Once upon a time, not long ago, summer was a carefree time for children. They spent those long, hot days playing outside with the other kids in the neighborhood. Home was always an after-thought and they only stopped there to grab a popsicle and briefly check-in with a grown-up before heading off again. They did one sport or pursued one hobby, but no structured activities or screen-time consumed their days. Plans, if any were made at all, were dreamed up on the fly and each warm day brought a new adventure or idea to try. Nothing, it seemed, was out of reach.
This was my summer as a kid growing up in the 90s, and it was the summer of many parents my age. And yet somehow, these same adults, who were up for anything when they were younger, have replaced summer freedom with a full schedule of tutoring, monitored activities and academic camps to prevent a summer slide in skills.
I love my older sister, but she’s one of these parents. Not long after St. Patrick’s Day, she’ll give me a full rundown of the summer camps and activities she is pursuing for my nieces and then ask, “So what activities did you sign the kids up for this summer?” Year after year, I look at her like a deer in the headlights.
Now don’t get me wrong, there’s got to be some structure during the summertime, especially when parents work from home, but I guess I’m more Bohemian in the sense that I believe a kid can learn just as much fishing with an older relative or hiking in the woods as they can at a nature-themed scholastic camp.
As we move through July, there are still plenty of weeks left before the kids return to school and get back to business. Here are some ways to incorporate unstructured, spontaneous learning into your kids’ days. Members of the North Royalton Parents Discuss It Facebook group also shared some of their ideas, check them out below.
Spend time outdoors: I genuinely believe the best learning takes place outside. Take the kids to a park or on a hike. Do a nature scavenger hunt for colors, shapes, textures and smells. Try your hands at fishing or spend the afternoon wading in a creek. Visit a nature preserve and take in the surroundings. Set up a tent in the backyard and have a campout. Being in nature is good for the soul (and the brain!). Plus, it tires ‘em out!
Bake a treat or cook a simple meal: Recipes are full of fractions, specific measurements and step-by-step directions. Have the kids bake a special treat or prepare an easy meal to sharpen those math, reading and critical thinking skills.
Start a new business venture: An avid reader of The Babysitters Club book series, I crafted fliers on our home computer and walked door-to-door in my neighborhood advertising my babysitting services. Always encourage your kids in their summer ideas and projects.
Organize a garage sale: Kids can help make change with customers, set up tables, price items and decorate/display signs. In turn, they can visit other garage sales using their own spending money.
And, from users of the Facebook North Royalton Parents Discuss It group:
“I organize clean-ups in our area. My kids help with this also. We have a specific area in the neighborhood I target, and we go out and pick up all the garbage. It teaches respect, responsibility and cleanliness.” -Kristin Gardner
“Fishing. Keep logs of times and bait used when they catch them.” -Dave Dewitte
“Gardening, YouTube challenges (make something you watch), board games, fishing and a color walk (finding colors in nature).” -Tiffany Adair
“Photography with a Polaroid camera.” -Diane Brannigan
“Board games! So many different games like Monopoly, Yahtzee, Scrabble and Codewords help with math, spelling and vocabulary.” -Beth Reagan
“Creating a photo book with summer events, creating a summer bucket list and following it, organizing a lemonade stand with purpose, Lego challenges, creating a local plant book (drying plants, taping to a journal, writing information about it). -Dorota Tomaszewska
Enjoy this time with your children, readers. Summer is for slowing down and enjoying more. Happy trails!

Contributing Writer