If you’re a subscriber to With Love, From Here, you’ll know this isn’t a typical devotional/inspirational post… but I had all these ideas swirling around in my head that I wanted to share with fellow Moms & Dads trying to decide what to do with their kiddos over the summer… so I had to create a post to share or the ideas would never have stopped swirling! We’ll resume the usual good stuff shortly, but if you have kiddos and summer break is looming ahead of you, I hope this is an encouragement that will be helpful to you, and you’ll share it with friends! xCC

Guess what!? If you live anywhere near my neck of the woods, this is the time of year where teachers are crossing off days on their calendars (or high-fiving because they already made it), while parents are scrolling the internet frantically for summer camp information. Yes… that long-awaited, (or sometimes dreaded?) special event is upon us:: Summer Break!

Now I’m a homeschooling Mama, so summer for me is kind of like… regular life, in some ways. But we do take a break from our usual school schedule between June and September, while finishing up any of those pesky lessons we just haven’t gotten to the end of. I’m looking at you, Math!

But here’s the thing. Summer is honestly an opportunity for some truly amazing learning to happen. It’s also a time for you to connect with those precious faces you might have felt like you were only seeing ever-so-briefly during the school year. With a few good tools in the arsenal, summer can be a time of fun, connection and learning, all rolled into one!  I’ve compiled a list of some of the things that have delighted and inspired my kids to love learning (often outdoors — bonus) and I am confident you will at least find a half a dozen gems on this list that can entertain and engage your crowd, too! And you can be as hands-on or hands-off as you want… know that encouraging a little creativity can take your kid a long way!

Shall we hop into the list?

{See what I did there? Photo by my eldest, nature-loving son}

Nature Study Books & Tools

A few days ago an unusual insect appeared on the wall next to our back door. My husband called our eldest over to have a look and encouraged him to get out the Insect Identification book to identify this creature. Our son amazed us by 1) Not getting out the book and 2) Identifying the Bug: “Oh that’s a ladybug nymph.” Like it was no thing, chicken wing. We were amazed. It did not look like a ladybug! It stayed put for a few days, just there on our wall, and then climbed out of its shell…a ladybug! Why am I telling you this? We’ve invested in some great Animal & Insect Identification Books, and our kids are obviously putting them to good use!! Here are some favorites…

  1. Kaufman Field Guide to Insect Identification :: Before my second son could read, he was flipping through this thing to show me bugs we were spotting outdoors because he’d gotten so familiar with it!
  2. National Geographic Guide to Birds of North America :: I’ve learned the names of birds I’ve been seeing my whole life thanks to this! Do notice what continent this is for and adjust accordingly!!
  3. Nat Geo Pocket Guide to Rocks and Minerals :: This one is not super extensive, but a great starting point for identifying rocks. I’m honestly flabbergasted by how loved this particular book is. The boys are constantly picking up rocks and trying to identify them on the fly now.
  4. Nat Geo Pocket Guide to Mammals of North America :: This one is pocket-sized and has less information than the traditional larger options, but is a great starter for getting kids interested and engaged.
  5. Pocket Microscopes :: We stuffed a couple of stockings with these little gems we got for less than $10 the Christmas before last and… drum roll please… these puppies have survived, and have given us a chance to look at feathers, spiders, bugs, tree bark, fingertips and so much more up close and personal. We’ve loved them.
  6. Binoculars :: When my eldest broke his first pair of binoculars because he wasn’t being careful with them (they were in a book bag he “dropped gently” on the ground) — it was a sad day. They were “grownup” and not the pair I’ve linked to here. He hasn’t been super careful with his second pair either. So the pair I’ve recommended here are appropriate for kids age 7 to 14, and parents with younger kids seem to be happy with them, too. However… if you think your kiddos will be gentle and careful with their binoculars and you’d rather make an investment in a better pair, it might be worth your while to get better views and more clarity.

{This art was not directed by Art For Kids Hub… but it’s hard not to love those long-necked people, right?}

Art for Moms Who Don’t Like Pulling Out Paint (Me Neither)

