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Secret Summer Learning

From Minecraft to baking, here's how to keep your child learning and combat "summer slide" while school is out


Published on: June 19, 2014

Summer readingAs an elementary teacher, I’ve suspected that children experience learning loss over the summer months. However, nothing made this as evident as the year I took most of my kindergarten students to first grade the following year.

In September, the students that I had just months before were not able to read and write at the same level as they previously did in the spring. Their number sense was not as strong, and they had forgotten many problem strategies that we practiced.

I know that learning throughout the summer is crucial. I typically buy workbooks and memberships for online learning programs for my own son. This is not always well received by my son, who believes that summer is for fun and nothing that resembles school! He begrudgingly meets me at the kitchen table for our school time and pushes back at my attempts to keep him moving forward.

I vowed that I wouldn’t spend another summer chasing after my son with workbooks, so I developed a plan to keep him learning throughout the summer, but without him noticing.

I start with paying attention to his questions and our discussions during dinner. Later, I write down those "topics" that were mentioned. Currently, he is interested in unusual kinds of animals such as star-nosed moles, komodo dragons, viper snakes and Hercules beetles. He also expressed interest in learning about guinea pigs, turtles and rats so that he can plead his case for a pet when he is 10.

At this point, Minecraft and Pokemon are constantly discussed, so I stopped writing those on my list, but will use this information to my advantage. Once I have a substantial list, my work begins to ensure that my child is learning throughout vacation.

Reading and science

  • I search the internet for Booksbooks that are written about my son’s high-interest topics. This list is compiled and I begin by making frequent trips to the local library. In our case, the pet store will also be a helpful resource for those books about the animals that we are considering as pets.

  • With my list of topics in hand, I search Youtube and screen videos that provide us with accurate information about our topics. In addition to Youtube, I have also started searching my DVR for nature shows that I can record that will provide additional information.

  • I continue reading out loud to my son, even though he is an excellent reader. Typically, I pick those books that he is interested in but the length of the book is intimidating. Each night before I begin a new chapter, I ask him to retell what happened during our previous reading together. He doesn’t realize that he is actually “doing school” by building his comprehension and listening to how I model fluency and expression during this favorite routine.


  • My son’s high interest in Minecraft can fuel our math practice with money and telling time. We look at the clock when he begins to play and then he adds 30 minutes to figure out his quitting time. If he wants additional funds to spend on this obsession, he can count piles of coins that I give him and it can be added to the amount that he previously counted. In addition, I challenge him to build something in Minecraft such as a house or fence and this is a perfect discussion for perimeter, area, symmetry and even multiplication.

  • If I am going to try and attempt any type of “story problems” for my son, he is more likely to do it if the problem involves his favorite animals or Pokemon. I typically do these types of problems orally in the car or have him create the illustrations on the computer that match the given problems.

  •  Cooking is a great way to build strong math skills during the summer. Your child can assist you with the measurements and watching the timer for her favorite cookies! Take it a step further and help her assist with doubling a recipe or figuring out how many cookies each family member can enjoy from the batch!


  • Creating a tutorial is a great excuse for writing. Family members or friends who don’t understand Minecraft will enjoy the final product while your child benefits from the process. This tutorial should have specific details that teach others as well as labeled pictures, and it presents a great reason to work on spelling and conventions so that “Grandma knows what you are talking about!”

  • Along the same lines as a tutorial, children enjoy writing stories about their favorite things that they can then share with others. Your child might enjoy writing ficitional stories, non-fiction “teaching” writing, or even poetry. Siblings can work together to turn the stories into plays for evening performances.

  • Have your child write lists about their favorite interests (easy to do!) In addition, lists for packing on vacations are not only great writing practice but a wonderful way to teach personal responsibility. Thank-you cards or birthday invitations are also great ways of practicing writing without it feeling like busy work.

I have shared with you strategies for using my son’s interests to build opportunities for learning. Now it’s your turn to listen and watch and plan opportunities that your child’s interests can help your child actively learning all the way to September!

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