Parents often inquire about summer enrichment for their preschool and kindergarten aged children and often seem surprised when I do not respond with a carefully prepared packet of worksheets. The summer season provides many wonderful learning opportunities for children, none of which can be reduced to the scale and scope of a simple worksheet. Here are a few suggestions for authentic learning experiences that may sound a lot like simple summer fun.
The importance of reading aloud to young children cannot be stressed enough. Numerous longitudinal studies have confirmed that the time spent reading to your child is the single most significant predictor of future reading success. Take advantage of the extra time at home to explore a variety of genres with your child and participate in the summer reading program at your local library. Model your own love of reading by letting your child catch you reading for pleasure.
Spend Time in Nature
Experiences in the natural world are essential for healthy development. Make sure your child has plenty of “green time” each day and take advantage of opportunities for unstructured free play in the great outdoors. Summer is a wonderful time for nature walks, scavenger hunts, science experiments, gardening and catching fireflies. Follow your child’s lead and explore the habitat in your own back yard. Keep a nature journal and help your child record his observations and discoveries.
Children love to help in the kitchen and there are few activities better suited for mathematical development than the simple act of preparing food. Baking a cake or making salt dough allow children to experience measurement and volume comparisons. One to one correspondence is practiced as children set a place for each person at the table and algebra skills begin to develop through the sorting of utensils. Young scientists will enjoy observing the many processes that occur while baking as substances move from liquids to solids. The fine motor skills engaged during cooking activities will also help your child learn to form letters.
Be present with your child and engage in conversations with her about a variety of topics. Tell stories about your childhood and make up new stories together. Play rhyming or other language games together. Keep a journal and transcribe your child’s stories and thoughts, showing her that her words are important.
Provide a variety of open-ended art materials for your child and encourage him to express himself artistically. All academic skills can be engaged through art. Summer weather brings opportunities for outdoor child-friendly concerts and events and is a perfect time to expose your child to live music.
Free play is the vehicle through which young children make important discoveries about the world around them. The long days of summer provide more opportunities for children to engage in this most essential “enrichment” activity. More structured play experiences, such as board games, provide excellent opportunities for practice of concrete math concepts such as one-to-one correspondence.
Modern children lead increasingly busy, heavily scheduled lives. Downtime has been linked to creativity. Anna Quindlen expresses this beautifully in her essay Doing Nothing is Something found here: http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2002/05/12/doing-nothing-is-something.html
The time for summer enrichment worksheets will come soon enough and will be both appropriate and necessary in the upper elementary grades. (As I write this I can see the stack of math enrichment packets for my rising 5th grader looming out of the corner of my eye.) In early childhood, however, too much time spent on “enrichment” worksheets will rob you and your child of the time needed to engage in the truly skill-building activities described above.