color cartoon of two kids learning outside in the sunSummer is officially here, and many parents–after homeschooling their kids for the last three months–are wondering whether they should keep schooling their kids to make up for a potential ”summer slide” or just let them enjoy the summer.  I come down strongly on the side of enjoying summer, but that doesn’t mean learning need not occur.  Here are eleven suggestions for projects and ideas that your kids can get involved with this summer that offer both enjoyment and learning, so they (and you) can have their cake and eat it too.

  1. Find the Oldest Thing.  This is a little like a scavenger hunt only the participants are just looking for one thing:  the oldest thing they can find.  It could be an artifact (e.g. an old horse shoe) that could be brought home, or something more institutional (e.g. an old building) that could be photographed and brought home in that way.  This project can be done with several kids or just one (competing against himself).  Once he’s found his oldest thing, have him do some research on the Internet to provide more information about this old thing, including when it was made, who made it, why it was made, and what happened to it over the years.  This is a good project for making history come alive.
  2. Silhouette of My Self.  This is an art project that can also help your child or teen reflect on their goals, values, experiences, and feelings.  Get a large piece of butcher paper (at least 2 1/2 -3 feet wide, and a little longer than your child’s height).  Have her lay down on her back on the spread out paper and then draw a line around her body including legs, arms, fingers, and head.  After the silhouette is completed, have your child or teen use a variety of art materials (chalk, markers, colored pencils, watercolor, acrylic paint, collage materials etc.), to create a ”picture of me.”  She can use words, images she’s drawn, pictures from old magazines, or other collage materials, to convey all the things that make her unique and wonderful.  Maybe she’ll draw a tiara for the top of her head because she feels like a princess, or write the words to a song she made up in the stomach area, or list all the things she loves to do along her arms and legs.  While the emphasis should be on positive things, don’t  prohibit negative things from the silhouette, but when the profile is done, you might ask her to explain what she meant by certain words or images.  On the other hand, your child or teen might not want to talk about her silhouette at all, and that’s fine too.  It’s her self that’s being portrayed, and she should be the final arbiter about what to do with it when it’s completed.
  3. My Very Own Library.  All too often in school, kids read textbooks and other books that they don’t own and aren’t allowed to mark in.  For this homeschooling project, encourage your child to put together a collection of books that fulfill two objectives: 1. they own the books 2. they love the books.  Your child may already have a big collection of books and he only has to select his favorites for this special library.  On the other hand, with your direction (and finances) he might start to acquire books for himself that are in his areas of interest.  Or maybe he read a book in school that he loved, but wasn’t able to keep a copy, so here is where he can acquire it for his very own library.  To keep the costs down, try ordering books through a used book exchange such as Advanced Book Exchange or by visiting used book stores in your community.  The idea here is to start a personal library that belongs to him and that he can add on to for the rest of his life (I like to organize my books chronologically–in the order that I read them–so I have an ”autobiography” of my reading life!
  4. What Makes It Fly?  This is a science project that begins with the question “what makes things fly?”  Start the project by asking your child what are the things that fly?  Make a list.  Then go through the list and have your child tell you or write down what they think makes each of these things fly.  To come up with answers, you can engage in some of the following experiments:  1.  make paper airplanes in different ways and notice which ones seem to fly the best; 2. hang your arm outside of a moving car on the freeway and curve your hand against the wind; notice what happens to your arm [hint: it lifts]. 3. turn on an electric fan and put very light things in front of it to see what happens (e.g. a flat piece of paper, a feather, a leaf, a piece of plastic wrap, a piece of aluminum foil).  See if you can guess in advance which objects will have the best ”aeronautical properties” and then test them.  As you do these activities, keep coming back to the question ”what makes things fly?” and refine your answer as you keep coming up with new information.  Read a book about the history of airplanes, and find out what they had to learn how to do in order to get something ”heavier than air” to fly.  The nice thing about this project is that you don’t need to be in a hurry to find an answer. It’s much better that you ask good questions and keep refining your hypotheses about what makes things fly.  After all, if you wanted to you could simply look up the answer on the Internet, but that would take all the fun out of it and keep your mind from getting exercised!
  5. Writing the Story of My Life.  This is a writing activity that kids of all ability levels can participate in.  The directions are simple:  write your own autobiography, telling about the events in your life in roughly chronological order.  To help you along, you might want to have your child or teen read one or two autobiographies first (examples might include Helen Keller’s The Story of My Life, or, for teens, The Autobiography of Malcolm X).  One way to begin might be to write incidents from your life onto 3 x 5 index cards, then organize them by year, and finally write a flowing narrative.  But your child or teen might come up with their own unique way of telling their story (they might even want to tell it through pictures, video, or Power Point!).  If your child or teen is willing (and only if they’re willing), ask them to read it to you and family members when they’re done.
