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37 ingenious summer learning resources for your kids

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Teachers often joke about clearing out the cobwebs at the beginning of each school year. Some call summer learning loss the “summer slide “or “brain drain”, and research shows kids do indeed lose approximately 22% of their academic skills over the summer.


According to the Summer Learning Association, kids score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of summer vacation. Most kids lose about two months of math computation skills over the summer, while kids who don’t participate in summer reading can lose up to two months of reading achievement.

Aside from loss of academic skills, many kids also experience summer weight gain from lack of physical activity. According to the American Journal of Public Health, most kids gain weight more rapidly over summer break. Kids gain body mass index (BMI) nearly twice as fast during the summer as during the school year.

The good news is there are tons of fun ways to keep kids engaged in learning and outdoor play during the summer. Here’s a comprehensive guide to a variety of learning opportunities and activities to personalize your child’s summer experience and keep their brains and bodies active all summer long.

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SUMMER ONLINE LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES

DIY Summer Camps, Ages 7-16

Kids earn skills badges by completing different camps, such as cooking, movie making, outdoor adventures, bookbinding, comic book making, lego building and more. Each DIY camp lasts four weeks. Instructors post daily videos, and kids can post as little or as often as they like. First camp costs $10. Subsequent camps cost $39. Parents can track progress and view projects, and kids names are kept private. There are no chat options on this site.

Brain Chase Challenge, Ages 6-16

This five-week challenge begins June 22. Kids compete in a real-life treasure hunt for the chance to win $10,000. Completing an hour of academic work a day unlocks animated videos and clues. Brain Chase partners with some of the best academic resources on the web, such as Khan Academy, Rosetta Stone and credentialed writing instructors. It’s a fun way to keep math, reading, writing and foreign language skills up over the summer! You can learn more in this recent Parent Co. interview with Brain Chase.

Khan Academy, Ages 5-18

Khan Academy offers a range of subjects online for free. Kids learn at their own pace, and parents can track progress. Subjects include math, science, coding, history, art history, economics and more. Khan Academy partners with institutions, such as NASA, The Museum of Modern Art, The California Academy of Sciences and MIT to provide state of the art content. Kids learn through practice exercises and instructional videos. One advantage to using Khan Academy is it can be accessed all year long.

Virtual Tours, All Ages

Take a virtual tour of a museum without leaving your home! Enjoy a 360 degree view of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Go on a panoramic tour of the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History. Interact with the flight deck of the Space Shuttle Discovery. Travel to locations all over the world through 360 degree interactive views.

Science House App, Ages 4-18

Science House is a free science app that includes over 80 science lessons and videos. These inexpensive experiments will inspire curiosity and inquiry in your kids.

Duolingo App, Ages 4 and up

Learn a foreign language for free! There are up to 11 languages to choose from with this app rated App of the Year by Apple in 2013. Great for parents too!

Code Academy, Ages 12 and up

Learn to code for free. This online program is for beginner coders or aspiring computer programmers. Covers HTML/CSS, jQuery, Javascript, Python, PHP, Ruby and APIs. Courses range from 3-13 hours. It’s a great way for both kids and parents to learn more about coding.

Today Box, Ages 4-10

Today Box is a non-commercialized site for kids, parents and educators that hosts highly-curated content safe for curious kids. Explore videos on animals, nature, art, music, active play, robots, space, STEM and more. Head to the grown-up blog for activities and reviews of books and apps. Pro Tip: Make the site a homescreen app on your phone or iPad for easy kid access.

Virtual College Tours, Ages 14-18

Do you have a teenager looking at colleges? Introduce them to virtual college tours, where they can check out campuses across the United States for free. Teens can view video tours, manipulate interactive maps and take mobile walking tours.

FOR TINKERERS AND MAKERS

TinkerLab for Mini Makers and Inventors, Ages 2 and up

TinkerLab ranks as one of the top 25 creative mom blogs by Circle of Moms. Rachelle Doorley, an arts educator and parent., posts tinkering projects and ideas on TinkerLab. The site is easy to navigate as projects are listed visually and alphabetically by category. Participate in the tinkering sketchbook challenge, build a Rube Goldberg machine, fly a tea bag hot air balloon or get messy in the kitchen!

