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7 Free Ways to Have Fun and Learn this Summer

Amber Brandt  |  July 23, 2019

Summertime is often characterized by fun, long days with family – visiting the beach, vacationing, and grilling meals outside. But for many students, it’s also a time when learning takes a back seat – or even regresses.

One Brookings Institute report from 2017 studied more than 500,000 students between grades two and nine, and found the students lost as much as 30% of their school-year learning over the summer. (It also found that students who experienced greater difficulty learning throughout the year tended to lose the most.)

But you can help your kids stave off summer learning loss by sprinkling in some local activities that cost little to nothing – and have a great afternoon together in the meantime. Win-win! 

  1. Stargazing. Whether you live in a city or out in the country, it’s not too difficult to find a stretch of sky to observe at night. Many towns have areas they’ve designated as “dark zones,” where light pollution is kept to a minimum. You can check out the National Parks Service website for locations near you, or do a simple Google search of your area. Many local planetariums also offer free admission evenings. Here are some great ways to get started, including several astronomy app recommendations you can download to discover constellations and learn together.
  2. Outdoor movies. Does your city offer free family movie nights? Depending on where you live, they may take place in a local park, theater, library, civic building, or school gymnasium. A quick Facebook search can help you find local community pages in your area. You can make any movie a learning experience by discussing topics presented in the film, or even researching the process of filmmaking with your child.
  3. Farmers markets. There’s lots to see (and sample!) at your local farmers market, and the opportunities for learning are endless – everything from discussing the process of photosynthesis to how shopping local helps to reduce your carbon footprint.
  4. Family book club. Why not make a list of books you’d like to read together over the summer? Depending on the age of your child, this may be a series of board books, a chapter book, or multiple short novels. Borrowing books from the library or buying used can keep down the cost.
  5. Family game nights. A simple deck of cards can be a fun way to practice recognizing numbers, and older children love to experience healthy competition, challenge, and strategy.
  6. Recycled crafts. One quick raid of the recycling bin can equate to hours of family craft fun. Here are 1,000 projects to get you started! Just be sure to explain the process as you go, and even inspire them to think of items they can repurpose throughout the house.
  7. Go bowling. Check out Kids Bowl Free to find locations near you – then turn ball-rolling into a discussion of trajectory or force!