  6. The Curiosity Machine.  For this activity, you need to start looking at the Internet as a ”curiosity machine.” Have your child or teen write down 10 things that they want to know about.  These should be things they REALLY want to know about, not just a list of questions made up to fulfill the requirements of this activity.  Stuff like:  how old is the universe, what happens to stars when they get old, who is the oldest person in the world, what does a baby eagle look like etc.  Each member of the family should make up their own list.  Then, together as a family, take turns looking for the answers on the Internet and discuss whether or not the answers make sense to you, or whether you need to keep questioning and searching the Internet for a better answer.
  7. How Big is a Million?  We often talk about big numbers like million, billion and trillion, but what do these amounts actually look like?  This project asks the child or teen to come up with a way to show a million of something.  Let them work this out for themselves whether it’s by making points on pieces of paper, or collecting blades of grass, or measuring grains of sand.  Then ask them to show you the result in some form (e.g. so you can see the million things all at the same time).  This is a great math activity for learning the true values of numbers.  This may make them think about how they would portray even larger numbers like a billion, a trillion, or even a decillion (10³³).
  8. All About Me in Numbers.  This is another math activity, only this one helps kids learn vital statistics about themselves.  Start by making a list of all the things you could know about yourself that could be expressed in numbers.  Start with things like:  your height, your weight, the circumference of your head, and so on.  You might also build in performance statistics:  the highest I can jump, the longest I can broad jump, the fastest I can run 100 yards, or the longest I can stay balanced on one foot.  Part of the interest in this activity comes from kids creating their own vital statistics from their own background (e.g. the number of friends I have, the number of places I’ve visited, the number of eggs I eat in a month).  Let them create their own ”register of statistics” in whatever form suits them (e.g. diary, home-made book, spreadsheet on the computer etc.).
  9. Everything About My Favorite Hero. This project begins by having your child select a hero from among the people (or fictional characters) he holds in high esteem (e.g. athletes, scientists, politicians, entertainment celebrities, writers, explorers etc). Then the project is to find out as much as you can about this person by going on the Internet, reading articles, perusing books, collecting images, acquiring trivia, writing the hero personally or at least those who knew them or are experts on them.  Essentially you’re doing the things that a person needs to do when putting together a biography.  If you want, you can write a biography, or you can instead create a shelf in your room, or a display in some other form that ”enshrines” this person and all that you love and admire about them.
  10. Reading the Sky.  In this activity, there are no books to read, only the vast panorama of the sky to learn about.  This project can begin with some simple sky watching.  What do you notice about the sky above you (on a clear night)?  Can you recognize any constellations?  Can you tell the difference between a planet and a star?  If you watch the sky long enough, can you see a ”falling star” (a meteor)?  First find out as much as you can about the sky simply by looking up at it over time (do the constellations change position?  if so, how do they shift?).  Finally, get an app for your phone that allows you to point it up toward the heavens and see which constellations, stars, and planets are in which positions.  One excellent augmented reality app that I’ve used is SkyView (available for free as SkyView Lite).
  11. Become an Expert.  This activity has some similarities with #6 and  #9, but it expands the range of topics and narrows the ultimate focus to one topic in particular.  The directions are simple:  pick a topic that you’d like to be an expert in.  It could be anything:  World War II submarines, the 1849 Gold Rush in California, the Periodic Table of Elements, the Percy Jackson books, the island of Una-Una in Indonesia, magic tricks, graphic novels for tweens, literally anything that catches your fancy and that you could learn a lot about.  Then give yourself a certain amount of time (say, six months to a year) to become an expert in that field.  Once you’re an expert, amaze your friends and family with your expertise in that area (challenge them to ask you questions, or do a performance where you show off your knowledge–not in an arrogant way, but in a way that displays pride at learning all that information)!

Any one of the eleven activities described above could serve as a pivot point for exploring other related topics.  It’s very important that the activities not be imposed on the child (”come on, Ralph, you’d got to do SOMETHING this summer!”).  The trick is to tap an inner interest, or light an inner spark within your child that causes them to take off in a direction that they themselves have chosen.  Don’t worry if they seem to get off course and not follow the exact instructions laid down, there’s really no getting off course in any of these subjects, just laying out new ground for further exploration.  And if you think ”my kid wouldn’t be interested in doing any of these things” consider the possibility that this is a limitation you’re putting on your child, and that this expectation can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.  All kids were born as self-motivated learners.  Sometimes just a little patience and gentle encouragement are all that’s required to get your child’s learning drive revved up to the max!

For more information on motivating your child to learn, explore, and create, see my book In Their Own Way: Discovering and Encouraging Your Child’s Multiple Intelligences by Thomas Armstrong (2000-08-07).

This page was brought to you by Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D. and

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I'm the author of 19 books including my latest: If Einstein Ran the Schools: Revitalizing U.S. Education -

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