Lazy Days of Summer? We Don’t Think So!

Liza Sullivan former Director of Student and Educator Programs at Chicago Children’s Museum shares ideas for fun, teachable moments during the lazy days of summer. 


When I think about my own summer days growing up, the biggest decision I recall was whether to go to our town’s beach or swimming pool. Afternoons I usually spent riding my bike around the neighborhood, playing with dolls in our screened-in back porch, or helping my mom in the kitchen. These summer memories seem particularly precious these days, because now I seldom have time to explore, discover, and just be.

Once I became a second grade teacher, I saw a different side to summer. I heard parents wonder what they were going to do with their children every day for ten weeks. I questioned if everything I’d taught the last school year would fade, and many parents shared my concern. As adults, we felt the responsibility both to make sure summer was fun, but also that children continued to learn and grow.

At Chicago Children’s Museum, we are always looking for ways to connect learning to play – to find ways to reinforce and extend what kids’ know. Below are some ideas for capturing some of the teachable moments that might happen along during the lazy days of summer.

Water Exploration:
Whether it’s the pool, the beach or a bottle of bubbles, nothing appeals like water when it’s hot outside. In addition to learning how to swim, children can build an understanding of basic physics from playing in water, including concepts such as gravity, fluidity, and volume.

Lemonade Stand:
There’s nothing like starting your own business to give real life meaning to math and reading skills. Let kids write their own list of supplies, create a sale sign, and track their expenses and profits.

Superheroes, Dolls and Make-Believe:
While lending kids the power to deal with some of the very real issues in their own lives, drama enhances children’s understanding of story elements, including plot, characterization and setting. Role playing also provides an opportunity for groups of children to collaborate.

Family Game Nights:
Just the nature of competition leads to counting. Most games – including board games, sports and cards – involve numbers. Children can learn to count meaningfully, recognize figures, add and subtract, estimate and begin to understand probability.

Mentor Time:
Relationships with a variety of nurturing adults are valuable to children as they grow. Grandparents, other relatives, and family friends can share a hobby a skill, including cooking, needlecrafts, fishing or stamp collecting.

Museum Visits:
Chicago is full of museums that are open nearly every day during the summer, rain or shine. Check out our website for a complete schedule of exhibits and programs at Chicago Children’s Museum!

Pleasure Reading:
There’s no time like summer for curling up with a book and letting your imagination fly. Public libraries often run special programs including read-alouds and read-a-thons.

Kitchen Time:
Think of your kitchen as a learning laboratory. Cooking – with you! – allows kids to practice fractions and measurement. Making ice cream might be the best way ever to understand the connection between salt, temperature and liquids.

Are We There Yet?: 
Summer trips are wonderful opportunities for learning, but time in a car, airport or bus can seem interminable to youngsters. Bring a stack of books, markers and paper. If you have the privacy of your own vehicle, sing-alongs and games can teach while entertaining. Challenge children to look for numbers on signs and license plates, count by 2, 5 or 10s, or hunt for various geometric shapes, all brown cows or red suitcases.


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