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20 fun activities and educational sites to beat summer brain drain and keep kids learning

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Hard to believe the long, looming summer is in front of us. This vast expanse that sounds great in theory – until it’s here and your kids are bored and they’re on the way to losing a good chunk of what they’ve learned this year.

To help you keep the learning going over the summer months, I’ve collected some great ideas and resources.

Online learning

As much as we love to be outside in the summer, there will be days when it’s too hot, and other days when your kids just want to play computer games.

Try steering them to educational apps and resources by first identifying three to five of your child’s top interests. Once you’ve made your list, narrow it to the top three.  These will be your areas of focus for iPhone or iPad applications. Next, have (or help) your child download at least four e-books on those three subjects.  Try to get a mix of non-fiction and fiction so your child practices reading both styles.

Then, visit YouTube and have your child (with your help as needed) find videos on his or her areas of interest and save them. Finally, download apps that are available for your child to use either for your Android device through Google Play or your Apple device through the iTunes store. 

Here is also a list of some great education-oriented websites for kids and families. Prepare to get lost exploring them:

  • Molecularium ( What lives in the nano world? You’ll find out here through interactive activities, a gallery, and more. By Rensselaer’s Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center for Directed Assembly of Nanostructures.
  • Science World ( Fun online games you can play to learn about a variety of topics related to how the human body works.
  • Peep and the Big Wide World ( This site entices 3- to 5-year-olds to explore science. While kids may be having too much fun to realize it, these games will help them learn to estimate distances, mix colors, exercise their memory, and explore basic physics. The site also includes a collection of science resources.
  • Imagination Soup ( This blog is run by a Colorado mom, teacher and writer. Melissa Taylor offers plenty of creative ideas for children in reading, writing, math, art and science. Find references to lots of other great resources.
  • ( One section of the larger site, this specific area provides free activities and craft ideas for pre-K through high school. Includes math, science, and many other topics, sorted by both topic and grade level.
  • NASA Kids’ Club ( NASA wants kids to be interested in space. This site offers a range of activities that will do just that.
  • National Geographic Kids ( Help your kids build upon their knowledge of the world through these geography-oriented games.
  • Cool Math ( Some neat games in here that will promote your child’s math abilities. There are also activities to boost geography, science, reading and spelling skills.
  •  PBS Kids ( This was a staple in our home when our daughter was in preschool and early elementary. Learn alongside your favorite PBS characters, from Sid the Science Kid to Elmo.
  • No Time for Flash Cards ( More earning and play for babies, toddlers and kids.
  • Creative Family Fun ( Does your mind draw a blank when you try to think of creative things to do with your family? It won’t anymore. This site if chock full of cool, educational ideas.

Learn to pay attention

There are actually ways to improve your attention span this summer, according to EdNews expert and adolescent psychiatrist Steve Sarche.

“Just because it’s summer does not mean your child should stop using his or her brain. Summertime is actually a good time to hone certain skills that can improve intelligence,” he says.

Here are three suggestions:

  • Decrease screen time. The first is to decrease the amount of video games, television and texting a person does.  Research shows that all of these things may decrease a person’s attention span. Fewer than 14 hours per week total of screen time is ideal.
  • Exercise. Regular exercise, four to five times per week with a heart rate elevated to at least 60 percent of maximum estimated heart rate (calculated as 220 minus your age), helps with focus.
  • Use your brain. Like a muscle, the less the brain is used, the less powerful it becomes.  Activities that require good focus include those that require both cognitive and motor skills, such as learning to play a musical instrument, riding a horse, or playing a sport.  Other ways to exercise the brain include learning a second language, eating a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, minimal sugar and processed foods, and becoming an expert in something. Help your child find a passion, such as chess, art or cars and nurture them in learning about it.

Read, read, read!

Courtesy of the State of Colorado comes the free online “Find a Book, Colorado” online tool at, which  provides a way for parents and children to quickly and easily search books that match a child’s reading level and interests as well as to locate the local library carrying each title.

“Developing early literacy skills is a priority in Colorado. We must work together to encourage children to read throughout the summer,” said Colorado’s education Commissioner Robert Hammond. “Summer reading is a key to building knowledge and to preventing students from losing hard-earned progress gained during the school year.”

Users of the search tool can also find appropriate books with a Lexile measure or without through a search using the child’s grade level and comfort with the typical reading materials at that grade level. A Lexile measure indicates the reading level of an individual or book. “Find a Book” also offers a Spanish option.

For more information on “Find a Book, Colorado” and other summer reading programs, visit

Hit your local libraries, too.

Students who read just five to six books throughout these months perform better during the following school year.

Denver Public Library has offered summer reading programs for local residents over 80 years. Summer of Reading is one of the Denver Public Library’s most important programs for children and teens and is offered from May through August annually at the Denver Central Library, the library’s 23 branch locations and through two bookmobiles. In 2011, DPL had a record 39,000-plus registrants.

Don’t forget to get messy

Summer is a wonderful time to do those messy experiments with pond water, cooking creations and art projects that take longer to clean up than they take to make. 

For instance, when your kids help you plan menus, they can read supermarket ads and consult coupons (good math review), figure out what is needed for the meals (good for organizing and strategizing), and  they can help make the purchases. A variation on this activity is talking about using foods that are in season (sustainability), or trying ethic dishes and learning about other places in the world (reading and research).

Play in the water

This summer, the Children’s Museum of Denver’s  Joy Park is an outdoor adventure wonderland with 30,000 square feet of nature-based play and water fun.

And, of course, the sky is the limit with area creeks, lakes and rivers to play to your heart’s content! 

Good luck, and share your ideas about how you keep learning going over the summer.

-Julie Poppen


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