Child Therapy

10 Ideas to Engage Kids in Learning Over the Summer

During the summer, we find more time to relax, vacation, and loosen the reins on strict rules while school is out. While rest and recharging are incredibly important, finding ways to blend that with family time, learning, and some fun can help keep kids’ minds engaged and ready for the return to school in the fall. Keep reading to find out more about 10 ideas for how to get the whole family involved over the summer. 

Idea 1- A trip to the orchard

Whether it is blueberries, blackberries, flowers, or apples, going to a family-friendly you-pick orchard is a great way to spark conversation with the kids, keep them occupied, and allow them to explore nature with all 5 senses. Try a local option in the Montgomery county area, such as Butler’s Orchard. They take reservations, have a farmer’s market for gathering other treats, and is a quick drive from both our Rockville and Olney locations. This will provide many opportunities for discussions about the science of agriculture and the natural world. 

Questions to spark learning conversations:

Younger kids: What do you think plants need to grow? If you could choose any type, what kind of plant would you like to be?

Older kids: Why is farming and agriculture important to our lives? From where do you think our different foods come. How do they get to our table?

Idea 2- Stargazing


A low to no-cost activity you could choose to do on almost any clear night is stargazing with the family. There are easily downloadable star charts which can help your family navigate the night sky. Consider making fun snacks or special beverages like hot cocoa, grabbing some comfortable blankets, or even setting up a tent in the backyard to make a whole night! 

Questions to spark learning conversations:

Younger kids: What are stars? How many can you count right now?

Older kids: If each star is like our sun, what do you think another solar system might look like? How do you think constellations were named?

Idea 3- Grow a plant

You could grow beans or tomatoes in the yard. Plant marigolds or mums in a pot on the porch. Create space for a rooftop garden. Or make space for some indoor succulents or philodendron. Growing something together can provide something both beautiful and informative. Watering and fertilizing the plants together as they grow can also be an easy way to check in with your kids throughout the year. Take it a step further and create a daily or weekly plant log to track the growth of the plant. This log might include daily weather conditions, water amount, or growth measurement. 

Questions to spark learning conversations:

Younger kids: How can we help keep our plant alive? What do you think the plant will look like in a month or a year?

Older kids: What patterns do you see in the data we have collected? How can plants help our planet?

Idea 4- Enjoy some homemade ice cream

ice-cream sundae

Find a homemade ice cream recipe online. There are some dairy-free and vegan options, too! Make ice cream together and create a toppings bar with all of your family’s favorites. Edible cooke dough and chocolate syrup would be my top choices! Allow your child to build their own sundaes and be creative. The homemade part is where the learning comes in! Cooking is a science and getting the icecream the correct consistency to freeze is essential.

Questions to spark learning conversations:

Younger kids: What does it mean when a substance freezes? What part of our body helps us taste this ice cream?

Older kids: What states of matter are involved in our ice cream making process? How else do you think science impacts the consistency and flavor of our ice cream?

Idea 5- Read together

Consider reading a book as a family each night, or getting a few copies of the same book and having a family book club. If choosing the same book, find some discussion questions online and make a purposeful time to chat about them.

If your family has dissimilar interests in books, you could allow everyone to choose a different book and then discuss the themes and interesting concepts you each found in your book. Consider talking about themes such as family, trust, coming-of-age, or friendships play a role in each of your books. Look for similarities or prior experience to share. You can dedicate time specifically, or have the discussion over dinner. 

Questions to spark learning conversations:

Younger kids: What was your favorite part of the chapter you just read? If you could be any character in the book, who would it be?

Older kids: To which character do you most relate? Which character is experiencing a hardship you don’t quite understand?

Idea 6-Watch a documentary together

Look for an age-appropriate free documentary on a streaming service for your kiddos. You might consider a nature documentary for younger children and a social or political documentary for older children. Consider researching to find discussion prompts or questions online to be able to discuss when the documentary is finished. 

Questions to spark learning conversations:

Younger kids: What small action could we do to solve a problem presented in the documentary? How do you think this problem could be solved by adults?