Make a Kid Tinkering Kit, Ages 6 and up

Put together the perfect tinkering kit for the summer, so your kids can build and tinker to their hearts content. The blog Katydid and Kid: Adventures in Making and Doing has an excellent guide to putting together a tinkering kit. Many of the items you probably already have around your home. This kit is designed by a mom, blogger, and former artist, museum educator and arts educator. Her site also includes lots of fun tinkering activities for kids.

Seedling Kits, Ages 3-12

Imagine, explore and create with playful and affordable activity kits from Seedling. Shop by price, age or theme. Make a superhero cape, invent your own insects, design a pirate ship, sew a dino(sew), and more! Great for a rainy day or summer travel!

Hatch Early Learning STEM Kits, Ages 2-5

This company sells STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Kits designed specifically for preschoolers. Kits help kids learn about gravity, volume, engineering, robotics and more at a developmental level appropriate for kids ages 2-4. Buy kits or get ideas for making your own.

Lakeshore Learning STEM Kits, Ages 5-14

Buy real-world challenge kits to stimulate your child’s STEM skills. This site allows parents to search by age, price and topic making it easier to see what’s available. Kits include water play, fairy-tale problem solving and engineering. These kits are perfect for a rainy summer day or outdoor play.

Makers Camp, Ages 13-18

This free online digital camp is for kids who love to hack, tinker, build and discover. Camp runs six-weeks from July 6 – August 14. This site uses Google Hangout and virtual field trips, so we suggest it’s more appropriate for middle school or high school. Campers also get instructions for making their own DIY projects at home. Last year’s camp included a hangout with the White House Executive Chef and a live assembly of a telescope at NASA.

Brit Kits, Ages 12-18

Brit + Co. sells DIY and design projects perfect for teenagers and parents. Design a cheeseboard, learn to letterpress or design your own leather lamp. Parents might like etching their own champagne flute or whiskey tumblers. Brit + Co. also offers great prices on online classes like calligraphy, sewing, jewelry making, sketching and more at just $19.99.

Carolina STEM and Inquiry Kits, Ages 12-18

These kits are perfect for keeping middle school and high school students engaged in building STEM skills over the summer. Parents and kids can search by topic or grade level on this site. Experiment with solar water heating, urine purification, balloon rockets, wind power, the circulatory system and more.

STEMfinity Summer Camps, Ages 6-18

STEMfinity makes kits for various STEM courses lasting about 12 hours. Kits include instructions, lessons, suggested schedules, as well as all the materials needed. Tinker with robotics, circuits, build your own roller coaster, develop your painting skills, explore the ocean, learn about farm to table and more. If you’re not looking for a summer-long course, there are STEM kits under $100 as well.

NATURE AND OUTDOOR LEARNING FUN

This Book Was a Tree, Ages 2 and up

The best part about summer is spending time outdoors! Each chapter of science teacher Marcie Cuff’s book encourages kids and families to reconnect with nature. We love the simplicity of design and the detailed illustrations of this book, as well as the outdoor activities. Touch, collect, document, sketch, analyze, explore, and unravel the natural world. Make mud-pies, build forts, sketch maps, make natural bug repellants, create sundials and more. You can find a more detailed review of Cuff’s book here.

Nature Rocks: Let’s Go Explore, Ages 2 and up

This site by the Nature Conservancy features tons of activities that encourage kids and families to spend more time outdoors. Activities are divided up by age, location, weather and time in order to make it easy to navigate the site. Activities include making an outdoor xylophone, creating a fairy village garden, outdoor obstacle courses, growing vegetables, star gazing, bird watching and more.

