As a teacher, the question I am asked most frequently come May is, “Besides reading to and with my child, how can I best support their continued learning during the summer months?” Parents are shocked when instead of handing them a 3-inch thick packet of worksheets I simply suggest playing fun, educational games with their kids.
The biggest thing I have learned, as a teacher and a parent, is that positive learning experiences do not always require elaborate props, textbooks, or huge chunks of time. Simply using the things we encounter in our daily travels can stimulate a tremendous amount of higher-level thinking and conversation that cannot be duplicated in any workbook or on any flashcard.
Resist the urge to buy a million games or designate a block of time in your already frenzied schedule, and instead weave these activities into your existing routine. The easiest way to do this is to engage your child during the time you spend in the car driving from activity to activity. Here is a list of some of my favorite educational travel games that will benefit your child even on the shortest of car rides:
- License Plate Game. When you’re on the road, have your kids observe the license plates on the cars around you. Kids can start by identifying specific numbers and letters. If your child has mastered letter and number identification, you can begin to practice more difficult math and reading skills. To practice fundamental math skills, have your child arrange the numbers on a specific plate to make the largest or smallest three-digit number possible. You can also challenge your child by having him add all of the numbers together on the plate. To practice basic reading skills, have your child arrange letters on a plate to make a word. You can enrich the activity by then asking your child to name all of the words he can think of that rhythm with that word. Another incredible higher-level thinking activity is to put the plates into different categories. For example, have your child identify all the plates that start with a particular letter or are the same color.
- Fun With Signs. Review some specific road signs—Stop, Yield, streets particular to your area—before leaving your house. While out and about, have your child identify each sign as you pass it. As your child gets better at the game you can add more signs and increase the sophistication of the signs he will identify. As your child becomes more familiar with the signs you can teach and review with him what each one means and why that particular sign is necessary.
- Fun With a Recorder. Carry a recording device with you on your car ride, and have your child record himself telling a story. You can start by giving your child a scenario, a specific setting, problem or character, and decrease support as your child becomes more comfortable with the process. Later, have your child listen to the recording. Kids are always delighted to hear their own voices and stories! A great extension to this activity that you can do later at home is to type out their stories verbatim and have them illustrate the text. These make fabulous keepsakes and gifts. Furthermore, these self-authored books can also be read by your child on future drives to get in a fun dose of reading.
- The Fruit Salad Game. Select a color and a corresponding fruit—for example, yellow vehicles would be bananas and red would be cherries. Assign each person in the car a fruit. Players get points for each car they point out that is their assigned color. Players get extra points for buses and larger vehicles. Identifying specific colors and sizes of vehicles helps your child develop the ability to compare and contrast, an important reading comprehension skill.
TravelHacker. Airline Credit Cards, 19 Oct 2007. Web. 1 Jul 2011. http://www.airlinecreditcards.com/travelhacker/27-free-games-to-keep-your-kids-entertained-on-a-road-trip/
Ghezzi, Patty. “13 Summer Learning Activities.” SchoolFamily.com. School Family Media, Inc., Web. 1 Jul 2011. http://www.schoolfamily.com/school-family-articles/article/10705-13-summer-learning-activities
Sorrentino, Johanna. “Tips To Keep Learning Hot This Summer.” Education.com. Education.com, Web. 1 Jul 2011. http://www.education.com/magazine/article/keeping_minds_active_through_summer/
Becky Roireau is a reading interventionist and 5th grade teacher, primarily serving underprivileged children who speak English as a second language. Becky holds a Masters degree in elementary education from Aurora University. She has three children of her own aged 9, 12, and 15. She strives to instill a life-long love of learning in children.
Image provided by Melissa Miller & Vinnie Fernandez, PAMP’s Lead Photographers and co-owners of C’est Jolie Photography