  1. Art for Kids Hub :: Do yourself a favor and bookmark this YouTube Channel! We have fallen in love with Art for Kids Hub and my kids have created so many masterpieces thanks to the step-by-step instructions here! They talk you through it one line at a time, and use a lot of the tools listed below…
  2. Oil Pastels :: Wowzers these things take coloring to another level. Some of the posts on AFKH will specifically demonstrate how to layer in colors with oil pastels to create different effects. There was a 15% coupon for this item when I created the link… I hope it’s still there for you!
  3. Pip-Squeaks :: Art For Kids Hub uses Sharpies (ya know, the permanent markers?) for a lot of the drawings that afterwards get colored with oil pastels or colored pencils. I do not like Sharpies because… I mean do I even have to explain? They’re permanent. So we draw with pencils sometimes, and other times with Pip-Squeaks. The eldest got this tower for Christmas a year and a half ago and it is still going strong. He has only drained a few colors so far, which is impressive.
  4. Colored Pencils :: Also awesome to have in the arsenal. Way better than Sharpies. And can I just say? We tried “Watercolor Markers” which seem like a kind of hybrid somewhere between oil pastels and markers… and dang if those aren’t the messiest things I’ve ever seen. Don’t go with that option, mmmmkay?
  5. Origami Paper :: Great News! Art for Kids Hub has instructions for making lots of cool things with Origami Paper! You can definitely cut some construction paper into squares getting started, but once you move beyond the most simple pieces, having some actual Origami paper will really, really make a big difference. I’m amazed at how quickly our eldest can (without following instructions now!) whip out a dragon, a ladybug, a popper frog, yoda… the list goes on…
  6. Ralph Masiello’s Drawing Books :: These step-by-step guides are easy to follow ways to learn to draw new things like Robots, Dragons, things in the Ocean, Dinosaurs, and even those Bugs you’ve been viewing with your pocket microscope!!
  7. Side Note: If you have any friends who deal Usborne books… they have some amazing Travel Activity books that we really love. You can sometimes find them on Amazon, but I have a feeling they’re not really supposed to be for sale there… so I’d say look for a local dealer! 😉

Writing & Calligraphy

  1. Handwriting Practice for Boys: If your younger students need help tidying up their print, summer is a great time to practice. This book has sentences for copying that will make boys laugh, like “No girls allowed” and “It would be so cool to have super powers.”
  2. Handwriting Practice for Girls {I’m sure it’s obvious — think pink and sweet and sparkly, right?}
  3. Cursive Practice: Some school systems have done away with cursive, but I totally believe in the value of learning it! How sad our kids would not be able to read the original Declaration of Independence or other important documents if they never learned cursive?! This cursive practice book has jokes to keep the kiddos smiling while they scribble!
  4. Calligraphy Book: Your older kids who’ve already mastered print (and maybe cursive?) may delight in learning beautiful writing with calligraphy. My kids haven’t made it here yet, but I’m thinking about starting this summer!
  5. Calligraphy Starter Set: This looks like a great starter set for jumping in with first-timers!
  6. If you’re just getting started with a writing kid, I highly recommend Handwriting Without Tears for print or cursive… and they have a keyboarding program, too!

When You’re Traveling (Kids Under 6)

  1. Melissa & Doug’s Water Wow :: I have no idea how long we’ve had these things, but they are survivors. Truly, you do just need to add water to the little pen provided. Number Three asks to do this at home on a regular basis. And if you lose the pen? Grab a regular paint brush and a medicine cup. Cleaning up a tablespoon of spilled water (as opposed to a whole cup) will make you feel like a genius. That link was girly. Here’s some boy stuff.
  2. Spot It, Junior :: This small, simple, easy to take-along game is great for identifying matches and developing thinking skills! For younger learners there is a Shapes and Numbers version. For older kids, there is also an Original Spot It game which is a little bit more difficult.
  3. Mini-Magnetic Tangrams :: My kids have an old set similar to this one that they will pull out and play with again and again.

Traveling With Any Age

  1. Primary Journals/Composition Books :: This might be my favorite travel idea EVER. Make sure you get the journals that have the space at the top for drawing a picture and the lines for writing underneath! Use a glue stick to stick on a Slice of Construction Paper and trim the edges to fit. Then print a little label like “Sarah’s Trip to The Beach” or “David’s Summer Adventures.” Invite your kiddo to draw a picture each day and write a few of their favorite things about that day of the trip or that summer activity (or you can help them write/explain what they’ve drawn). We’ve been doing this for a few years, thanks to a thoughtful Preschool Teacher creating one for us — and these books are like gems that remind us of all these funny, wonderful things we would’ve forgotten from our adventures together!!
  2. The Kindle :: We aren’t excited about screens for the sake of screens, and entertainment. So we decided to buy our kids the super basic black and white Kindles that do not have apps or games. We check out books from the library for the Kindle (I’m still amazed by that) and we also borrow books via Kindle Unlimited. If you have an eager reader and the spare cash for this investment, I have to say, we’ve been amazed to see how much more the kids have read, simply because we can check out new books without leaving the house. Note:: They make the all-singing, all-dancing ones cheaper but beware: I think the only reason our kids are using the Kindle to read is because it does not have games and apps. They will probably cost you more in the long run! Our eldest was given a Nook (which died) but he hardly ever read on it! Also note: the Paperwhite is backlit, the traditional Kindle is not — ponder whether you want your kids to be able to read at night or not. (And know clipping a little book lamp to a Kindle also works and saves $40 I think.)
  3. Kids Atlas :: This is a super-engaging little workbook that combines a heap of educational information with activities, and walks you through the states in the US. Includes maps, facts like state birds, flowers, and trees. #1 says, “There are lots of fun puzzles and mazes and it sort of helps you with Math a little bit.” 🙂
  4. Are We There Yet? :: Similar to the Kids Atlas, this is a travel activity book that will help your kiddo pass the time while learning new things at the same time! Win win!

