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Summer is here, and that means school’s out for a lot of kids. But it also means more work for parents, camp counselors, and project directors at places like the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and other youth organizations.

Yes, kids deserve a break from the formal in-school experience. But they also risk losing what they’ve just learned if they don’t stay mentally sharp over the summer. Researchers call it the “summer slide.”

“The summer slide or summer learning loss is real,” says Beth Anderson, a third-grade teacher at Black Mountain Primary School in Black Mountain, North Carolina. “Some students drop from the end of the year to the beginning of the next when assessed. But not all students do! The difference is often how their summers are spent.”

To keep your kids from falling behind, check out these educational yet entertaining web resources your kids can enjoy at home, camp, or club from now until September.

Road trips & field trips

“Are we there yet?!” Kids on the road can be rough, right? Fortunately, there are lots of portable STEAM activities that’ll keep kids engaged in learning while keeping you from slipping into senility.

Take this idea for a portable tinkering kit from Left Brain, Craft Brain, for example. While it’s designed for preschoolers, it can be easily updated for grade-schoolers of any age.

Why a tinkering kit? Because it’s great for fostering creativity—and nothing innovative ever happened without creativity. Tinkering kits let kids stretch their imaginations by exploring new ways to create.

To make one, you’ll need an inexpensive plastic box with adjustable dividers—just like the ones at the hardware store for organizing nuts and bolts.

Then you and your kids can fill it with cool stuff. Like what? Toothpicks. Popsicle sticks. Paper. Pipe cleaners, nuts, bolts, clothespins, a glue stick, a mini tape measure… and let’s not forget the googly eyes. Everything is better with googly eyes.

Summer learning can include tinkering kits.

Next step is to come up with a challenge for your young builders. Some ideas? Make a hat for a rabbit. Build a bridge for trolls or a castle for fairies. Assemble a spaceship that a toad could fly. How high can you build a tower? Or leave it open-ended and ask your kids to build whatever’s in their imagination. The possibilities are endless.

Pro tip: Avoid glitter. There’s no vacuuming glitter.

Looking for other ideas? Left Brain, Craft Brain has a lot of great ones. Check out the ideas for a rainbow prism busy bag for kids of any age and the magnetic field sensory bottles for adolescents.

Rainy days

Summer vacation isn’t immune to rainy days. Luckily, kids love explosions. And watching things dissolve in acid is always cool.

But don’t worry—I’m not suggesting that you let your young scientists blow up your building or destroy their sibling’s favorite toy. All you’ll need to get things going is an internet-ready device and some headphones. Sound good?

Allow me to introduce you to the Periodic Table of Videos.

The periodic elements chart has been around since the 19th Century. But let’s be honest: it’s not the most exciting learning tool. That’s why the fine folks at the University of Nottingham built the Periodic Table of Videos—one fun video for each age-old element. There’s even one for the newcomer, Oganesson.

Take hydrogen, for example. It’s the first element on the periodic table. And it’s the most abundant element in the universe, so it’s got that going for it. But other than that, hydrogen is pretty low key. A young scientist might overlook it for something with more allure such as your shiny silvers or glittering golds.

But when someone fills a giant balloon with hydrogen and makes it explode, the results are pretty cool. Check it out:

Once your future Nobel Prize winners have powered through their element videos, show ‘em these molecule videos. Unleash answers to some of life’s most pressing questions, like what happens when a cheeseburger gets dipped in hydrochloric acid?

(I, for one, was fascinated to learn what hydrofluoric acid would do to a chicken drumstick.)

Fun in the sun

I’m just going to come right out and say it—science experiments involving eruptions are awesome. As a kid, the messier the better. But as a parent, camp counselor, or youth leader who has to handle cleanup? Eh, not so much.

You know some projects are best suited for the great outdoors. So when the sun shines, head outside with your young scientists and some household ingredients and let ‘em experiment.

I’m loving this sandbox volcano idea from Little Bins for Little Hands

Sandbox? Check. Water? Check. Baking soda and vinegar? Check and check. Grab a 16-ounce water bottle and some food coloring and you’re good to go.

Fill the water bottle up about a third of the way with water and add about 5 teaspoons of baking soda. Put the cap on the bottle and build a sand mountain around the bottle. (Extra points for incorporating toys.)

Now, uncap the bottle and dump in about a cup of vinegar. Be prepared to move it so you don’t get sprayed by the eruption!

Summer learning can include sand volcanoes.

Super cool, right? Your young scientist will love it—and they’ll learn about how an acid mixes with a base to create a gas.

If there’s anything cooler than an eruption, it’s probably a rocket ship. Head outside with the kids, a small canister, and a pack of Alka Seltzer and take flight. It’s a fun way to learn about chemical reactions.

Looking for other ideas? Slime is always a fan favorite and it’s a great sensory learning experience.

And at the end of a long afternoon of playing hard, there’s nothing better than using science to make homemade ice cream.

Keeping young minds sharp

By the time that last school bell rings, many students have already checked out of school mode and slipped into summer vacation mode. But it’s more important than ever before to keep their brains fired up and engaged in learning throughout the summer.

So whether you’re road trippin’ it to grandma’s house, trapped inside on a rainy day, or outside soaking up the rays, these free web resources will help you sharpen your young learners’ minds, prepare ‘em for the next school year, and make summer a total blast.

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Learning doesn’t only take place in the classroom—and it’s not limited to the formal school year, either. If you’re looking for ways to help young learners understand the world around them, inside the classroom or out, we’re with you. Tell us about the goals you’ve set and what you’d like to learn more about and we’ll help you out.

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Kristen Johnson

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