National Park Service Junior Ranger Programs, Ages 5-13

Do you have a National Park near you? Are you planning to visit any this summer? You might want to check out this free program that encourages kids to complete learning challenges and activities in the parks, share their learning with park rangers and earn a Junior Ranger badge and certificate. Can’t get to a park? Check out web rangers, a site where kids can virtually explore and hike the parks, earn rewards and learn about the parks through online activities.

Outdoor Games for Kids, All Ages

Education.com has a lengthy list of outdoor activities perfect for a party or outdoor fun. Try yoga with your dog, nature tic-tac-toe, making your own Frisbee, have a watermelon seed spitting contest, have a phonic scavenger hunt and more. Each activity includes instructions and reviews.

Volunteer Match, Ages 14 and up

Summer is a great time for teenagers, parents and families to get out and volunteer some time out in the community. Volunteer Match helps match volunteers with organizations based on interests and location. It’s also a great way for teenagers to learn about other fields they might be interested in pursuing in the future like education, healthcare, nonprofit work, museum studies and more.

RAINY DAY PHYSICAL ACTIVITIES

Kids Skate Free, Ages 12 and under

Roller skating burns 330-600 calories per hour, and it’s a fun way to get some aerobic exercise into your family’s day. It also helps build balance and flexibility in kids. Check out this national program to see if there’s a skating rink near you that participates in the Kids Skate Free program.

Kids Bowl Free, Ages 12 and under

This national program allows kids to play up to two games in the bowling alley for free per day. Parents will need to cover the cost of bowling shoes only. Check out the link above for a participating bowling alley near you!

Museums on Us, For Parents

If you’re experiencing a rain summer day, why not walk around a museum and feed your brain a little culture? If you’re a Bank of America customer, enjoy free entrance to over 150 museums and cultural institutions across the United States on the first full weekend over every month this summer and year round. Each cardholder gets one free admission, and many of these museums are free for younger kids. You can find a full list of participating institutions here.

Summer Reading, Writing and Publishing

Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge, Ages 5-12

This free summer reading challenge encourages kids to read books and log their progress over the summer for the chance to win virtual prizes. The contest runs from May 4 through September 4.

Summer Reading Lists, Ages 5-14

Visit your local library and check out some of these books recommended by the Association for Library Service to Children. Lists are divided by early education, elementary, and middle school.

Barnes and Noble Summer Reading, Ages 5-12

Kids read eight books and log progress in a reading journal. Once kids have read eight books, they can choose a free book from the Reading Journal List at any Barnes and Noble Store. Parents can also pick up a free summery activity kit at the store. The program includes suggested summer reads broken down by age level.

TD Bank Summer Reading Program, Ages 5-11

Are you a TD Bank customer?  If your child reads and logs ten books this summer, they can receive $10 in a new or existing Young Saver account.

Neighborhood Book Clubs, Ages 5-18

Start a neighborhood book club! PBS Parents has helpful tips for starting a book club with kids.

Young Adult Summer Reading List, Ages 12 and up

Mashable put together a list of 23 young adult books for summer reading that both teenagers and adult fans of YA literature will love.

Make Your Own Comics, Ages 6 and up

Learn how to make and publish your own comics for free with Bill Zimmerman. There are helpful resources for parents, educator and English Language Learners too.

Time 4 Writing, Ages 6 and up

This online writing resource features four-week online writing courses for elementary, middle and high school students. Students learn on a virtual campus with certified writing teachers and work at their own pace.

Scribblett, Ages 4 and up

Design, illustrate, write and publish your work using Scribblett. Kids can also enter contests, order hard copies of notecards or books featuring their work and share directly on the site.

Taking a trip and looking for even more ideas and reviews for online learning or education apps this summer? Check out this summer learning guide from Common Sense Media.

 

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Student loan debt is a major problem for many mamas and their families―but it doesn't have to be. Refinancing companies like Laurel Road help families every year by offering better rates, making payments more manageable or helping them shorten their loan term.

If you're ready to start taking control of your student loan debt, here are five steps that could help you conquer your student loan debt and get a loan that works for you.

