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School may be out for the summer, but parents can make it fun for kids to keep learning during the break.

Whether a family is taking a vacation or simply hanging around the house, it’s fairly easy—and inexpensive—for parents to keep their children engaged during the hiatus from classes, said Kristin Rearden, a clinical associate professor in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

The parent of three young children, Rearden said she understands the educational difficulties many parents face with their kids during the summer.

To help, she offers these tips for keeping children’s minds active and alert during the summer.

1. When taking family vacations, read about the place you’re going.

“Go to the library with your kids and search out books,” Rearden said.

Allow kids to search for the books. This action engages them in the activity and spurs their interest about the vacation. For example, if going to the beach, have your child look up books on shells, marine life, or the weather. If going to the zoo, have them find some books on animals. There are always opportunities to learn.

“If they have ownership over what they’re doing, they’re going to be more excited about it,” Rearden said.

2. Buy a nature journal.

A nature journal is another great way to keep children’s brains actively engaged over the summer. Encourage youngsters go outside and observe the world around them. Giving a child a place where they can post pictures, write about things and draw stimulates their interests in the world around them.

“You plant a seed and let them drive it,” Rearden said. “A nature journal is a great way to get kids outside to learn. It’s easy and inexpensive, and nature is in your own back yard!”

3. Use your local library.

Libraries often have summer reading programs or other interactive activities that will keep students engaged over the break.

“Keep your child reading over the summer,” Rearden said.

The books don’t necessarily have to be educational, either. The main goal is to ensure your children retain and develop their reading level when not in school.

4. Allow children to follow their own interests.

“Sometimes it’s a matter of turning off the TV,” Rearden said. “Give them opportunities to self-educate.”

Parents don’t necessarily have to pull out the workbooks. If given the resources and the opportunities, children can educate themselves through weekly trips to the library, access to the Internet, or exploring the outdoors. The more children are actively and mentally engaged over the summer, the more it will help them retain and develop their reading, writing, and critical thinking skills.

5. Buy a whiteboard or other creative utensils.

“Anything that gets their minds actively engaged is a plus,” Rearden said.

The more opportunities children are given to express their creativity, the more actively engaged their minds remain during the summer months away from school.

“It’s all about interaction and involvement,” Rearden said. “Become involved and give your kids an outlet. They’ll be able to do the rest.”

C O N T A C T :

Deborah Ince (865-974-2225,

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,