Create a DIY Summer Camp for Your Kids at Home

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

With a little research, you can design a fun, enriching and free summer camp experience for your kids this summer.

Now that social distancing has moved from spring to summer, parents have shifted, too, from their school-year roles as academic tutors during a time of remote learning, to summer camp counselors.

That wasn’t an easy end to the school year, was it? It also wasn’t the same kind of instructional experience — many students didn’t learn as much as they would have in the classroom. Then there’s the phenomenon of summer learning loss, in which a certain amount of what kids did learn during the school year is lost by the time the next academic year starts.

Don’t forget to have plenty of fun this summer. We’ve all been going through stressful times to one degree or another. But it’s also a good idea to layer some learning in with the play so that old skills aren’t lost, and new ones are added, over the summer.

There are plenty of virtual summer camps going on that families can invest in, but there are many free options as well — from organized camps to helpful YouTube videos to your own imagination — to keep kids’ minds engaged.

Math

Holding your own private cooking club at home is a great way to teach kids math and measurement. Get your kitchen scale, measuring cups and spoons ready to serve as teacher’s aids. Depending on your child’s age, you can use this for something as simple as measuring and adding, or for more sophisticated work such as switching to and from metric and figuring out fractions. Or practice multiplication tables: What would be needed if you quadrupled the recipe? What would seven dozen eggs amount to?

PBS Kids offers a huge menu of interactive online math games, illustrated with and voiced over by many of children’s favorite characters, including Grover.

Reading

Have your children start their own online book club with friends, appropriate to their ages. Lucky them if this is the summer they are first able to tackle the Harry Potter books. Help them set up a Zoom Room, password protected, for their pals to join.

OC Public Libraries is offering virtual reading time, including in sign language.

Count on PBS to be there again with quality online programming for kids. The PBS Kids site of reading games includes letter and word recognition, rhyming and more.

Geography

Sporcle is a website full of timed knowledge games. Many involve celebrities and the like, but the site also has terrific geography games where kids fill out all the nations on any continent (or states of the United States) and see where they’re located. Use the search function to find what you want, such as “countries of Africa,” or use the menus to browse the many geography offerings that include quizzes on capital cities, culture or population. Of course, children don’t know many of the nations on the maps to begin with, but once the time runs out the answers are filled out on the map. It doesn’t take that long before they know every country and precisely where it’s located. There also are games on state and national capitals, populations and so forth. This site requires adult supervision because not all of the games are educational or child-appropriate.

Not much travel is happening this year, but a fun family activity can be to plan a trip for a year in the future. Use that to learn about the geography, transportation, points of interest and culture of your someday destination. Or have the kids do this online with friends. They can make travel posters, use math skills to plan a road trip (including the necessary gas) and make a craft related to that country.

Physical Education

Many children (and adults) haven’t been active enough since sheltering in place began. A study in China found that children there got one-fifth the amount of exercise during lockdown there than they had beforehand. The importance of physical education shouldn’t be overlooked. Children who exercise have lower stress and higher levels of concentration. They build bone mass that will help them ward off osteoporosis later in life and avoid obesity. There’s also evidence that exercise strengthens children’s immune systems.

Of course, you can generally go out for a family walk and bike ride, choosing your routes carefully and observing social distancing. Experts recommend the fresh air and sunshine. But there also are more structured activities for children that build skills of interest to them.

Try looking up “soccer skills for kids” on YouTube, for example. It’s filled with tutorials kids can try out in the backyard.

How about days when playing outside isn’t possible? Dr. Christopher Kroner, a UC Irvine Health specialist in sports medicine, says in a UCI Health article that yoga is a terrific way to build muscular strength and gross motor skills. He particularly recommends the Cosmic Kids Yoga videos on YouTube, created for very young children using storytelling and visual effects.

By searching online, you’ll find resources for science games and education (try National Geographic Kids). You might also be able to set up socially-distanced Lego playdates in a park or large yard, with all the children bringing their own blocks and snacks. Make sure they and their belongings stay with just them and that plenty of space remains between them. Keep the groups small. Children need social and emotional growth as well as academic. Even if they’re engaged in parallel play, being in the same space as a friend can alleviate loneliness and brighten summer days.

By Karin Klein

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