1. Understand your refinancing options.

Like motherhood, managing student loan debt is a journey made much easier by experience. If your eyes start to cross when you hear variable and fixed rates or annual percentage rate, start your process with a little education. Laurel Road offers a user-friendly resource hub with student loan refinancing guides and articles that can help explain your options and get you started on a more informed foot.

2. Potentially improve your credit score.

Your credit score is important because it provides an objective measure of your credit risk to lenders. It also has an impact on many aspects of your finances, so it's a good idea to understand and track your score regularly. To try and improve your score, pay your bills on time—your payment history is one of the most important factors in determining your credit score. Having a long history of on-time payments is best, while missing a payment may hurt your score. Another action to improve your credit score would be to keep the amount you owe low—keeping your balances low on credit cards and other types of revolving debt, such as a home equity lines of credit, may help boost your score. Remember, good credit scores don't just happen overnight, but taking positive financial steps now can lead to more positive outcomes in the future.

3. Get a better understanding of your current loan benefits.

Different loan types have different benefits and you want to make sure you don't lose any valuable benefits by refinancing your current loan. Before you're ready to apply for a better option, you need to know what you have. Determine your loan terms (how long you have to pay off your loan and how much you're required to pay each month) and find out your current interest rate.

When you took out your original loan, especially if it was a federal loan, everyone who applies is given the same rate regardless of their personal credit. When you look to refinance, companies like Laurel Road look at your credit score and other attributes to give you a personalized pricing option―one that's often more competitive than your original terms. However, it is important to know that federal loans offer several benefits and protections, including income based repayment and forgiveness options, that you may lose when refinancing with private lenders (learn more at https://studentloans.gov). Try Laurel Road's Student Loan Calculator to get a bigger picture perspective of what it will take to pay off your loan and the options available to you.

4. Pick the terms that fit your lifestyle.

Your long-term financial goals will determine what refinancing terms are right for you. For example, a 3- or 5-year loan means faster payoff times, but it will mean a higher monthly payment―which might not be possible if you're planning to purchase a home or looking to move your toddler to a more expensive school. A loan with a longer term will have lower payments, but more interest over the duration of the loan.

Want to see what your options are? Check your rates on Laurel Road. They'll perform a "soft credit pull" using some basic information (meaning initially checking your rates won't affect your credit score ) so you can make an informed decision. If you do proceed with the application Laurel Road will ask for your consent on a hard credit pull.

5. Don't miss out on discounts.

With a little research, many people can find opportunities for lower rates or discounts when refinancing their loans. For example, if your credit isn't the best, look into the possibility of adding a cosigner who may help boost your rate. There are also many associations and employers who offer student loan benefits. Laurel Road partners with a number of groups and employers who offer discounts on rates―so check with your professional associations or HR to see if any options are available to you. Finally, talk to your financial institution, especially if you're planning to take out another major loan like a mortgage. In some cases, having another product with an institution can get you a preferred customer rate.

This article is sponsored by Laurel Road. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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It's Father's Day and dads around the world are getting some love from their loved ones, and we are loving all the adorable posts on Instagram today.

Celebrity dads are getting (and dishing out) a lot of love today, and these 10 Instagram posts, in particular, are melting our hearts.


James Van Der Beek 

James Van Der Beek will always be Dawson to many millennial mamas, but to his five kids he's just "Daddy." His wife Kimberly posted the cutest pic of James with their kiddos, Olivia, Emilia, Annabel Leah, Joshua and baby Gwendolyn.

James posted the same photo to his own account, with a caption that may make you cry.

He wrote: "For me, being a father means having that quiet little voice inside of you that says 'Be a better man,' get louder and more consistent... to the point where you can't really remember where that voice ends and where you begin. It means being tired beyond what is probably healthy, and patient beyond what you previously thought possible. And even though you know you're far from perfect... being a father also comes with an unshakable awareness that all your actions have consequences - context that reaches far beyond your own self-interest. It's scary to feel that interconnected with the rest of the world - especially with your heart now walking around outside your body - because it demands more personal responsibility... but it will make you a better man. Of at least that I'm sure. #HappyFathersDay to all the imperfect dads out there, trying their best and learning on the job.👊#fatherhood"

That post gives us more feels than any episode of Dawson's Creek ever did.


