My memories of summer vacation during my elementary years are fantastic. I spent large portions of my days playing out in the yard (making a mess, I'm sure my parents thought), eating lots of fruit, and reading piles of books. As I loved school, it was easy for me to avoid the dreaded brain drain through reading. My mother also signed me up for the school's summer program for advanced students, and I roamed the LA Exposition museums with delight. I was a fan of educational programs like Reading Rainbow and Square One, a PBS program about math, and waited for them to come on every afternoon. When school came around again, I wasn't out of practice because I'd been learning and having fun all summer long.
I loved summer vacations because, as much as I loved school during the year, summer also gave me the opportunity to do the things I liked with no schedule. I could do as much of the activities that I was naturally good at and tended towards. Working with my own niece this summer, who is obsessed with dinosaurs at the moment, I learned more new things about them than I had since my own school days. However, she's not a natural lover of books, and it was a struggle to get her to read books in any other genres. Suggestions of Harry Potter and Anne of Green Gables fell by the wayside. The key to teaching kids is to make it fun, and teaching to their strengths in the summer months is an easy way to keep them engaged.
Exposing children to their future education is also a great way to motivate children. My niece and I took a trip to my alma mater and by the end of the day, she was chattering about college and her own future goals as a dancer and teacher. Being able to visualize herself at a place of higher education was an easy way to motivate her and to start a discussion about how she could begin to achieve those goals.
Summer should be a time of relaxation and fun for both kids and adults. Tailoring outings to their interests-- such as the butterfly exhibit at the natural history museum, or catching a live show at your city's civic auditorium-- is sure to keep your child's brain busy even during lazy summer months.