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37 ingenious summer learning resources for your kids

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.

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.

 

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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[Editor's note: This story is a letter from a woman to her husband. While this is one example of one type of relationship, we understand, appreciate and celebrate that relationships come in all forms and configurations.]

To my husband,

We met when I was 22. We started building a life together. We became each other's best friend, cheerleader, guidance counselor, and shelter from the storm. We laughed together, cried together, and stood up in front of all the people who matter to us and vowed to stay together until one of us dies.

We said the words without irony or hesitation, knowing that while we weren't perfect, the problems we could face in life would never be enough to break us.

And babe, I had no clue what our future held. But I knew I wanted to experience it only with you.

Then we got pregnant! And when our son was born, I marveled at the fact that we made a person. You and me. It honestly still blows my mind even five years later.

I'd heard women say things like, I fell in love with my husband all over again once I saw him as a daddy. I love watching you be a daddy, too—but just like becoming a mother has been transformative for me, becoming a father has been transformative for you, too. And it has taken us some time to get to know the new versions of ourselves.

We worked together—mostly on the same team—and have shared so many beautiful lessons and experiences together. Everything is new when you're a first-time parent! And this new dynamic of three definitely threw us for a loop—I wasn't used to sharing your attention with someone else, and I wasn't used to sharing my attention with someone other than you.

It took a few years to hit our stride. I think maybe we never had big things to disagree on before we became parents. It threw me off to be anything but harmonious with you. But just like we said we would on that gorgeous September wedding day, we found our way back. We stayed on each other's team.

And then I got pregnant again.

We were planning a huge life change already— moving across the country to start anew, restart your business and make a new future. I didn't have an easy pregnancy this time. And generally, for many reasons, life seemed harder than ever.

Our daughter was born and it didn't take long for postpartum depression to steal me away, for far longer than I should have allowed it to. I was scared to get the help I needed and I let it get the best of me. I'm truly sorry for that. I'm mostly sorry that I sometimes let it get the best of us.

It's easy to love a partner when it's just the two of you. Our priorities were never tested then—you were at the top of my to-do list, and I was at the top of yours. But—funny thing—this whole parenting thing seemed to make life a little more complex. And when your kids are little, and completely dependent upon you, there are many days when there just isn't much left over for anything or anyone else.

Babe, we're in it right now. Really in it. These are the parenting trenches. The baby years. These years can make or break us. And can I be so bold as to say: I think they're making us.

They're making us learn how to communicate better. How to find common ground when we disagree about real stuff, like the ways we want to raise our children. We're invested in not only the outcome but the short term effect. We're a team.

They're making us think about the future. Not just the fun stuff, but the difficult stuff like estate planning, life insurance, and college funds for the kids. They're making us challenge ourselves to provide our children with comfort and opportunities. We've always worked hard but the stakes have never been this high.

You know I'm the optimist, the dreamer, while you consider yourself the realist—but I think we can agree on this: going through some of the tough stuff with you by my side has shown me that we are stronger than the tough stuff. We can get through it. We can get through anything. As long as we hold on to each other.

Motherhood transformed me. Fatherhood transformed you. And having kids completely transformed our marriage. We'll never be who we were on our wedding day again.

Time marches forward—only forward. I miss the carefree version of "us", but I love this version even more. Because we know what we're made of now, and in so many ways we didn't before.

I'm sure that in our lifetime, many more obstacles will arise that will transform our marriage. But I've never been more confident that whatever may be, we'll find a way through it—together.

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Baking Christmas cookies together is a family tradition for many, but the Centers for Disease Control is warning parents that if your recipe contains raw flour or raw eggs, you really shouldn't sneak a bite before it is cooked, and neither should your kids.

The CDC is warning people not to eat raw cookie dough, cake mix or bread as we head into prime baking season.

The agency acknowledges the appeal of a spoonful of chocolate chip goodness but asks that we "steer clear of this temptation—eating or tasting unbaked products that are intended to be cooked, such as dough or batter, can make you sick."

Salmonella from raw eggs is, of course, a concern, and so is the raw flour. According to the CDC, flour needs to be cooked in order to kill germs like E.Coli. That's why the CDC is asking parents to "say no to raw dough," not just for eating but even for playing with.

"Children can get sick from handling or eating raw dough used for crafts or play clay, too," the CDC posted on its website.

On the Food and Drug Administration's website, that agency advises that "even though there are websites devoted to 'flour crafts,' don't give your kids raw dough or baking mixes that contain flour to play with." Health Canada also states that raw flour should not be used in children's play-dough.

The warnings follow a 2016 E.coli outbreak linked to contaminated raw flour. Dozens of people got sick that year, and a post-outbreak report notes that "state investigators identified three ill children who had been exposed to raw flour at restaurants in Maryland, Virginia, and Texas. Restaurant staff had given them raw dough to play with while they waited for their food to be served."

The CDC worries that with flour's long shelf life, products recalled during the 2016 outbreak may still be in people's pantries (although the CDC notes that any raw flour—recalled or otherwise—should not be consumed).

If your kids do have flour-based play dough, don't worry.

