As school days transition to beach days, don’t let young minds turn to mush. These simple, engaging ideas and apps can help your kids keep sharpening their skills and learning, even while they're on summer vacation.
Summer Help with Reading and Writing Skills
- Organize a Skype-based book club with your child’s friends and classmates, so that no matter where they are, they can still catch up online to discuss their favorite reads. Stumped for novel ideas? Visit I Love Libraries for a list of the American Library Association’s award-winning children’s books, or ask a local librarian for suggestions based on your child’s grade and reading ability.
- Have kids create original tales with StoryJumper, an interactive website that lets children craft their own books including choosing from preloaded illustrations. If you like, you can get the books bound and shipped to you (from $13). Get kids started with open-ended prompts such as “My dream summer vacation would be…” or “What would your life be like if you could fly?” For an older child, set up a free private blog on EduBlogs.
- Best educational app download: The Mad Libs app (free, iOS) is a digital version of the popular word game. Players come up with nouns, verbs, adjectives and more to complete a story, without knowing what it’s about until the end. It’s a fun and zany way to learn the parts of speech and boost vocabulary.
Summer Help with Foreign Languages
- To practice pronunciation, record your child as she says phrases from her workbook and play the recording back for her. For comprehension, choose a foreign film on Netflix or another streaming source; watch a section with the subtitles turned off and ask her to relate what’s being said. Then play it back with subtitles on to check how she did.
- Best educational app download: Duolingo (free, Android, iOS) turns language into a game. Brush up on grammar and vocabulary skills in 10 languages with short, easy sessions that let you compete with friends and family. Bonus: You can use the Teacher’s Dashboard to track your child’s progress, so you’ll know what’s most challenging for your little linguist. Bonne chance!
Summer Help with Science Skills
- There’s a lot of excellent—and free—science content on YouTube. The best videos, produced by teachers and other experts, break down science concepts into plain English, using cool graphics and animation to engage younger audiences. Popular channels include SciShow, Minute Physics and Khan Academy. Visit their YouTube pages and click on “Subscribe” at the top right. You’ll get an e-mail alert when the channel uploads a new video, so you’re always in the know.
- Chances to learn outdoors abound, too. Next time you’re on a hike, have kids snap photos of the wildlife they see, then cross-reference with a nature-watching app such as iBird Lite (free, Android, iOS, Windows). See how many different kinds of plants and animals you can spot together. At the end of the summer, make a digital album of your discoveries.
- Best educational app download: SkyView Free (Android, iOS) lets you chart the stars right from where you’re standing. Sit outside on a blanket with some lemonade, point your tablet or phone at the night sky and learn about the stars and planets overhead.
Summer Help with Math and Computing Skills
- For tricky multiplication tables—and more advanced math as well—use Quizlet to make flash cards. You can print them out or access them on any mobile device—great for when you’re stuck in line at a theme park or on that inevitably too-long car trip.
- You also can give kids a math workout during daily chores such as grocery shopping. Put your child in charge of your list, for example, and ask her to find discounts on the items you need. She can estimate the total value of items in your cart and compare her guess to what you pay at checkout, then calculate the amount or percentage saved. Give your children free rein on your couponing apps to clip and calculate to their heart’s content, with a reward for the biggest money-savers.
- Best educational app download: Hopscotch (free, iOS) lets kids code their own games, art and animation. Studies show that teaching children some basic computer-science skills can help them perform better in math, and Hopscotch’s easy-to-use design makes it a breeze for kids.
Keep in mind: No matter how educational, screen time is still screen time. Limit your child’s hours in front of a TV, tablet or computer to two per a day, the American Academy of Pediatrics says. Need an enforcer? The Android app Screen Time blocks access to apps when your child reaches the limit you program in.