{The eldest really wanted this lizard to make an appearance.}

Rainy Day Read-Alouds

We all know we should probably be reading aloud with our children. And when it comes to picture books, I have no trouble pulling three dozen off the shelf at the library, and then realizing I’m going to have to put some back until next time.

But we’ve arrived at chapter book stage, which is awesome and daunting. Every book feels like such a big commitment! Now the hardest part of reading aloud with my kids — especially when it comes to chapter books — is just picking a book that we’re actually interested in reading together. I’ve found that reading aloud with your kids can create this bond like nothing else… pass heaps of time… and be educational, all at the same time. It has proved to be SO worth the effort.

You can pull out the Legos and let them build while they listen. Pull out some coloring books and let them create while they listen. Don’t be afraid to put one book down and try another… but don’t judge a book by its cover! *Make sure you see my notes below about engaging kids with the book/movie combo!!

Remember to check with your friends… (maybe try a book exchange?) check at the library… check the used section on Amazon…

Here’s a List of Some of Our Recent Favorites

    1. The Mouse and the Motorcycle
    2. The Chronicles of Narnia (We started with the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, took a break to let them grow up a bit, and are planning to start again soon… excited squeal) — I haven’t found a set I love yet to recommend — but you can check the library, find a set you like on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble… or on Kindle!
    3. The Butterfly Lion :: This is a sad story, and is by a British writer, which means some aspects of it may take a moment or two longer to be understood by American ears. But it is a beautiful, meaningful narrative. (Bonus… I think it’s on Amazon for less than $1!)
    4. Mr. Stink :: This one is hilarious. But be warned: It has a bit of “potty talk” which I just skipped over and substituted for some words that I liked better. 🙂 Also British.
    5. Story of the World :: I thought this would seem like an overly educational suggestion, but this is a book actually requested by my kids as a Read-Aloud on a regular basis. It also serves as a wonderful history curriculum, but it reads in an engaging way, and often tells stories to help the kids picture the time period being discussed.
    6. Sassafras Science, Biology :: These books are truly a science curriculum disguised inside a page-turner story. We have loved reading about the adventures of the Sassafras Twins and learning lots of new vocabulary and Geography at the same time.
    7. Those are a few of recent favorites. Sarah MacKenzie at Read-Aloud Revival has a great list of her Favorite First Novels to Read-Aloud with Kids that you should also check out! (She is awesome.)

Here’s a List of Some Favorites that You Can Read and then Watch the Movie!!

When we were first trying to encourage our kids to sit still and let us read aloud together, it wasn’t a super easy task. But we started out picking books that also had a movie version. Once we finished the book we watched the movie together. Suddenly, the kids were so much more engaged in listening to the books. We could talk about how they were alike and different from the movies, what we liked and didn’t like about the changes… so many things that were great conversation starters.

Side Note: We buy ginormous bags of popcorn on Subscribe & Save on Amazon and use this stove-top popper that we love. (You can pop popcorn for reading, too, ya know?)

  1. Charlotte’s Web :: We watched the live-action version instead of the cartoon version {from my childhood} after reading this one and everyone was delighted. And then we watched Babe because it just felt like it fit in.
  2. Pippi Longstocking :: I remember watching the 80s movie for this wonderful book in FIRST GRADE. It is kind of cheesy, but the kids, especially number three, ate this one up!!
  3. Charlie & The Chocolate Factory :: Much to my dismay, the kids preferred the newer version of this film to the one I watched as a kid. But I guess the Johnny Depp character makes more sense to this generation than Gene Wilder?
  4. The BFG :: So many wonderful laughs are packed into this book! We are still repeating funny things that the BFG would say. (We loved this new movie, but some scenes might be scary for sensitive younger viewers!)
  5. Mary Poppins Oh my goodness I loved watching this again with my kiddos after reading the book! Having just seen the movies as a child, I had no idea Mary Poppins was a book series until I checked the first book out at the library. They are different from what I expected having seen the movie first, but just as fun and whimsical, and of course, mostly better than the movie. Even though I love Julie Andrews.

Last but not least… Math stuff.

I know you’re like… what? But there are some math tools in the arsenal at our house that our kids really enjoy getting creative with. Tape a blank piece of paper to a drawing board and give your kid a 30/60 or a 45 degree triangle and a T-square… and watch them amaze you!!

  1. Drawing Board – If you already have something flat like a good-sized clipboard, this is not necessary!
  2. T-square
  3. Ruler
  4. 30/60/90 Triangle + 45 Triangle
  5. Montessori-Style Tangrams

So there ya go, friends! I hope you found some gems in that list that will help make summer a fun time of learning, creativity, and kids being engaged in doing good stuff that’s good for the brain.

Have an amazing summer making memories with your kids!

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