By Steve Dunkelberger
Reading abilities, math formulas and scientific concepts learned throughout the year are often forgotten during the summer. Educators say that the “summer slump” then requires months of fall-time refresher lessons.
Parents and grandparents face this challenge by trying to keep children active and engaged in learning but also entertained – away from the television and gaming system hour after hour, day after day. One idea – turn simple walks or errand runs into adventures. It’s not as tough as it seems, and it doesn’t have to cost anything.
Walking around the neighborhood was always a pastime in my childhood, but growing up on military bases around the globe made that pretty straight forward. We just followed the 12-foot concrete wall surrounding our compound, often passing golf courses, houses, motor pools, warehouses of tanks and trucks and then convenience stores for post-walk snacks.
Tossing on a backpack with some water, a few apples and binoculars turned the trek into super-secret military stations, where we would be tasked with reporting back troop movements. At least, that’s what our imagination would make us believe. We would then go home and attempt to draw a map from memory of what we saw, only to walk the route again to check the map’s accuracy.
This idea can be followed anywhere, with a variety of “themes.” Maybe your neighborhood walk doesn’t include sights of helipads and artillery shells. A cheap pair of binoculars and a magnifying glass from a local dollar store can make any walk an adventure. Bring a pencil and paper to write descriptions about animals or plants viewed along the way. Upon returning home, research the species online or visit a library to add depth to the walks. A side idea to this theme is to shift the walk time to see how the sights change. Talk about the differences.
Write down the experience using all five senses: What does the neighborhood smell like at noon then again at dinner time? What are five things you hear at specific locations along the way? What bugs do you see in puddles when you look through your magnifying glass? Talk about how shadows work and how they change as the day progresses. Discuss how a sundial works and make one in the yard.
Don’t forget to pick up any litter you see along the way. I always used the “rule of age,” which means children – and adults – have to pick up a piece of trash for each year of their age.
Every neighborhood park and main street has hidden treasures that can be found through free geocaching apps for smartphones. Just remember to leave something if you take something. Many of the caches include themes or riddles that provide clues to the location, but often they are hidden in plain sight in hollow logs or under bushes.
Everyone has errands to the grocery store, bank, or auto mechanic. While a part of mundane life, the tasks don’t have to be boring for children. Easy ways to make them fun, or at least less boring, is to make games out of everything.
Everyone remembers the “I Spy” and “Alphabet” games during car rides. Players say “I spy with my little eye something …” and the other car riders guess what the item is. Players of “Alphabet” spot the letters on license plates, road signs or bumper sticker. The first player to go from A to Z wins the game.
Both games can be easily played in stores or on short drives. Toss in a scavenger hunt for everything from blue pens and air fresheners to sunglasses and specific words and the errands are done before the games end.
Everything done on a walk can be done in any open space or even a backyard. Spot what animals or plants live in the space and research what they are. Whip out that magnifying glass to see what grass looks like up close and what bugs might call the blades home.
A simple plastic bag or tub can double as a treasure chest for a backyard game of “hotter or colder.” Someone can simply hide the chest and say “hotter” as the searchers get closer and “colder” if they wander off track. Toss in a blindfold to make the game a bit more challenging.
A tarp and sprinkler can make for an easy water slide during hot days. A goofy twist is to mix in some food coloring into the puddles. Fear not, it washes out.
As night falls, play a game of horseshoes using rings make from glow-in-the-dark necklaces. Once night has come, set up lawn chairs and watch a “drive-in” movie by putting a laptop or screen on a stand or cardboard box in front of the seats.
If weather prevents outdoor entertainment, you can still avoid the indoor draw of television and gaming systems, put on your game face with crafts and indoor adventures. One favorite of my childhood involved a spool of yarn. We would just take the dining room chairs into the living room and string the yarn around the chairs. We would then try to crawl through the “Mission Impossible” yarn web without getting tangled in the obstacle course.
Reuse the yarn to create string telephones by connecting the line to two soup cans. Use the phone to communicate messages through your own secret code.
Summer will be over before the roster of ideas ends.