Best Ways To Keep Kids Learning Over Summer Break

As excited as kids are for the arrival of summer break, parents often have a number of other things on their mind. For one, we need to make sure our kids stay entertained. Next, we worry about what sort of entertainment we are providing – and what effect that will have on the coming school year. Studies have proven that “brain drain,” or that inevitable lapse in learning over the summer months, can create a more difficult transition for some kids when returning to school in the fall.

In fact, Malcolm Gladwell presents findings in his book ‘Outliers’  that low-income students learn more than the high-income students during the school year. However, the learning of the high-income students over the summer (which they receive in special classes or summer camps) accumulates over the years to increase their overall education. In other words, the summer months matter and learning during time off from a structured school setting can actually, over time, benefit your child immensely.

Fortunately, the time off from school does not necessarily have to mean time off from learning. And best of all, it doesn’t have to be an expensive endeavor. To help you find ways to keep your kids actively learning over the summer, we’ve taken a look at some easy and inexpensive ways you can engage their minds – while creating fun, family activities at the same time.

Here are some of the best ways in which you can help your children use their brains during the summer break:

1. Plan Family Trips to Museums and Libraries

Best Historical Meadow Farm_edited-1
Meadow Farm at Crump Park / Facebook

Believe it or not, museum visits and library visits can be quite fun with your kids. Read the display boards, discuss the theme of the museum or the books your kids might be interested in, and get involved. Kids’ interest in reading activities or acquiring knowledge piques up when they see their parents are curious and eager to learn too.

After every trip, it is a good idea to discuss the trip with your kids, study the material you got from the museum or books your kids chose from the library together, and encourage them to explore more about what they liked during these trips.

You may also encourage them to write journals or start a blog on their visits. Writing book reviews and travelogues are a good idea as they can improve both the reading and writing skills of your children.

Richmond is full of amazing museums, many of which are free or have a minimal cost, as well as special programming. There are also plenty of great historical sites where your kids can engage directly with history. See Best Historical Sites for Families in Richmond for some ideas or check “History Sites and Museums” in the guide to Free and Almost Free Summer Activities for Families in Richmond.

As for libraries, all you have to do is check online to find tons of fantastic libraries with free programs and workshops all summer long. Check the following county library systems here to find the library nearest you:

Chesterfield County
Henrico County
Richmond City
Pamunkey Regional Libraries (Goochland, Hanover, King & Queen, and King William Counties)

2. Hire A Tutor

Summer Tutors

This may seem like an expensive undertaking, but it doesn’t have to be. Hiring a tutor for even a few hours a week can help your child stay engaged in learning throughout the summer while reinforcing academic areas where they may struggle. If you don’t know where to start, consider hiring an English tutor. Expertise in communication and reading comprehension is necessary to excel in academics – irrespective of the subjects children love. Many times, students receive lower scores in Math and Science tests because they do not understand the questions properly or unable to express their ideas on paper in a proper manner. This is especially true for children who learn English as a second language. In this case, in particular, hiring an English home tutor to teach or reinforce English during holidays can help them understand all their subjects with ease.

Moreover, good communication skills are the recipe for lifelong success (in personal lives, as well as careers). For ideas on where to find tutors in the Richmond area, including college kids who might be home for the summer and looking for ways to make some extra money, visit sites like or College Nannies and Tutors.

3. Focus On Acquiring A New Skill 

Summer Dance Studio Resource Guide

Summer holidays are the time when children find time to do what they want to do – outside what schools dictate them to do. You might teach them how to cook or let them help you bake a cake on weekends. Doing chores together is a good way to bond with your child – and also instills important life lessons that will help them develop into responsible and independent individuals.

Other hobbies that your kid might explore during summer holidays can be dancing, playing music, martial arts, painting, singing, photography, sewing and knitting, or perhaps, starting their own business (such as setting up a lemonade stand as their first business). Robotics courses and courses that offer a basic understanding of banking and finance might also be a good idea.

Sports classes, weight loss and fitness camps, swimming, trekking, mountaineering, and other adventure activities might be more suitable for active kids who love to be outdoors. Let the kids choose what to do as long as it is meaningful and useful for them in some way. To find ideas for all of these activities and more, be sure to check Richmond Mom’s Guide to After-School Activities (many of which offer summer programs or camps), Guide to Richmond Summer Camps, Guide to Music Lessons, or Guide to Dance Classes and Studios in Richmond.

Each activity teaches skills that are going to be good for them in the future. It does not really matter what they are doing as long as they have the right attitude and approach towards learning new skills and making themselves better.

4. Stop Brain Drain With Online Education Apps

Guide to Family Apps

Experts conducted research which revealed that most students see a setback of two to three months of math and computational skills as well as reading skills during summer vacation. It was also found that shorter vacations (such as spring vacation or winter vacation) also result in brain drain for the kids.

Meaningful learning during vacations can reverse this brain drain trend. Online education apps provide fun and creative ways to learn different subjects they tackle. Many of them offer free games that kids play alone or with each other, videos to watch, and challenges to solve. Get some ideas with the Guide to Family Apps and Website No Parent Should Be Without and check under “Homework Helpers.”

If high schoolers are interested in learning a particular subject in depth, they may want to join MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) – many of which are completely free.

 5. Travel And/Or Get Outdoors Whenever You Can

Best Bike Trails_Virginia Capital Trail
Virginia Capital Trail Foundation / Facebook

Traveling is fun for everyone – kids and adults alike. But most importantly, travel teaches you many things, both directly and indirectly.

Likewise, when it comes to getting outside in nature, we have become so used to luxuries and technologies in our day-to-day lives that we have forgotten what it means to be hot and sweaty, walking for hours with no agenda, and surviving a day outdoors with nothing but adventure on the horizon.

Traveling and outdoor exploration teaches you and your kids how to survive – sometimes, beyond your self-imposed physical and mental limits. Besides, you can use this time to bond with your children and talk to them about their lives, friends, dreams, and more. You can use this as an opportunity to teach your kids about empathy, compassion, and how to read whether someone can be a potential threat to them.

Whether you travel near or far, being away from what is familiar to your kids makes it is easier to teach kids about safety and responsibility. Locations matter too. Depending on where you are visiting, you can teach kids about nature, history, art, music, culture, and/or other languages.

A great childhood with good memories is a certain recipe for nurturing your children into happy, good, and well-adjusted adults in the future. Think of holiday time as an opportunity to spend time with your kids while they are still young and available. And they will thank you for it later.

If you are looking for local travel, take a look at the Best Family Vacations Within Two Hours of Richmond or Guide to the Best Beaches in Virginia. For local outdoors exploration, you’ll find more than enough to keep your family engaged all summer with Best Bike Trails for Families in Richmond and Best Hiking Trails In and Around Richmond.

No matter how you choose to engage your kids this summer, just know that it is possible to beat brain drain – even without the aid of expensive camps or specialty classes. All you need it a little creativity and a willingness to take advantage of the incredible wealth of resources that surround you every day.