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4 ways to keep kids engaged throughout summer break

And make sure they’re on track for the next school year
Child coloring a picture of a dinosaur

Many people spend most of the year looking forward to summer—it brings warmer weather, barbecues, pool parties and vacations. All of this is fun, but if you’re a parent, summer may also cause you a bit of anxiety. Your kids will be home, and you may be able to spend more time with them, but your family may also have difficulty transitioning from the structure of a school year to the more relaxed quality of summertime.

Stacey Brown, MEd, coordinator for the Texas A&M School of Nursing’s HIPPY (Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters) program, shares some ideas to keep your kids’ minds and bodies engaged, even over their long break from school.

1. Maintain some kind of routine

Although summer usually is, and should be, a time for kids to take a break from the stimulation and academic challenges of school, maintaining some sort of predictable schedule for them is well-advised.

“It’s good to have some outings that are planned for the same days and times every week,” Brown said. “It even helps kids to have a visual schedule, so they see their day in pictures, or words, for older kids. Transitioning from one activity to the next is one of the biggest challenges parents have, but when kids kind of know what to expect, it helps them wrap their little brains around what’s going on.”

Brown even suggested setting a timer when kids start an activity, especially when something not-so-fun is up next, such as nap time or cleaning up. This way, kids can mentally prepare themselves to transition out of the fun activity, hopefully without tantrums or tears.

2. Disguise mental stimulation as games

A tried-and-true tactic is giving kids activities that seem to them like a game but are also educational. This can include puzzles, word searches and scavenger hunts.

“I have my kids do summer workbooks,” Brown said. “They have some really fun activities in them, and they’re good for keeping kids’ brains turning while still enabling them to build and create and imagine.”

Brown says it’s even good to block off time for kids to have “free play,” where they can explore whatever they feel like doing without limitation. Often, this on its own leads to children working their minds and engaging their imaginations.

3. Get them cooking

Another great thing to do with your kids is to let them help you in the kitchen. This is especially alluring as it’s a win-win situation: your kids get the stimulation of reading a recipe and working with their hands, and you get some help making lunch or dinner.

Not only does this double as a fun activity for kids and a potential time-saver for you, it can also potentially lead to kids being open to trying different foods.

“A lot of kiddos have a tendency to be picky eaters,” Brown said. “But if they’re involved in planning and preparing their meals, they’re more likely to eat what they’re being given and like having that ownership and knowing they had a hand in creating the end result.”

Depending on your child’s age and level of independence, their capabilities in the kitchen will vary. However, there’s always an opportunity for kids to do something simple, like spreading jelly on toast or sprinkling cheese on homemade pizzas.

4. Do some tactile activities

It’s no surprise that kids love touching things, and most of the time, it’s beneficial for them. There are a lot of ways to have some summertime fun while also letting kids explore different textures and consistencies.

“Water play is obviously a big one in the summer,” Brown said. “There’s also an opportunity for kids to play with sand, and of course, pretty much all kids love slime and Play-Doh. But sensory play can also help develop language skills, especially if you have them describe what they’re playing with.”

Of course, all good things must come to an end. Summer will wind down and a new school year will creep back up, but using some of these tactics will ideally make for a smoother shift—for everybody involved.

“It will definitely be an easier transition—for kids, for parents and for teachers,” Brown said. “When kiddos have been guided a bit throughout the summer, they’re more prepared and geared up when school starts again in the fall, and it helps families get back to whatever normal might look like for them.”

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