In the halls of our school this week, a mom reads over a flier that tells her she can keep her child’s learning up with a convenient summer camp. For a mere $500, her child won’t fail at all of life. She looks at me and asks the same question I’ve fielded several times already. “I don’t have an extra $500. How am I going to keep my son educated during the break? Do I need this?”

My answer to her and every other parent that asked was an emphatic NO! In fact, as I mentioned in To Tube or Not to Tube, I firmly believe that most kids benefit from NOT going to summer school.

Before I elaborate, I should give you a disclaimer. This subject is as individual as the rest of parenting. I guarantee that you can find a large number of educators, parents, and studies that would argue for continuing a classroom education during school breaks. You know your child’s needs and desires better than anyone. If you have extra money and a child that would enjoy that experience, GO FOR IT!

For everyone else, summer doesn’t mean your child turns off their brains. It provides freedom for kids to exercise different learning muscles with things like creativity, out-of-the-box thinking, real life problem solving, social dynamics, and even just exploring their own interests in unscheduled time.

Sounds good in theory, but how do we do that on a day-to-day basis? This is my brainstorm for our vacation. You can use it to launch your own Brain Usage Campaign!

Hit the Books

Thanks to libraries, both physical and virtual, we all have access to books. They are by far the easiest brain exercise. They utilize intellect and creativity while digging into prior knowledge. You can find books about all sorts of topics, in most languages, and even in varied mediums like books on tape for the car, graphic novels, or digital e-books. Most libraries have summer programs that offer rewards for reading. For more information on why it is so important to read and how you can motivate your family check out Get Your Reluctant Reader to Pick Up A Book and Five Reasons to Motivate You (and Your Child) to Read More.

Get Online

Although some websites only offer entertainment, with such a push on content, many of them use that entertainment to challenge and teach kids. A few examples are PBS, Poptropica made by the author of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Fun Brain and National Geographic. The same goes for apps. You can find anything from Hooked on Phonics to cursive practice. The most fun app I discovered recently was the reboot of Oregon Trail. It’s come so far from the green line graphics of my day!

Mind Games and Puzzles

Get a cool table top puzzle, brain teaser book, or logic problems. Even a Sudoku book from the dollar store. For most kids, these fall into the “Game” category rather than “School,” but that doesn’t mean they aren’t learning.

Create and Construct

Crafts don’t always have to be glitter glue and construction paper. Your kids can engineer a pillow and sheet fort, imagine thousands of uses for a gigantic box, or construct a doll house or parking garage using items straight from the recycling bin.  You can create a new treat in the kitchen. They can go outside and plant strawberries or a Fairy Garden. You just need to provide raw materials, a space to create, and (possibly the most difficult) the patience to deal with the process!

Conduct Experiments

Science time is always popular in school because kids love to get their hands on stuff. Summer gives them a chance to really explore all the possibilities. They can come at the experiments from the angle of discovery rather than following a standard. The internet is filled with all sorts of at home science projects from putting vinegar on baking soda to creating circuits.

Get Out of the House

Search out cool places to visit: a local dam, museums, a zoo, kid discovery centers, or even local festivals. Learning is available in anything that expands their understanding of the world whether looking at a historical site, new animals, or a different culture.

Socialize in Unsupervised Play

In An Overprotected Child, we discovered the value of unsupervised time. Kids need to practice social dynamics in informal settings when not supervised by a teacher or playground monitor. Get a group together at a park or hiking area and let them ramble more or less at will. In the meantime, they will practice leadership, compromise, and negotiation.

Live the Everyday

Now is a great time to get the kids involved in more of the household chores than they normally do. Maybe they can plan a grocery list using the local ads in your mailbox. Or they can sort through their clothes to clear out things that won’t be used. While you drive, have your pre-reader find letters and sounds on signs or have your new reader tell you what they say.  Give your kids a snack budget and let them juggle prices to get the most out of it.

Just because they aren’t going to summer school, doesn’t mean kids turn off their minds. On the flip side, they don’t have to spend every waking moment pursuing intellectual gain. The main element of summer should be FUN. Our kids deserve a break and so do their moms!