Drop a blank reading record into an empty shoebox. You can also include a reading pledge (for instance, "I hereby promise to read four books a week") for students, and parents, to sign. Include a list of local libraries (with addresses) and their summer program schedule; most libraries offer excellent programs for kids that include storytelling, music, magic, and even animal-themed shows. The programs are usually free-and a great way to get students into the library. Most libraries offer some kind of summer reading incentive program as well; the small rewards may motivate your students to continue reading throughout the summer.
Add a blank notebook to the shoebox, or staple a couple sheets of writing paper inside a folded construction-paper cover. Tell students they can use the notebooks to record their summer memories, to write stories, or to jot down observations; some students may want to draw pictures or glue in photos and write captions. Drop in pencils and some colorful stickers; the stickers may inspire your students' creativity. If you like, you can include sheets of writing paper and an envelope or two to encourage letter writing.
Plant seeds with your students during the last few weeks of school. Flowers (such as marigolds) are always popular, but consider veggies as well. Beans, for instance, sprout quickly-and research has shown that kids are more likely to eat vegetables they've grown. Send the starter plant home at the end of the year, along with directions for continued care. (Beans, for instance, should be transplanted to a sunny area and watered at least once a week.) Include an ideas list that suggests easy, educational activities for parents and children, such as measuring, comparing, and recording the plant's growth; you might also want to include a list of related fiction and nonfiction books that are available at the local library.
For a simple science experiment, slip in a balloon and a printout of directions. Students can use a funnel to fill the balloon with yeast, sugar, and warm water. They can then measure and chart the size of the balloon before adding the ingredients and over time as the balloon gets bigger. Your printout can detail the scientific explanation (the yeast uses the sugar to grow; as it grows, it gives off carbon dioxide, a gas, which makes the balloon expand), as well as academic skills reinforced by the experiment (measuring and comparing = math; recording = handwriting and language arts; experimentation = science).
Send home some calendar pages. Work with students to fill in the dates and holidays, then encourage parents to help students further personalize the calendars with any planned vacations, family birthdays, etc. Ask families to post the calendar in a prominent place in the home and ask questions such as "How many more days until the 4th of July?" to stimulate counting and calendar skills.
Also include a list of easy math games. A deck of cards, for instance, can be used to reinforce basic addition and subtraction skills. Parents can deal out two cards and ask students to calculate the sum or difference. Or they can play Addition War-each player is dealt two cards at a time, and the one whose cards total the higher sum wins the hand.
Commonly available board/dice games such as Monopoly and Yahtzee reinforce math skills as well.
For Social Studies...
Include a list of local museums and historical sites and their hours; be sure to emphasize any free admission days or interactive family learning activities, such as battle reenactments. Drop in a map of your home state as well; many times, you can get free maps from your state senator or department of tourism. Encourage families to let students "navigate" on any summer road trips. Parents can also encourage students to ask grandparents and other friends and family members questions about the past and record their answers.
For the Arts...
Does your city host free or low-cost summer concerts or arts performances in the park? Include a list of dates and times. Also include a list of local art museums and galleries, along with any free admission or family fun days.
For Physical Education...
Include the name, location, and number of local swimming pools and recreation centers. Many facilities offer supervised, low-cost or free physical recreation. If hiking or bike trails are available in your area, include a map
to them. Encourage families to check out Kids Bowl Free (kidsbowlfree.com), a national program that gives kids coupons good for two free games of bowling a week at a local bowling alley.
More Summer Learning Picks
These resources offer great opportunities for children over the summer. Check out the options in your area and recommend them to parents!
THE REC CENTER Chances are, your local community center offers organized classes, sports, and summer field trips. If you don't see many educational options on the menu, offer to teach a class yourself! It's a great way to earn a little extra money over the summer.
NEARBY STATE PARKS Camping is a popular family activity, and many state parks offer nature classes. Check stateparks.com for information about what's happening in your area.
LOCAL COLLEGES Many community and four-year colleges offer summer programs for kids. They're sometimes taught by faculty and frequently feature guest experts and highlights from the college's collections.
ARTS ORGANIZATIONS Theater organizations often sponsor summer drama programs, and arts groups and museums usually feature classes in drawing, painting, sculpture, and more.
SCOUTING In addition to activities in the regular scouting program, many troops sponsor summer camps at a reasonable cost.