Common Threads suggests Summer Learning Resources for the Family

By Common Threads | Jul 16, 2020
The following activities can help keep learning activities during the summer. Learn more by reading our blog from CEO & Co-Founder Linda Novick O’Keefe on the “summer slide.”

Many families are taking socially-distanced vacations, ranging from day trips to multi-day vacations. In some cases, families will be visiting with close friends and family members they have not been able to see, and in other cases, they will be venturing to a new community for a little R&R.

Before the trip, encourage your child to identify some historical facts about your destination and have them help you build an itinerary with fun things to do (use sites like Lonely Planet or Fodors).

You can add math to the equation, by having teens set the budget and calculate distance and fuel costs (sites like Gas Buddy can help them shop for the best deal from home).

If your family is unable to leave town, have your child do the same in your community. What are some historical landmarks in your town that you may not have visited that are only a short walk or drive away?

Some exotic locales are even offering “virtual vacations,” including tours of Australia, Chile, Czech Republic, and France. Museums are also getting in on the fun with virtual tours, including The Louvre, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Musée d’Orsay, and Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Ask your children what their favorite part of the tours were, and what they found most surprising.

To accentuate your virtual travels, have your child research a famous dish from that region or time period, and help them recreate it (our Common Bytes platform has dozens of cultural and nutritious recipes, see register for free!).

You can also use language apps such as Duolingo to expose your family to new languages.

Get your kids involved in grocery shopping, whether you’re heading out to the store or ordering online. Children can help you comparison shop by looking online or in the newspaper for the best deals. You can also find a recipe online and build your shopping list from there. Sites like Common Bytes and Everything Food provide great resources for planning healthy meals and learning more about ingredients.

You can also get your kids in the kitchen to help, which can build skills in math, science and reading. Here are a few of our favorite recipes for meals and snacks:

Pancakes are always a fun way to feed the family in the mornings. Banana Oat Pancakes are one of our favorite recipes. Play the Jack Johnson song “Banana Pancakes” (live from Hawaii’s Kokua Festival) while you’re making them!

Baked Fish Tacos are an easy option for summer meals, brightened by crunchy cabbage and a squeeze of lime

Infused Water is a fun way to help your family stay hydrated in the summer heat while also giving them flavorful drinks that reduce intake of sodas and juices

Watermelon Sundaes provide a healthy dessert alternative with this beautiful summer fruit

Summer offers a great time to get outside in many communities, and for many, this means spending some time creating a garden. Whether you have a large backyard or a small patio, you can make this happen.

“Nurturing a plant teaches patience, respect for living things, and it’s cool to eat something you’ve grown,” said Dianna Rose, a librarian at Morningside K-8 Academy in Miami.

Our YouTube video on creating a balcony garden and sites like Bright Horizons offers tips on how you can get started.

Find moments to build games into the day. For instance, attach a crossword puzzle to the refrigerator and allow everyone to fill it in throughout the day, or, leave brain teasers throughout the house, and give rewards for getting the correct answers. With everyone involved, it becomes more of a fun activity and they won’t notice that they’re learning! Puzzles to Print and Parade offer some great resources.

Game nights are also a great way to bring the family together at a time when we’re all spending a lot of time on screens. Find a jigsaw puzzle, board game, brain teasers, or crossword puzzles that your family can enjoy.

Many of us are counting on camps, which offer a more structured experience to educate and entertain our children that camps can offer. These programs, both virtual and in-person, also allow working parents to keep our jobs while knowing that our children have a safe place to go. More than ever before, there are many free or low-cost camps available to families. An article in Parade highlights several virtual camps, with others listed below, as does Summer Camp Hub, which sorts camps by interest and specialty (i.e., special needs, STEM). A few other options are listed below.

  • Common Threads’ own virtual camp (grades 4-6) offers kids the opportunity for cooking, physical activity, art, career discussions and the exploration of culture. You can participate in one of the live camps delivered over a 10 day period, or sign up for the on demand camp, which will include daily emails filled with content.
  • Camp PBS Kids (ages 2-8) offers themed parent-led learning activities. A little more hands-on, but also often connected to PBS programming.
  • The Andy Roddick Foundation (grades K-5) is offering a free, eight-week virtual summer camp. Through engaging video lessons, ARF Summer at Home offers hands-on learning activities as we Explore Our World. Over the summer, students will explore space, Earth, jungles, oceans, animals, and much more! Designed by elementary school teachers, all activities are aligned to the Texas Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards.
  • Wonderopolis (Grades 2-8, but the site says all can enjoy) offers interactive STEM and literacy-building topics boosted by Maker experiments. The lessons are free, but you can purchase Campsite Kits that enhance the learning experience with Maker activity supplies. This program comes from the National Center for Families Learning, a nonprofit whose mission is to eradicate poverty through education solutions for families.
  • Varsity Tutors (all ages, all grades) has multiple weeklong camp sessions, from LEGO moviemaking to podcasting. They do fill up so you need to check in regularly for new sessions if the one your child wants is full.
  • Check with your local library and parks & recreation departments, also. Many are offering free virtual reading programs with prizes, interactive STREAM activities (that is STEM with Reading and Art), and more.

Reading and writing can be a great way for your children to enjoy some creative time while also minimizing the summer slide. Writing can take many forms, from make-believe stories to historical reports, to poetry.

“Families can ease the burden of a potential ‘COVID-slide’ by trying to keep students in front of books and providing access to library materials,” said Alejandro Diasgranados, a 4th/5th grade teacher at Aiton Elementary in Washington D.C. “This is especially important for students who are in the process of learning the foundations of reading, and writing.” Diasgrandos suggests families encourage sibling reading partners and allow children to read stories aloud to the family.

Reading time can also provide children the opportunity to provide context to current events, including the Black Lives Matter movement. Kid-friendly news sites such as Newsela provide current information in an age appropriate format, and the list of Coretta Scott King Book Award winners can point parents in the right direction when finding children’s books about African American culture and social justice.

Most public libraries are offering curbside pickup if they are not fully open yet, or you can access books from a Little Free Library located near your home. You can also use the Libby app to download e-books for free from your public library.

Finding time to help kids with their math and science skills can also be a fun way to bring learning to the summer.

From making ice cream to incorporating art into science instruction, Little Bins for Little Hands offers 25 easy summer science projects.

Kids learning the basics of math can use Didax’s virtual math manipulatives games, or free math apps from the Math Learning Center.

The quarantine has kept us indoors for many weeks, so encourage your family to head outdoors and take a walk or play in the park. Encourage your kids to use their creativity through an activity called “paint the picture.”

“During a walk through the neighborhood, I will ask my daughter to paint a picture of what she’s seeing with her words,” said Maggie Ramos, parent coordinator at NY 88 in Queens. “This allows her to expand her vocabulary and give me a vision of the world through her eyes.”

Have a resource we didn’t include? Email us to share the link(s).

Common Threads was founded in Chicago in 2003 by CEO Linda Novick O’Keefe, celebrity chef Art Smith and his husband, artist Jesus Salgueiro, as a way to bring under-resourced children together, help them celebrate different cultures and teach them about healthy nutrition. From its humble beginnings in a church basement, Common Threads now services children and families in 12 markets, including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Washington D.C., Miami, Pittsburgh, Austin, San Antonio, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Houston, El Paso and Erie. For more information, visit or search #CookingForLife on social media.

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