As the long (and hopefully hot) summer stretches before us, many parents will be wondering how to keep their young children entertained, and how to get them ready for school again – or for the first time.
The best way, say teaching and childcare experts, is to encourage youngsters to do things that are fun for them but will either be sneakily helping them to learn, or will help prepare them for school.
“My best advice to ensure your children learn and develop over the holidays is to not overthink it too much,” advises Gwendoline Sandow, a lower school teacher at ACS International School Cobham. “At this stage of their lives, children are naturally learning and growing every day – all you need to do is to try to keep their brains and bodies stimulated with a broad variety of activities, using the natural resources around you as much as possible.”
And Rachel Carrell, founder of the childcare service Koru Kids says: “Kids learn through play. As grown-ups, we can join in with their playing and help them prepare for school at the same time.”
Here, Sandow and Carrell share their top tips for helping children to keep learning and get ready for a new school year and, most importantly, have fun over the summer…
1. Help children learn how nature works
There are a range of simple tasks you can do with your child to help increase their understanding of nature, says Sandow. You could make a water run using recycled bottles to show them how water flows and the fundamentals of gravity.
Cut the bottle in half lengthways, with the bottom removed so the water can flow from one end to the other. Run water through the bottle and play around with the angle so your child can see how this affects how quickly the water runs. “A simple task, but great for maths and science skills, as well as motor skills and collaboration,” says Sandow.
You could also visit a local wood and task your child with finding different animals and living creatures. As well as encouraging them to use their intuition and to explore, Sandow says this can help children develop language, give them an understanding of sustainability, and also increase empathy.
2. Role play ‘school’
Role play can help children starting school for the first time prepare in a safe space, says Carrell. You can practise putting up your hand to answer questions, draw on white boards, practise sitting properly on the floor and at a table, and take it in turns to be the pupil and the teacher.
“This will build your kid’s confidence and get them learning how to follow rules and routines,” explains Carrell. “With enough role play over the summer, they’ll be marching through the school gates with enough confidence to be prepared for anything.”
3. Get creative in the garden
Sandow suggests asking children to collect leaves from the garden or woods and make prints by painting one side and pushing them onto paper – they can then turn the prints into characters and animals.
She says: “You can also make a picture using tools from nature – make a frame out of sticks, then use leaves, grass, mud – anything – to create a self-portrait or any picture your child wants.
“As well as sparking creativity, these activities can help your child develop language skills, as they communicate what they’re making, plus fine motor skills as they refine their artistic ability.”
4. Get kids moving
Keeping active over the holidays is important not just for a child’s physical health, but for their mental health too, stresses Sandow, who suggests encouraging children to get outside, make a den or go on a scavenger hunt.
You could also boost their learning by going on a ‘walk with purpose’ to count how many birds or trees you see, and stopping to identify the species.
5. Practise getting dressed
“The teachers will thank you if you can get your child to practise getting dressed independently over the summer,” promises Carrell, who points out children get in and out of PE kit, and put on and take off coats and shoes a lot during the school day.
“Practising helps build independence and confidence, and also fine motor skills,” she says. “Getting dressed can also be a great way of practising numbers, by counting buttons, socks and layers.”
6. Bake together
Baking is a fun way to learn basic maths concepts, says Carrell. “It’s a great opportunity to talk about weights and scales and bring the topic to life,” she explains.
“Kids often think that when something’s big, it’s also heavy. Giving them different ingredients to hold and measure shows that’s not always the case. It’s a brilliant way to develop basic foundations of these concepts before learning them explicitly at school.”
7. Make up stories together
Good old storytelling is a winner when it comes to preparing for school, says Carrell. Get your child to make up a story using a random object, place or person as inspiration, or do it together by taking turns to say the next sentence of the story.
“This is a fun way to get everyone using their imagination and your little one practising their listening, speech, language and empathy skills,” she explains.
8. Race the clock
Pick an activity and get your child to playfully do it as quickly as possible. This helps improve concentration, motor skills and children’s concept of time, says Carrell, who adds: “It’s also a great way to get them speedy at putting their socks and shoes on for the morning school rush.”