School may be out for the summer but that doesn't mean it's time to stop learning.

Children's minds are like sponges, and summertime can be a great opportunity to continue the learning process outside of the classroom.

"It is important to keep kids' minds engaged during the summer months," said Melinda Penberth, a fourth-grade teacher at Panther Valley Elementary School "It helps kids stay motivated, focused, and exercises their brain. It also helps children become lifelong learners."

An added bonus, many parents find, is that children are naturally curious. Building learning activities into the day can make for happier children and caregivers.

"I've always found that my kids like to be engaged. They like to have activities to do," said Megan Rodgers, a mom of two from Lehighton.

"My kids are much more well behaved when they're engaged and active. There's less fighting, less whining."

Learning

for all ages

Whether a child is home from preschool or middle school, summer is a chance to hone their skills and cultivate a love for learning.

Younger children can focus on fine motor skills, color identification, and reinforcing letters and numbers through play.

Children learning to read can shout out the letters on license plates while driving.

Even young children can point out three things that are green (a car, a tree, a frog!) to reinforce colors and counting.

Older children can use the summer months to explore their interests, or gain exposure to topics they avoid during the school year.

For a child hesitant to do math or science, a visit to the farmer's market could make for a fun exploration of how food grows, and a chance to deal with money and the math involved with giving change or calculating prices and tax.

"A good way to start would be to plan at least one educational trip over the summer, or work one into your existing vacation. You will see your child building on their prior knowledge and making references to things they have learned in school," said Penberth.

"It does not matter if you're traveling or spending the summer at home. As long as you're giving your child the opportunity to learn, they will be engaged."

She noted that there are many local places that allow children to learn and explore, including the Carbon County Environmental Education Center, state parks, the No. 9 Coal Mine and Museum, and programs at local libraries.

Keep lessons age-appropriate but that doesn't mean limiting exposure to more advanced lessons and concepts. That means holding adult-level conversations with even the youngest children. You might be surprised by the ability of children to learn!

"You may not realize what they're picking up on," said Sherry Hoffman, a reading specialist at Lehighton Area Middle School and the author of A to Z Character Education for the Classroom.

"Use words like 'extravagant.' Higher level vocab is a good thing," she added.

When Hoffman's daughter expressed an interest in butterflies, she cultivated that interest by finding books about butterflies, visiting a local butterfly garden, and bringing home a caterpillar from the butterfly garden to witness the animal's life cycle first-hand.

"Find a way to incorporate these things into everyday life. You don't want it to be a chore, something that they have to do," she said. "Find ways to feed their enthusiasm."

Setting an example

Perhaps the easiest way to get a child of any age excited about learning is to set a good example let them see you reading, writing, exploring nature, and more.

"They want to do what you're doing. You're their best role model and their best example," said Rodgers.

Because she likes to garden, Rodgers gives her children their own space to work with plants.

"I get to garden still, and they get to enjoy gardening too," she said.

Rodgers also encourages her children to help with dinner in age-appropriate ways, like skewering kebabs.

"Incorporate the grown up things too. They want to be with you, and they want to learn from you," she added. "Give them the time and the tools, and they'll teach themselves."

It's also OK to admit that you don't know everything. When her children ask her a question that she can't answer, they turn to the Internet and look it up together.

"Zoe will ask me on our walks what kind of bird we're seeing. I'm not a bird expert, so we look it up when we get home," she said. "You're teaching your child to use their resources to learn new things."

Developing a love

for reading

With the right support and carefully selected reading materials, every child can become a reader.

"Just because you don't like picking up certain books doesn't mean you're not a reader," said Hoffman. "You just need to find something that they're passionate about, and keep plugging away. There's something out there for everybody."

She encourages parents to use free online tools, like those found at www.scholastic.com/parents [3], to find new books at your child's reading level. Scholastic offers book suggestions by age and topic, along with recommendations for "new" and "reluctant" readers.

"You can take that list and go to local libraries, and find similar books that your child will find interesting," she said.

Hoffman noted that children should ideally read a mix of old favorites and new selections that add variety books on different topics, and even magazines and poems.

"Poetry and songs are a great way to help reluctant readers, because they're short," she added.

"Sometimes kids are overwhelmed by a big, thick book. They look at the number of pages in the book rather than the content."

Finding balance

While it's important to keep kids' brains active, it might be even more critical to find a balance between learning and play.

"Kids should be allowed to have free time. When they're playing in their free time, they can be more creative and find out what they like," said Hoffman.

"It's important to let them discover who they are, not tell them who they are," she added.