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Learning fun! Five tips for kids and parents

There may be no more pencils and no more books, but parents need to find clever ways to keep their kids school skills sharp. Stephanie Oppenheim of and a TODAY contributor explains how to stop that summer learning slide.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

School's out, so it's time to stop the summer brain drain. There may be no more pencils and no more books, but parents need to find clever ways to keep their kids’ school skills sharp.'s Stephanie Oppenheim, a TODAY contributor, offers good advice on how to stop that summer learning slide.

Kids have such a grueling schedule during the year, with homework, exams and after-school activities — so when summer comes, a break is needed. Unfortunately, though, this is also the time that backward sliding happens (in some cases it's nearly three months!). Here are five tips to keep those school skills alive: 

1. Give them a book
Summer reading for kids really should be fun! If you have an athlete, there are tons of great sports series. If you're going to visit over break, look for comics, joke books, trivia books, graphic novels about the places — anything that sparks an interest. Easy-to-fall-into series are great choices. They may not be excellent literature, but that's not the point. The goal is to have your child read the next book in the series. Keeping their reading skills going has a lot to do with consistency — not whether your child is tackling a novel.

2. Read with your kids
Here’s the deal: If you don’t read, it’s unlikely that your child will be a voracious reader either. If you’re not a big reader yourself, pick a novel (one that may be too difficult for your child to tackle on their own) and read it together. Again, pick up on your common interests. Reading together (using silly voices wherever possible) is a great way to connect and an opportunity for you to discuss what you’ve just read. What do you think will happen next? What do you think the character is feeling? While these are all reading comprehension questions, they grant you great opportunities to share your thoughts!

3. Cook togetherMaking a family dinner? Let your child help. Cooking provides lots of opportunities for kids to work on their math skills (let them do the measuring) and gives everyone a tasty payoff.

4. Play a game or a craft kit Pick something you can work on together. Let your child read the instructions. One of our favorites (updated this year) is Alex’s Paper Maker Kit. This is a hands-on science experiment that results in a really fun product when you’re done. The idea is to find something your child is interested in and would be willing to invest their time in independently and with you. Games are another great way to keep reading and math skills fresh. Have your child read the directions and let them be the scorekeeper. Whether they are the banker for Monopoly or the scorekeeper for Go Nuts! (a new game from Gamewright), the idea is to give them plenty of opportunities to use their math skills!

5. Build away! Construction sets Working on a LEGO set is actually a great way for kids to keep their school skills alive. They have to follow directions, work in a sequence, and perhaps most importantly, stick with the task — something that will translate in a positive way come September. Start with smaller sets that they can succeed with — the goal is build their confidence. Buying the biggest set (which may seem generous) may in fact be too frustrating for them.

What to avoid: Most of us are not natural teachers, and trying to step into that role with our kids can create conflict. Although you can often see where your kids need a little extra help, remember they really don’t want to fail in your eyes, so tread lightly! Sometimes an older child or teen can help your child with great success (and far fewer tears).

Workbooks are fine for reinforcing what your kids have already been taught. Many kids love the satisfaction of whipping through a workbook and seeing all that they already know! That’s the best-case scenario. Buying the next year’s workbooks may seem like a good idea — giving your child a head start — but the truth is, it will probably just lead to upset and a blank book. Workbooks don’t “teach” — and unless you’re really bent on stepping into the teaching role, it’s a much better idea to stick to what they’ve already learned in school. Remember, the first few weeks in school are dominated by review of the previous year’s material.

For specific game, craft and building kit suggestions, visit