Today, our Istagram and Facebook feeds are filled with evidence that today's dads are doing more than any other generation of fathers. Congrats guys, you really deserve a Happy Father's Day!

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The bond between sisters is special, but Jill Noe and Whitney Bliesner have a unique bond that goes beyond just being siblings. As twins, Jill and Whitney shared a lot throughout their lives, and when Jill became Whitney's surrogate they even shared a pregnancy.

As first reported by Today, Whitney has a rare disease called NF2 (Neurofibromatosis type 2). Because of NF2 she lost the vision in her left eye and hearing in her right ear, along with partial hearing loss in her left ear. The condition makes pregnancy risky, and the disease is hereditary.

Whitney and her husband, Pete, wanted to start a family, but adoption and surrogacy fees seemed to be putting parenthood out of their reach. Until Jill stepped in as their surrogate.

"We have always had a strong connection, I do think this experience made our connection stronger, for sure," Whitney tells Motherly, adding that she's sure that when Jill eventuallu has kids of her own the sisters will likely bond over motherhood, too.

Through IVF, Jill carried donor eggs fertilized with Pete's sperm to make her twin sister's family, and on June 7 Jill delivered Whitney and Pete's son and daughter, little Rhett and Rhenley.

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"Going through this with Jill was so easy," Whitney tells Motherly. "We both had no idea what was going to happen or how we would deal with stuff during this journey. We had our ups and downs, but I think that's life, and in any situation you would experience that. But with my sister, there was a sense of everything was going to be ok, like always. We always get over our annoyance and disagreements with each other very fast with no hard feelings. It was just a great experience to have with my best friend, my twin sister."

Rhett and Rhenley are keeping Whitney super busy these days (with twins, someone is always hungry!) but she's making time to share her story because she wants other people who can't physically be pregnant to not give up on their dream of being a mom.

"It's not about blood or biologically carrying a kid that makes you a mom, it's the unconditional love, care, and security you give a child that makes you a mom," she explains.

Whitney continues: "Even though you aren't carrying or blood-related, you still have those feelings of babies being yours!"

Whitney calls Jill her best friend and Jill says the feeling is mutual, telling Today that she knows Whitney would have done the same for her if the roles where reversed.

"She's always wanted to be a mom and her disease has already taken so much from her. I wasn't going to allow (NF2) to take this opportunity from her, too," Jill said. "It just felt like the right thing to do. Our family is so strong and so supportive of one another, especially since Whit's diagnosis in 8th grade."

Thanks to Jill, Whitney is now living her dream, taking care of her two adorable babies.

Jill is an amazing sister, and Whitney is already an amazing mom.

[A version of this post was originally published June 14, 2019. It has been updated.]

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A dad's first Father's Day is always special, and Prince Harry is no exception. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex released a new photo of Baby Archie clutching his father's finger.

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It's been just over a month since little Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor came into the world and changed his father's. Shortly after the birth, Prince Harry described new fatherhood as "the most amazing experience I could ever possibly imagine."

This sweet Father's Day Instagram post is the first look at Archie the public has had since the royal family did their post-birth photoshoot in May.

While Archie's mom and dad recently attended the Queen's birthday celebration, Trooping the Colour, little Archie is still a bit too small for such a big party. His older cousin Prince Louis made his first Trooping appearance this year, so we can expect to see Archie at the Queen's birthday parade next year.

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Baby Archie and Prince Louis will likely be together soon for Archie's christening. Reports suggest the event will take place next month at Windsor Castle, the same venue where Archie's mom and dad got married, and where Prince Harry was baptized back in 1984.

We can't wait to see more photos of sweet baby Archie on his big day!

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Do you feel guilty when you don't want to play with your kid? I do.

