Summer Activities

Summer slide. Brain Drain. Amnesia. 

It’s called different things but adds up to the same thing: Young brains slow down during the long, lazy days of summer, causing some kids to backslide, forgetting valuable math and reading skills.

No need to crack open the textbooks. Local educational experts have tips and tricks parents can sneak into the family summer schedule to keep kids of all ages from falling behind. “One great thing over the summer is to have projects,” suggests Mike O’Hern, director of math learning center Mathnasium of West Knoxville, “such as building a model and studying nature and making a chart. There are all kinds of ways to sneak math in.”

Play games 
O’Hern believes few children today know card games. “The idea of playing with dice and cards is amazing in terms of the brain,” he says. “With Blackjack you’re considering odds, adding up and comparing numbers. Games, such as checkers, chess or card games, involve probability and problems. Even if it’s not working on the square root, it’s still going to help keep that brain working.”

Throughout the summer, students drop into the center for just an hour twice a week to play games and work on math exercises. “Any work that they can do over the summer helps. It doesn’t have to be a lot,” explains O’Hern.

Go online 
Lisa Sexton, a sixth grade social studies teacher at Bearden Middle School, says the school provides a link to “Study Island” on their website, on which students can find educational games. “It’s a great review tool,” she adds. “Schools are open until June 7, just call the school and ask about online resources.” She also advises keeping the pace slow and relaxed for best results.

Go places 
Sexton recommends local field trips. “They have play areas,” she says. “And, they don’t feel like they’re there to learn.”
Parents can also throw in something educational during family vacation. “Even if you’re going to Disney World, you can talk about the changes in the topography and look for historical markers and cool places,” Sexton says. “It doesn’t have to be big, just little things they learn are the things that stick with them.”

A step further
Sally Bishop, a third-grade teacher at Thackston School suggests looking for books with tie-in activities at your local bookstore or library.
“For example the classic series of books by Laura Ingles Wilder,” says Bishop. “There’s a cookbook that goes along with this series. Preparing the recipes together helps practice reading, following instructions and measuring using fractions.” She also recommends Roald Dahl’s “Revolting Recipes” or a book with a related craft project.

Mind games 
Slip in some mental math while you run errands. Quiz them on how much a tank of gas will cost. Or on a car trip, turn off the GPS. “Estimation is a great math skill,” explains Bishop. “Ask them approximately how many miles to a point and use road maps to find your location.”

Summer blockbuster 
“The best tactic is to try to balance challenge with interests,” suggests Stergios Botzakis, Ph.D, assistant professor of Adolescent Literacy at the University of Tennessee. “Some schools have required summer reading lists, but parents should also try to provide materials that their children like and want to read on their own. Personal choice and interest can be powerful motivators for student reading.”

Establish a consistent time/comfortable space for reading. “Making it a habit or routine can be very effective for encouraging prolonged reading,” he adds. And look for media tie-ins. “Adapted novels from movies or movies based on books can provide motivation and interest for further reading,” explains Dr. Botzakis.

Just get out 
Many students will not do anything outside of the normal school year, concedes Jada McManus, a special education teacher at Carter High School. McManus points out that there are many local historical sites within easy reach to bring out their inner history buff this summer. Visit the local museum in Jocelyn Street and check out their displays, especially the Olympic Games Display.

“I wish more chhildren would go see those things,” says McManus. “They would like it if they would just go.”

Virtual learning 
Online, McManus recommends brushing up on spelling or finding inspiration, math, science and literacy help at,, And the perennial site, features animated, curriculum-based content for kindergarteners all the way up.

Jamie Petrik, a leadership teacher at Christian Academy of Knoxville, coordinates community service and has many ideas to keep teens busy this summer. “The most rewarding thing kids will start to feel if they get up out of bed is to do community service,” says Petrik.

Get a hobby 
Petrik suggests also taking the opportunity to learn something new. Perhaps a community college class, learning to drive on a highway or taking up beach volleyball, going fishing or going out into the mountains.

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