Learning Ideas for Kids: Kitchen Math, Garden Science, and Other Educational Activities

Everyone talks about the summer slide, but is it really a thing?

A recent study called the NWEA RIT Scale Norms Study in 2015 estimated that students lose 20% to 50% of their school year gains as they grow older.

“Summer learning loss was observed in math and reading across third to eighth grade, with students losing a greater proportion of their school year gains each year as they grow older – anywhere from 20 to 50 percent.”
– NWEA RIT Scale Norms Study in 2015

As a parent and former teacher, I can attest to the importance of keeping your child’s skills fresh throughout the summer. Children who read and engage in educational activities with their families see growth in every area of their academics. Take time throughout your summer break to actively take part in your child’s learning process.


1. Kitchen Math

Math is one of summer’s forgotten skills. Many studies show math skills decreasing faster than reading skills over the summer.

“In the summer following third grade, students lose nearly 20 percent of their school-year gains in reading and 27 percent of their school-year gains in math. By the summer after seventh grade, students lose on average 36 percent of their school-year gains in reading and a whopping 50 percent of their school-year gains in math.”
– NWEA RIT Scale Norms Study in 2015

  • Cooking
    We don’t really think about it very much, but cooking requires quite a bit of math skills. Get your children excited about learning and practicing their numbers with some fun summer recipes. Remember to allow your child to make mistakes and let him or her try and figure out the measurements with a little guidance from you. Always handle hot pans and ovens yourself!
  • Math Talk
    So much of math is learning how to covert language into math sentences and computations. Give your child practice with math language by creating word problems within your daily routines. These frequent conversations are an excellent way to reduce math anxiety and present mathematical reasoning in a relaxed and fun environment.

If you are at the grocery store, create a math problem within their skill level that they can figure out as you shop. Summer Math Practice

(2nd–3rd grade) Today I am going to make applesauce. My recipe calls for six green apples, but I need to double the recipe. How many apples do I need to buy today?

(3rd–5th grade) Micaela picked 171 cherry tomatoes from her garden. She split them equally among herself and two friends. How many cherry tomatoes did each person get?

  • Fact Practice
    Practicing math facts is a very important element in children’s math education. Having the ability to quickly and correctly compute simple numbers will be a huge asset as they progress. Find time within your busy summer schedule to fit in a few sessions of math fact practice. For fun flashcard activities read: Games to Play with Math Flashcards

2. Garden Science

Whether you have an outdoor box garden or just a window box, plan to grow a few garden favorites this summer! Gardening teaches gives children practice developing their creativity, responsibility, and physical development.

  • Build an herb garden
    Research different types of herbs and what conditions they need to grow. Pick three that would grow in your climate to plant.
  • Start your own seed garden.
    Begin your own seed garden indoors, and when the plants are hardy enough, plant them in your garden outside. This is a wonderful way for children to watch the growth cycle of plants and appreciate the hard work it takes to grow a mature plant.
  • Try a science experiment in your garden
    Have your child design an experiment and hypothesize what the outcome will be! Plant and test his or her theory throughout the summer!

    • Feed the same type of plant different fertilizer and see if one plant grows more than another.
    • Try planting one plant in the sun and one in the shade to see if they grow differently!
    • Try planting watermelon or pumpkin seeds. When the flowers begin to bloom, research what the difference is between a male and female plant. (Female flowers will have a small bulb of fruit growing just below their flower.) If you don’t have a local colony of bees, try hand fertilizing your flowers yourself. When the flowers have blossomed, touch the stamens of a male and female plant to cross-pollinate.

3. Summer Reading Fun

By now we all know the importance of reading over the summer months. Evidence shows (National Institute for Literacy, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the U.S. Department of Education) a strong connection between reading skills/frequency and academic success. Develop a reading plan for your family this summer! Set goals for family read-alouds and your child’s individual reading progress. Here are some suggestions for incorporating reading into your daily summer routine.

  • Family Reading Night Family movie night
    Choose a book for your family to read aloud during the week. If you find yourself too tired to read aloud at night, try playing a book on tape (Audible and iTunes are great options). These books on tape often have readers who create voices and sound effects to go along with their story.

Our Top Favorite Read-Alouds on Audible:
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
Magic Tree House Collection by Mary Pope Osborne
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
The Lightning Thief: Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan


  • Reluctant Reader Tips
    If you have a reluctant reader, choose small, short, daily reading passages they can complete without feeling overwhelmed. Make sure the reading materials you are providing are within their reading level. It can be very frustrating for some children to read texts they are not fluent in. Follow the five-finger rule.

Five Finger Rule: If there are five words in the first page of reading text your child does not know, choose a simpler book.

  • Reading Rewards
    Motivate your children to read with a summer reading reward program. Some ideas are:

    • Movie Night: For every novel or set of books your child reads, he or she earns a family movie night. (You can even match a book with the movie!) Provide fun family treats and snacks for your movie night!
    • Game Night: Pop a bowl of popcorn and choose your family’s favorite board and card games!
    • Book Rewards: If your child loves comic books, reward him or her for reading with a comic book such as Calvin and Hobbes or Garfield.

4. Memory Book Writing

Summer journal writing Create a summer memory book with photos and have your child write about each adventure. If you have a budding photographer, let him or her get behind the lens and take create his or her own photo portfolio. This will turn out to be a wonderful keepsake for your child to remember summer experiences. The book doesn’t have to be fancy, and the photos can even be drawn. The writing can be short or long depending on your child’s abilities.

Challenge them to edit their own work. You can even offer a reward for every mistake they find in their writing! (I find that small food rewards work well in this instance. Our family’s favorites are yogurt-covered raisins and chocolate chips. My children receive one raise or chocolate chip for each mistake found.)

Design a Summer Learning Schedule

Creating a summer learning routine will help you (or your child?) stay on track with your learning goals all summer long. Post a summer learning calendar to help your child complete reading and math goals appropriate to his/her age.

For example, for a child ages x–x:

  • Complete 2 pages of your daily summer activity book
  • Read for 15–30 minutes
  • Track your progress with a daily checklist and sticker book
  • Spend time outdoors!

Daily Summer Activities makes it easy to have fun and learn all summer long in only 15 minutes a day. There’s a checklist for your child to track daily progress and record summer reading books, and there are sticker reward sheets (up to grade 5). Middle school students can also track their progress and record summer reading.

Keep summer learning active and engaging with a combination of indoor and outdoor activities that challenge your child to think, solve problems, and most important of all, just have fun!

Source:  Evan-Moor – The Joy of Teaching