Older kids: What lessons can you learn from the information presented in the documentary? How did the information in the documentary make you feel?

Idea 7- Create a written keepsake as a family

Writing is an important part of all of our lives. But sometimes it can feel forced when we encourage writing short stories or essay prompts. As an alternative, coming together as a family to make a product that will benefit each of you now and later can be a fun way to get everyone writing and engaged. Create a scrapbook of summer memories with written stories, send some letters or emails to friends and family, or write down recipes you have successfully made (or even those you would like to try). Each family member can contribute something to the project in order for the finished product to become a meaningful heirloom or tradition.  

Questions to spark learning conversations:

Younger kids: What is your favorite way to write? What is something you find difficult about writing?

Older kids: How do you decide what is worth writing down in order to keep safe? What kind of writing do you typically do during the school year?

Idea 8- Clean out or reorganize a space in the house or yard

This could be a closet in a bedroom, the basement storage area, or the kitchen cabinets. Ask your kids for their input and ideas. Ask how the reorganization might benefit them or others. While reorganizing, consider finding items to have a yard sale or donate. While this idea has the obvious benefits of decluttering, it also engages everyone in a discussion about use of a communal space. You may learn new things about each other. For example, maybe the cups and mugs would stay way more organized if the youngest sibling could reach them easily! Bonus project: Rearrange or redecorate the space to make it more purposeful, usable, and beautiful. 

Questions to spark learning conversations:

Younger kids: What is one thing about this area I may not know? What kinds of items do you use in this space?

Older kids: Do you have an idea of how to make this space more usable? For what else could this space be used?

Idea 9-Use a map

DC metro map

There are many different ways to use a map! But students rarely get time to apply the map skills in real-life with the usage of maps outside of the schoolhouse. You could visit a local park and use the map to walk a specific trail. Or go to an amusement park and map out the best route for attractions. You could even plan a road trip using an online map.

Encourage children to ask questions if they don’t understand how to read the map. Further, you can talk through what they are thinking out loud so that you can help to address their misconceptions or provide points of clarification. If kids know the outcome of the planning will be beneficial to them, they are more likely to engage in the planning itself!

Questions to spark learning conversations:

Younger kids: How can you tell where north is on a map? What is the purpose of a map key?

Older kids: How can we use an online map to help us plan the best route for a trip? What factors should we consider when planning a route?

Idea 10- Have a scavenger hunt

Recently, my husband’s family planned a vacation together with all adults and we participated in a scavenger hunt. We had a list of items with varying point values, all of which we had to take photos and submit them by family breakfast on our day of checkout. My husband and I spent time bonding over finding the hotel gym as well as an adult using the slide at the pool. It added such a fun element to hanging out at the hotel and his parents (who ran the competition) got some great photos as keepsakes for their anniversary trip.

While it may take a bit of planning beforehand, this concept could be applied to seemingly any type of activity. Trip to the grocery store? Find three products with the letter z in the name. Heading to a baseball game? Take a selfie with the mascot. Roadtrip? Take a photo of a billboard advertising food.

Make sure the level of difficulty is accessible to all family members and encourage them to take quality photos to share at the end of the game. Kids will love the ease of using a device to take the photos and you’ll love the engagement they have during family outings. Small prizes could be a fun way to encourage participation. This could be extra screen time, a longer curfew, or a choice of dinner one night in the coming week.  

Questions to spark learning conversations:

Younger kids: What was special about this photo? What was the most difficult item to find?

Older kids: Where else could we do a scavenger hunt? Which was your favorite photo and why?

I truly hope you find something new to try from the list above or that it sparks an idea to help you keep the whole family engaged and connected this summer until school starts back in the fall. Maybe stepping out of your comfort zone could lead to some new family memories which you can all cherish in the months to come. Happy summer! 

About The Author

Executive Functioning Coach, Emily Renda

Emily Renda is an Executive Functioning Coach at Montgomery County Counseling Center. She has a passion for helping others grow. Her background is in education where she was able to create positive change for students both educationally and emotionally. She is certified in universal designed learning. This means she is a pro at tailoring a client’s learning style to their needs. Emily is currently accepting coaching clients online.

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