comprehension that benefit from modeling and discussion, which are not easily rushed.  Even older students enjoy being read to. Start simple. If this is a new practice for your family, read an interesting article rather than a book. Have each person identify things that were surprising, new, or confusing and let others agree, disagree, clarify or do research to find out.  Frequency is more important than length. This will pay huge dividends later when reading and discussing content in school.


SEE ALSO: Education Cheat Sheet: Why You Should Still Read To Your Child Through Middle School


In math, check out and for ways to build concepts and connections. From subitizing to building graphs using M&M’s, these sites appeal to both math fans and math resisters.


Of course, review of specific skills is always helpful.  Look at work your child was doing at the end of the school year for guidance. Again, frequent and short is the best method to keep foundation skills at the forefront. Detail work, such as handwriting improvement or keyboarding, can also benefit from this approach.  If your child can set his or her own goal, and chart the efforts (which is more important in many ways than achieving the goal) that is even better.


Online classes may continue for a while, so developing a repertoire of games and a protocol for optimal play date length might be a valuable part of your child’s SEL toolkit. Here are games our seventh and eighth graders enjoyed that can be adapted for many ages and abilities:


  • Remote tennis was popular. Kids had to collaborate on a shared vision (Who served an ace? Who won each point?) build cooperation, use the ability to track the action, and, somewhat surprisingly, develop good sportsmanship.
  • Using the whiteboard function on Zoom is a nice way to play Pictionary for older elementary, middle or high school students—no one can feel bad about artistic ability using that challenging drawing tool!
  • Another favorite is a scavenger hunt variation: when kids were asked to “Find something to represent your experience of social distancing,” they gathered, among other things, a pillow, sketchbook, video controller and a roll of toilet paper.


Most importantly, tell your family stories of resilience again and again.  Was your great-grandmother a picture bride?  Did your family ever forget you at IHOP?  And don’t forget to create your own COVID-19 story of resilience. Take a photo of your masked family social distancing while hiking or capture someone getting a home haircut.  Someday soon, these will be pure gold.


SEE ALSO: Remember When: How to Record Your Family’s History in Hawai‘i


Parent Homework:

  • Enjoy non-screen activities. A Sharpie, crayons and a cheap set of watercolors make wonderful artwork experiments in wax-resist and permanent ink contrast paintings. Use the same crayons to decorate hard-boiled eggs and dye them with natural pigments using red cabbage, spinach, tumeric and beets. There are many more that are fun to discover.
  • Even older children enjoy sensory activities so create theme-related sensory bottles out of small items and a variety of viscous liquids. Glitter jars are especially appealing—we used spice jars with water, glitter glue and extra glitter. Some students still have their jars three years later because it is so relaxing to watch.


SEE ALSO: Homegrown Science: Foam Rainbow


Want to know more?

For more excellent strategies to help your child deepen engagement with reading, search articles related to Disruptive Thinking:  Why How We Read Matters by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst. The book itself is an interesting, easy read without too much education jargon.


Subitizing is an important math skill that involves being able to know the number of items in a small set without counting. It is a critical ability in number sense, directly relating to the ability to know if an answer “makes sense.” Even older students can benefit from work on this key skill. Pinterest has a nice selection of subitizing activities.


Jyo Bridgewater is the principal of Holy Nativity School in ʻAina Haina where they recently held the first hybrid virtual/drive-in graduation in their 70-year history.