How to Help Your Elementary Schooler Stay on Top of His School Skills Over the Summer

People offer Eid al-Adha prayers in Lahore, Pakistan, Monday, Aug. 12, 2019. Muslims around the world celebrate Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of the Sacrifice, that marks the willingness of the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham to Christians and Jews) to sacrifice his son. During the holiday, which in most places lasts four days, Muslims slaughter sheep or cattle, distribute part of the meat to the poor and eat the rest. (AP Photo/K.M. Chaudary)

So, summer vacation is upon us. And, no doubt, your child’s teacher is hoping he’ll keep practicing all the skills he’s learned this year even though he’s not in school. And your child, no doubt, is hoping he’ll never have to do another school assignment for as long as he lives. Well, as a former teacher I can tell you, your kids should keep practicing their school skills over the summer. But it doesn’t have to be boring. Here’s what to do.

1. Read. Anything.

Kids who struggle with reading probably aren’t going to feel very motivated to settle down with a book at any point during the summer. Why would they? There’s no reading log to fill in, no comprehension questions to answer for a grade. If reading is a necessary evil to them, they’re definitely not going to do it any more than they have to. The problem is that any gains he made during the school year will be significantly reduced if your child spends the entire summer without reading a single word. But that doesn’t mean you have to force him to read either. There are tons of things to read that aren’t books, and tons of ways to read them that aren’t sitting still in a chair. Have him read the directions for the bottle rocket he really wants to try out, or the new board game he’s eager to learn. He’ll be motivated to read things like that because understanding the directions is the way to access the fun activity. Hand him the grocery list at the grocery store and put him in charge of making sure you have everything you came for. Have him read the guidebook when you’re on vacation and let him impress you with everything he knows about each place you stop. Let him read the menu at restaurants and choose his own meal. You get the idea. He doesn’t need to read a novel, or a biography, or the newspaper, or whatever, if he doesn’t want to. He just needs to read words and understand them. Any words at all. I’m serious.

2. Write. Anything.

Lots of teachers suggest that their students keep a journal over the summer. Some even make it mandatory. And I understand why. When they return in the fall, kids who didn’t practice writing over the summer will be at a distinct disadvantage to those who did. They’ll have fallen noticeably behind. But that doesn’t make it any easier to get your reluctant writer to journal every day. Some kids love to write about what they did each day; some would rather gouge out their own eye with the pencil. If yours is the eye-gouging variety, it’s time think outside the box. If the journal thing isn’t mandatory, I say scrap it. Instead, have your child write things that are actually useful. Have him write a letter to a friend who’s away at camp. He’ll enjoy mailing the letter and (hopefully) getting a response. Ask him to make up a new game and write out the directions so everyone will know how to play. Then set aside some time to play it with him. You can also let him type on the computer. He can send emails to his friends and family, type the lyrics to the song he’s writing, or whatever. If the daily journal is a school requirement, but he absolutely hates writing, see if he could type it instead. Also find out what the minimum amount of writing he has to do is, and don’t insist he goes over it. Instead, let him do the bare minimum with the journal and keep giving him the kinds of writing tasks I’ve already mentioned. It’s also totally fine for him to write in his journal that he hates writing in his journal. “Today I had to write in this journal and I really wished I could be playing PlayStation instead” is a perfectly acceptable journal entry. As long as he’s crafting complete sentences and being respectful, let him write what he’s really thinking. The idea is just for him to stay in the habit of writing, he doesn’t need to compose the next great American novel.

3. Do Math. Everywhere.

Unless your school has made them mandatory, don’t make your kids do math worksheets this summer. And please, for the love of God, do not go out and buy any of those workbooks they sell at bookstores and make them do ten pages a day, or whatever. Not only do I think it’s unnecessary, but I wouldn’t wish on even my worst enemy the meltdown that will inevitably ensue if you suggest your child spends even five minutes doing that. Instead, make him do math in the real world. Give him an allowance (if you don’t already) and have him keep track of how much he has by writing it down in a notebook. (For extra math practice, make his allowance something that’s not a nice round number, like $4.45 or whatever, so he’s really got to do some addition when he updates his total.) Designate certain items that he will pay for himself, like souvenirs, candy, comic books, etc. Remind him to make sure he got the correct change. Have him update his total amount whenever he spends money.You can also encourage family members to give him small sums of money to add to his piggy bank so that he’s got to add different amounts to his total. Be on the lookout for other mathematical opportunities throughout the day and jump on them. Have a bag of M&Ms and you want to make sure everyone gets the same amount? Have your kid do it. That’s division and fractions right there. Buying a new rug (or other piece of furniture) and need to measure the space to figure out how big it can be? Have your kid do it. That’s measurement, perimeter, area, addition, multiplication, and all kinds of other math right there. You get the idea. Math really does come up all the time in your regular life. That’s not just something teachers say. It just doesn’t come up in the form of worksheets. Nor should it!


The summer is meant to be fun. It’s a time for your kids to take a break from the rigors and routines of school. They should be outside, playing with friends, swinging from rope swings, eating ice cream—not inside being forced to read stuff they don’t want to read, or writing in their journal. As long as they’re practicing reading, writing, and math it doesn’t really matter how they do it. So make it fun. It really can be!