Do you give in and play with them anyway, all the while checking your phone and wondering exactly how long you have to pretend to be a dinosaur? Or do you say "no" to play time and endure the inevitable whining, coupled with mom-guilt that ensues?

Neither of these options is particularly tempting.

So what's a mom, with a fully developed intellect and adult interests and subsequent lack of interest in playing with toys for 10 to 12 hours a day, to do?

Here are six phrases to try next time your kid wants to play and you need a break.

1. "I will be cleaning the kitchen. You're welcome to join me."

This is my personal favorite and one I use daily. The next time you need to get something done and your child is clinging to you, offer an invitation instead of a dismissal.

Try asking your child to join you instead of saying, "go play." The beauty of this phrase is that it gives your child a choice—they can either be with you and help with what you are doing, or they can go play independently.

Often my toddler will join me for a while and then drift off to play on his own.

2. "I'm not available to play dinosaurs right now. Would you like to read with me?"

While sometimes we simply need to get something done, other times we just honestly do not want to play whatever our child is asking us to. And that is okay.

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There are only so many hours in the day that you can reasonably be expected to play dinosaurs or princesses. If you are available to spend time with your child, but find yourself cringing at the idea of one more game of superheroes, offer an alternate activity.

It's important for children to get the chance to choose the activity sometimes, but it doesn't have to be all of the time. Offer one or two activities that you would genuinely enjoy doing with your child and give them the choice of whether to join you.

3. "I'm going to read for 20 minutes and then I will be able to play Legos with you."

Let your child see your interests too. You don't have to cram your own life and hobbies into nap time and after bed. It's okay, and even valuable, to let them see that you are a whole person with your interests.

Tell them that you want to read or garden or workout for 20 minutes. Invite them to sit nearby, or to play on their own. It helps to start with a very manageable amount of time, like 15 or 20 minutes, and stretch it as your child's ability to play on their own grows.

Your child may sit and whine for the entire 20 minutes. While this can be annoying, it is best not to respond in anger. Try to acknowledge their feelings, but don't give in to their demands. You might say, "I see that you're having a hard time waiting for my attention. Reading is important to me. I'm going to read for 15 more minutes, and then I would love to play with you."

If you do this consistently, your child will get used to the idea that you have needs and interests too.

4. "I don't want to play right now, but I would love to sit and watch you."

Be honest with your child. It's okay if you want to be with them, but don't feel like actively playing. This can be an excellent way to observe how your child plays when left to their own devices. It is also a way for them to share their favorite games with you, without you feeling forced to play something you don't enjoy. Children can tell when we're not having fun, even if we try to fake it.

5. "I would love to play for a few minutes. Then I will need to fold the laundry."

Sometimes children need help getting started. It often works well to play with them for 10 or 15 minutes and then back away to do something else nearby. This allows your child to play independently while also saving your sanity.

6. "Sure, I'll play! You choose the game today, and I'll choose tomorrow."

While we naturally do not share all of our young children's interests, it is important for children to get to choose what we do together some of the time. Create a system where your child chooses sometimes, and you choose other times. Once your child is confident that they will get to decide what you play together sometimes, they will likely let go of the need to always demand that you play certain games.

Bottom line:

The beauty of learning to say "no" to your child's requests to play is that you will enjoy the time you do spend playing together. No one has fun when they feel like they're being forced to do something, even if it's by a 4-year-old.

And the thing is, they can tell. Children know when we want to be there and when we're just phoning it in—we're not fooling anyone.

When I force myself to play, I imagine my toddler feels sort of how I feel when I drag my husband to the farmers market. Yes, we're doing what I wanted to do, but I can tell he's not into it and that kind of takes all the fun out of the experience.

Once you feel the freedom to decide whether or not you want to play, you can choose the times when you do feel like being silly, playing pretend or merely dropping everything to build the tallest tower ever in the whole full world.

And your child? They will know the difference. Their little heart will be so full of playing with you when you want to be there. That's what will stick with them, not all of the times you said no.

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