KNOXVILLE, Tenn. The Early Learning Center at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is encouraging families to take advantage of loosely structured time in the months ahead to help foster learning opportunities during the summer.
"Children are often quite scheduled and programmed during the school year," said Robyn Brookshire, director of UT's Early Learning Center for Research and Practice. "At the end of the day, it's about being supportive and following your child's interests when it comes to encouraging continuous learning during the summer months."
The Early Learning Center recommends the following ideas for giving families opportunities during the summer to leisurely pursue interesting, engaging experiences that promote active learning, which in turn provokes new ideas, questions and curiosity for kids of all ages:
1. Above all, limit screen time. Children who are not watching television and playing on the computer are much more likely to be engaged in experiences that foster active learning, physical movement and fun. Support time outside, even during the hot days by offering shade and water play.
2. Preserve some down time. Many experts suggest that some amount of down time, or even boredom, is important to create the mental space for creativity. Allow children to get bored sometimes, as it can lead them to come up with new ideas for projects they want to pursue.
3. Hold a family book club for the summer. Parents and children can read the same book either separately or together at bed time. Have a child choose the first book to be read. This gives parents an opportunity to get into the life of the books their child reads and could lead to many engaging conversations.
4. Try an activity that is new to everyone. Imagine the delight of sharing a brand new experience, in which adults are co-learning and experiencing the joy of a "first time" trying something new with their children. Take advantage of the many offerings in and around town: pick strawberries on a farm, go tubing on the river, try kayaks or paddle boats, visit a new hiking trail or picnic spot, learn a new game such as disc golf, explore a new part of downtown or try out a new recipe.
5. Find a service project. Seek a volunteer opportunity to do as a family. Much conversation and learning can follow time spent helping others. Process the experience through conversation by discussing what was learned and how it felt to help others.
6. Keep it simple. Engaging activities do not always need to involve a workshop or camp. Activities such as exploring a creek, visiting a new library branch, helping with a project around the house, gardening, cooking together or planning a picnic, can support learning. Children utilize important skills such as measurement, problem solving, estimation, observation, recording, writing, reading, verbal expression and many more, while they are engaging in common tasks and projects at home. Take advantage of small opportunities for reading and writing that are practical and meaningful to daily family life, such as making the grocery list, writing letters to family, researching recipes or planning out a trip.
7. Get to know the neighborhood. Children love exploring and creating concepts about spaces. Work together with children to draw a map of the neighborhood, the streets, landmarks and features. Families can then take a walking tour with their map and revise it as they discover new things to include. Mapping and exploring can create a sense of adventure within one's own small geographical area.
8. Plant a garden. Children not only enjoy gardening, but the enterprise of growing plants creates abundant opportunities for science and math. Start small and simple: plant some herbs or tomatoes in a container in a sunny spot, even on a patio or porch. Give children the daily chore to water or check on the plants.
9. Get messy. Whether it's mud pies, sidewalk chalk or finger painting, encourage opportunities to wear play clothes and let a child's artistic imagination run wild.
10. Keep a journal. A journal is a great way for children to write or draw about their experiences during the summer. It will be a neat keepsake over the years and a fun reminder of their in-the-moment mindset.