Modern Life

5 ways to keep kids learning all summer long

Tips for parents to help stop the summer slide, and for kids to have fun while they’re at it.

By Suchi Rudra — July 19, 2022

While kids may look forward to the long, lazy days of summer, parents like Julie Beyrer, who lives near Cincinnati, often see the months with no school — or the daily structure that comes with it — as daunting. How do you make sure all the knowledge kids gained during the last school year doesn’t fade away before the next one begins?

”I want them to use their summer hours wisely, not become couch potatoes or play too many video games,” says Beyrer, whose kids are 7 and 9. “I plan [summer activities] intentionally, like summer camps and writing practice. Our desire is to keep our kids growing and accustomed to some activity and structure through the summer.”

Learning activities throughout the summer can help prevent what education experts call the “summer slide.” According to the American Education Research Journal, over their summer break, school-age kids can lose up to 40% of the educational gains they made the previous year. Teachers wind up spending part of each new school year reteaching material, which sets kids even farther behind. The summer slide is of particular concern now, after the learning loss caused by pandemic-related school closures and distance learning. According to an April 2022 report by research firm McKinsey & Company, K-12 students in the US fell behind an average of four months across all subject areas, with the largest loss happening in math.

Illustration by Trisha Krauss

Megan Kuhfeld, a senior research scientist at NWEA, a nonprofit that develops educational assessments, says, “While reading often gets the attention with summer reading programs, mathematics can often be more impacted, so focusing on practicing mathematics skills during the summer can help.” Overall it’s critical for parents to put extra time and attention into reinforcing material learned in school to help it stay fresh in their minds. 

To give your kids an educational boost during this long school break, here are some ideas on how to make learning fun this summer.


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Learn another language

Summer is a great time to brush up on or pick up another language — especially if an international vacation is on the calendar. Duolingo's highly visual and colorful interface, easy-to-understand structure, and gamified experience works for learners of all ages, including younger children. The free app allows you to choose from 38 languages — even Klingon from Star Trek! — that are taught with listening, writing, and reading activities.

Spanish School Bus is a highly rated app to get your little one started with Spanish. Created by a Montessori instructor, the app features Spanish songs performed by Grammy-award winning Latinx musicians, and uses videos and games to teach vocabulary, counting, and culture. For more advanced language practice, try finding an email or snail mail penpal from another country that speaks the language your child wants to learn. Websites like PenPal and Interpals can help you find an international pen pal. The app HelloTalk lets you chat via text, voice, and video and includes translation and pronunciation aids.

Preserve summer memories

Documenting summer fun as it’s happening can not only preserve memories for the future, but also keep storytelling, writing, art, and even tech skills sharp. Challenge kids to put together a digital scrapbook or slideshow using photos they take during summer vacations, camps, day trips, family reunions, or other memorable occasions. Shutterfly makes it easy to create printed books, calendars, cards, or even wall art they can keep for themselves and give to others as gifts.

Another way to use summer photos: Make a memory box or time capsule. Let your child collect various objects and photos that represent their favorite parts of the summer, or draw objects or scenarios on index cards or poster paper. Then gather everything together into a shoe box or other sturdy container, label it with the date, and seal it shut for a fun surprise years from now.

Full STEM ahead

If your kids already love Minecraft, then you’ll definitely want to check out Minecraft Education edition as a learning tool. Available for laptops or gaming consoles, this version (free trial available) of the world-building video game is an exciting and creative way to sneak in some basic fundamentals of engineering, design, math, and coding. If your child wants to really dive in deep, find a Minecraft urban design competition or a Minecraft camp in your area. For younger kids, apps like Inventioneers, CodeSpark, and Codeable Crafts turn science, technology, and engineering basics into puzzles and playtime kids will look forward to. You can also find all kinds of DIY Lego learning activities online, like these activities for a range of ages or this calendar with 31 different building challenges.

Illustration by Trisha Krauss

When you’re hiking or on a nature walk, download iNaturalist, which has a huge database to help you identify a plant, insect, bird, or amphibian by pointing your phone camera at it. Starwalk and SkyView help young astronomers find and identify constellations in the night sky, and geography apps like Geo Walk bring facts and trivia about the world to their fingertips.

Read, read, read

At your local bookstore or library — many of which have summer reading programs — let your child take the lead. Allowing them to take their time and pick out their own books gives them a sense of control and helps ensure the biggest gains from reading time, including comprehension, vocabulary, and grammar.

“Reinforcing material learned in school helps it stay fresh in students’ minds between school years.”

—Megan Kuhfeld, senior research scientist, NWEA

You can also try Libby, an app that lets you check out ebooks, audiobooks, and magazines from your local library, or the Epic app, which hosts a digital library of over 40,000 award-winning children’s books and audiobooks. Each book on Epic allows kids to instantly look up or collect a list of vocabulary words and even take a reading comprehension quiz at the end. Keep kids up to date on current events with Newsela, which offers school curriculum-aligned news articles that are appropriate for a wide range of reading levels, from grades 2 to 12.  

Learning in everyday life

Having kids help with cooking and baking can teach kids life skills along with various math concepts like weighing and measuring, halving or doubling a recipe, and converting from grams to cups. Reading a recipe is also a great way to practice reading skills and new vocabulary. At the grocery store, have your kids help calculate sale prices, keep a running tab of what you’re buying, or read nutrition labels to compare products.

If you’re planning a family outing or vacation, ask your kids to help by reading travel destination websites or articles online. To practice math skills, measure distances from your city to your destination, calculate how much time it will take to arrive at each stop depending on your speed limit, calculate gas costs, plan a meal budget, make a list of items to pack, or research the weather.

To give kids a break from the screen, check out free HP printable learning activities. Search by age group, category, and activity type to find the perfect worksheet for your child.

However you incorporate learning into kids’ summer, Kuhfeld stresses it’s important to find activities appropriate to their age and grade level to stay on track with what they’re learning at school. 

“Kids at different ages need types and levels of activities to stay engaged during the summer,” she says. 

For more ideas, Kuhfeld recommends these age-specific family guides that help parents understand what kids should be learning and give them ideas for learning at home.


Watch Generation Impact: The Scientist, a short film by the Garage by HP