How to refresh kids’ academics before school starts back up? Talk amongst yourselves.

Sharon asks:

I would like for my kids to do a little refresher work before school starts (kindergarten & second grade) i.e. write upper and lower case letters, write numbers, math, write stories. Surprisingly, my son is more agreeable to "play school" than my daughter. I would like some hacks as to how to make this enjoyable for all. So, what spoonful of sugar do you use to make the medicine go down (I love Mary Poppins!)?

Bravo for even THINKING about school before the end of summer. Some of us clutch those long, late summer days with white-knuckled fingers. Parenthackers, any good ideas?


  1. says

    Be sneaky about it. Have them do things that they don’t know they are getting ready to go back to school.

    Have them write your grocery list out before going to the store. Play games of who can find the most…(they have to count how many). Hide letters and numbers around the house and have “treasure hunt” to find these items.

    There are so many ideas that you can do to get them ready. I actually am in the middle of writting a post on just this topic; should be up later today.

  2. D says

    Those things are rather lonely sounding, the last thing most children want to do! I’d do things that brush up their skills while still being together – read aloud chapter books, play games that involve words or maths (Yahtzee is very good for the latter, draw big pictures togethers so they practice the hand movements that’s involved in writing without practicing lines.

  3. Sharon says

    I am going to add a hack to my own question.

    We play the “Quiz Game” in the car. I ask my kids age appropriate questions. I ask them to spell a word, do a math problem, phone numbers, sports questions (this one is their favorite), etc. The only rule is that you can not answer for someone else unless they ask for help. And they love to play the game with friends.

  4. says

    Secret codes rule in our house. Even the reluctant reader will decode a secret code. That and plenty of Calvin and Hobbes comic books laying around. We started summer journals, and I even gave them story starter prompts but that fell by the wayside. They both (ages 6 and 8) love those BrainQuest quizzes and I ask them questions from those occasionally. I also have had them count my change from my purse if we are waiting somewhere.

    Here is a link to a deck of secret code cards:

  5. says

    Just minutes ago I posted about one thing we are going to do — make a scrapbook. My daughter had her appendix out this summer so we’re going to make a little book about it — she can write a bit about the experience and we’ll paste in her hospital bracelets, get-well cards, that stuff.

    I’m hoping this will help her process a pretty traumatic experience, practice some school skills, and have a helpful way to “show and tell” her story to friends.

  6. says

    Take it outside with the chalk. Or give them a sheet on which to paint.

    Sometimes just a change of scenery/tools will help a child want to participate.

    They can write their names, the names of things they love, etc…

    Create a book of things they enjoy, using scrap paper and catalogs or pictures they draw. They have to write a sentence about each picture they use.

    Have them help in the kitchen with recipes for math skills – measuring and counting are important in baking.

  7. says

    We’re planning on using the Olympics as a teaching point. The 4 year old can practice recognizing and writing letters & shapes by looking at the countries flags & the medals. The 7 year old can study about the various countries via library books and/or internet sites. She is also studying the various events and is very excited to see how some of the more obscure events unfold. We also work on measuring and cooking skills by having a meal from a different country every night. The kids help plan and prepare the meals.

  8. Katherine says

    I’ve got twin daughters entering kindergarten in the fall–both are early readers. We’ve been watching episodes of “The Electric Company” on DVD–full of literacy skills and…well, we’re learning about ancient history–the 1970s! The girls are loving it and they are learning a lot about how to sound out unfamiliar words, understand sentence structure, etc. And seeing Morgan Freeman grooving as Easy Reader is really fun for Mom, too!

  9. JenN says

    My daughter had a lot of trouble in Gr. 2 last year. (New school system, new expectations). As a result, we have had remedial work this summer – I made it a point to incorporate it every day since school ended, and it became routine long ago. She does the “boring” math worksheets, then her “fun” books – a math and writing one with characters from Mercer Meyer’s “Little Critter” series.
    I think I’ll do this next summer as well, but I’m hoping to be done the remedial work and be looking ahead!

  10. says

    Well, if you want to throw money at the problem (and I think sometimes it’s absolutely fine to do so!), you could pick up some Hot Dots pens and cards.

    The cards come in lots of subjects, and are basically multiple choice flash cards. Each of the answers has a dot next to it. When the kid presses the right dot, they hear a positive sound or phrase. Wrong answers buzz or say, “Try again!”

    Those things saved our bacon in 3rd grade math…

  11. laura B says

    Back to school for our family is starting with encouraging our preschooler to do helping tasks. I have a only child. Sharing and cooperation are high on our priority list. Although preschoolers do not need academic brush up, they do need to be connected to their education. Our son is drawing pictures for his school friends. He folds and puts the pictures into envelopes. I address them and we walk to the mail to post them together. This activity uses cooperation, planning and fine motor skills. Also, talk, talk and talk to your child about expectations, fears and goals for the new year.

  12. A says

    My kids love doing the Brain Quests. They are available for all ages and are a fun way to learn!

  13. says

    My kids are still too little for me to worry about this, but I’m a former elementary school teacher, so I have strong feelings anyway. I think kids get so little time to play these days (less recess, more homework, etc) that summer is one of the last remaining times they get to do what they need to do most: play. I’m concerned about any efforts to turn even their vacations into academic opportunities. I also feel strongly that Kindergarten is already too academic and that children entering Kindergarten shouldn’t be expected to brush up on academic skills in preparation for their year. I don’t say this to criticize the parenting choices of others, just to raise an alternative viewpoint, and a plea for children to be allowed to play.

  14. says

    Hear hear, Heidi! I was shocked when I visited my niece and nephew (my own son is not yet school age) and saw how much homework they had to do over summer break. Homework? In summer? I thought it was called summer BREAK?

    But I think it doesn’t hurt to think about activities that are truly fun but also gets the blood pumping to the brain. How about preparing them for the inevitable question they will hear when they get back to school: what did you do this summer? I like Catherine’s idea of creating a scrapbook, or even just an illustrated story.

  15. JenN says

    I second your views on academic expectations, Heidi! My daughter’s Gr. 2 teacher said that geometric solids used to be a Gr. 5 subject. This coming school year, it has been approved into the curriculum for Gr. 1. How soon will it be before the K’s need to learn about vectors and vertices along with their 1-2-3s?

  16. Parent Hacks Editor says

    Heidi et al: thank you for the thoughtful comments. I am generally of the belief that free play is all too rare, and try to have as much unstructured time as possible during the summer. That said, some kids enjoy the academic stuff — it can be just another form of play for them.