Some parents are still choosing to use flour-based craft dough to make Christmas ornaments or other crafts this holiday season and are reducing the risks by A) making sure the kids aren't eating their art, and B) thoroughly washing little hands, work surfaces, and utensils when the dough play is over.

Other parents are choosing other types of craft clay over flour-based dough.


During the 2016 outbreak, the FDA called for Americans to abstain from raw cookie dough, an approach Slate called "unrealistic and alarmist," noting that "the vast, vast majority of people who consume or touch uncooked flour do not contract E. coli or any other infection."

Two years ago, 63 Americans were made sick by E. coli infections linked to raw flour, according to the CDC. We don't know exactly how many Americans ate a spoonful of cookie dough or played with homemade play dough that year, but we do know that more than 319 million Americans did not get sick because of raw flour.

Are there risks associated with handling and consuming raw flour? Yes, absolutely, but it's not something to panic over.

Bottom line: Don't let your kids eat raw dough when they're helping you bake cookies for Santa, and be mindful of raw flour when choosing crafts for kids.

(And if you have just got to get your raw cookie dough fix, the CDC notes that cookie dough flavored ice cream is totally safe as it "contains dough that has been treated to kill harmful bacteria." Sounds like mama's getting Ben & Jerry's tonight.)

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Twinkling lights are everywhere I look, and the magic of the holiday season is filling our house. The kids are growing more excited each day anticipating Santa's arrival and gifts are accumulating, ready to be wrapped in beautiful paper and bows.

Elf and The Grinch have been playing on repeat and the nativity scene has found a safe spot among our decorations. It's one of the busiest times of the year and it can be hard to catch your breath in the hustle and bustle of it all.

But then something stops you.

Maybe it's a pang in your heart or a memory of someone dearly missed. Maybe it's a familiar feeling of emptiness—of wanting this person to be a part of this magical, joy-filled time of year.

It's so easy to forget that many people are struck with sadness around the holidays and are longing for someone who's missing from their lives. We give and give to our families and friends and communities this time of year—food for dinners, and toys for less-fortunate children—but people don't always realize that another type of giving is needed.

The gift of comfort.

Because someone who is missing their mother, father, brother, sister, child, friend or spouse needs your connection and warmth. They need a reminder of their loved one is not forgotten, and maybe above all—just needs a hug.

Family traditions are wonderful and cherished, but they can also feel incomplete when someone is missing.

For me, I love the holidays, and watching my kids experience all the joys this season has to offer truly fills my heart. Yet, not a Christmas goes by that I don't think about what Kendrick (my first child lost at 2 months old) would have thought of this time of year.

Would he have loved hot cocoa like his sister and brothers? Would he have gotten into all the ornaments on the tree as a toddler? What toys would he have asked Santa for? What Christmas wishes would he have made for others?

I am left to wonder these things without answer. And even though I fully embrace this time of year and relish the holidays, I can't help but miss him.

I wanted to share my story as a reminder that even though your holiday cup may be filled with joy, someone you know may be wrestling with sadness. With all the merry and bright and cups of cheer, it's important to be mindful of this and to treat people with extra care. Reach out to someone you know who has lost someone, and let them know you're thinking of them. It won't go unnoticed.

Many of us have dealt with loss at some point in our lives, and we've learned to carry these special people in our hearts so that they are always with us. But missing someone never goes away. There are so many experiences in our lives we wish we could just snap our fingers and have them right by our sides—the holidays being one of those.

So as you check off your shopping lists, make your donations, trim your tree, or light your menorah—please don't forget to show care to those who may be hurting a little this holiday season.


They're certainly in a position where they could buy every item on their kids' Christmas lists, but Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher aren't planning on piling up the presents under the Christmas tree this year.

"So far, our tradition is no presents for the kids," Kunis said in an interview with Entertainment Tonight. Mom to 4-year-old daughter, Wyatt, and 2-year-old son Dmitri, Kunis says she and Kutcher are determined to not raise entitled kids—and are learning from the mistakes of Christmases past.

“We've told our parents, 'We're begging you: If you have to give her something, pick one gift,'" Kunis said. “'Otherwise, we'd like to take a charitable donation, to the Children's Hospital or a pet... Whatever you want.' That's our new tradition."

The minimalist Christmas that Kunis and Kutcher embrace makes sense on a lot of levels: It teaches kids how to be more mindful consumers, removes the emphasis on material goods... And saves you from those chaotic trips to the mall.

Going without presents doesn't mean going without

Putting a halt on presents these upcoming holidays is one way to reinforce what the season is really about: Spending quality time together as families and cherishing what we already have. But "no presents" doesn't mean "no fun," either.

Some of our favorite non-material gift suggestions include:

  • Experiences
  • Lessons
  • College contributions
  • Coupon booklets
  • Piggy bank donations
  • Gifts for others

Or you could take a cue from Kunis and Kutcher without going all the way: Maybe you only focus on one or two quality gifts. Or pass on anything that will likely get discarded to the bottom of the toy box before next year's holidays.

Think of Christmas gifts for kids kind of like eggnog: A little goes a long way.

[Originally published October 11, 2017]

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