When he was small, my youngest son had a habit of filling his pockets with treasures he encountered in his daily adventures. I didn't always understand the value he saw in his chosen objects -- really, how many rocks and sticks could one boy keep? In his eyes, though, each one was beautiful and important. Life is just like that on a larger scale, isn't it? We gather up the precious bits of our experiences and save them all to learn from and enjoy later. Perhaps you'll find a little something here that you'd like to keep in your own pockets. Thanks for visiting.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Summer Learning (Giveaway! : Books for Middle Graders)

The countdown is on -- only two more weeks left of school before the kids can delight in the fun, sunshine, and freedom that summer holidays bring. Noah and Will are certainly eager for the break from homework and classroom routines over the coming months, but their minds remain busy and curious year-round, and they both need and look forward to different kinds of learning experiences over the summer.  I've found that it's easy to help them discover new and exciting things even when school is out, simply by making good use of the resources we have at home, in our community, and in the places we travel to as a family.  These are some of our favourite summer learning activities:

Games  In addition to the physically active outside games we like to play in our yard in the warmer months, our family loves challenging each other to board, card, and puzzle games that keep our minds thinking. Anything that involves strategy, playing with words, deciphering patterns, or racing to complete a mental task combines fun and learning opportunities for all of us.  Some of our best-loved games for playing around the summer patio table include Qwirkle, Bananagrams, Q-Bitz, Rubik's Race, and Apples to Apples.  We also enjoy doing crossword and sudoku puzzles, and trying to solve riddles and logic puzzles that we find in books together.

Writing/Journalling  Summers can be full of wonderful moments that make great family memories, and encouraging kids to preserve their favourites through writing is a great way to encourage the development of the language skills they learn in school.  I often take the boys shopping to choose their own cool notebooks and pens or pencils at the beginning of the summer, and we make sure to pack them whenever we're hitting the road for a longer journey.  Journalling can take many forms for kids depending on their ages, abilities, and interests:  a combination of drawings and words (comic book style appeals to many Middle Graders), longer prose, poetry, newspaper-type reporting, etc.  Being able to write about what they love or find exciting, in whatever way they choose, can encourage even reluctant writers to practise their developing skills.

Summer Camp Programs/Educational Attractions  Our family spends a good part of our summer at home, swimming and hanging out in the yard, but we do have a week or two each summer set aside for the boys to participate in summer camp programs based on their personal interests, where they can dive into learning that they wouldn't usually have access to in a regular school setting.  Their camp experiences often spark further individual exploration at home once the scheduled program is over.  Our family also makes a point of finding fascinating attractions to visit (museum exhibits, science centres, university open houses, special community events, etc.) both locally and in the places we travel to on summer vacation, so that we all might have a chance to learn something new.

Free Play/Experimenting  I believe giving kids unstructured free time to imagine, create, and figure things out is a very valuable way to encourage learning any time of year.  Noah and Will are fortunate to have lots of this during the summer months, and I find that's when they both come up with the most innovative, intriguing projects and pastimes for themselves.  I am always finding contraptions built around the house and yard (traps, ziplines, Lego worlds, mould growing in a water-filled pencil sharpener in someone's closet as a science experiment, etc.) in the summer months, and most of them have involved much thought and trial-and-error to assemble.  (July and August are when I have to most closely guard things like the microwave and the water cooler, for fear that the boys might dismantle them to build something else with the parts!)

Reading  The world of books is one both boys love to escape to, especially during the summer months when there are many free hours and a wonderfully comfortable hammock chair to sit in under the shade of one of our backyard trees.  We visit our public library regularly, and the boys fill their book bags with whatever type of reading material interests them at the time:  non-fiction books on various topics, graphic novels and comic books, fantasy novels, humour writing, etc.)  Kids grow intellectually through the simple act of reading for pleasure (and I like to set a good example for my boys by spending some quality time reading what I love over the summer, too!)

To help families encourage learning during the break from school, Simon & Schuster Canada is running a Summer Slide Prevention Campaign, featuring education tips from teachers and librarians, book recommendations, and activity sheets for kids.  They are also offering a super prize pack of eight of their best books for 7 to 12 year olds for one lucky Pocketfuls reader to win.

To enter this giveaway:

1. You must log in in the giveaway box below.

2.  Leave me a comment here telling me about your family's favourite fun way to
     encourage summer learning


     Head over to my Pocketfuls page on Facebook and "Like" it.

(If you do both parts of #2, you'll receive two entries for the giveaway.)

This giveaway will run from now until Monday, June 30th at 6:00pm EDT, and is open only to residents of Canada.  One winner will be chosen randomly via Rafflecopter from all of the eligible entries.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck, and I wish all of your families a summer filled with fun discoveries!


June 30th update:  Congratulations Tracy B D!  You are the winner of the summer slide prevention book pack from Simon & Schuster Canada. :)   I'll be contacting you via email to set you up with your prize.  Thank you to all of you who entered and shared your great ideas for summer learning with me!

Disclosure:  Simon & Schuster Canada provided my boys with some great books to read for my participation in their Summer Slide Prevention Campaign.  The ideas and opinions shared here are my own.


  1. We encourage summer learning through a lot of kitchen experiments either with recipes and or science experiments. The library has been a great resource for getting new ideas.

    We also spend a lot of time in the backyard reading, we all love to read!

  2. we love to encourage summer learning by visiting a lot of the city museums that we don't normally have time to see during the school year.

  3. We still read together every night, and use the time to foreshadow what's coming up in the next chapter, or play out "what if" scenarios to encourage critical thinking.

  4. We encourage summer learning by reading with the kids and by taking them to the library for story time.

  5. Actually, I really don't excel at the summer learning thing. At all. It's a good thing I don't homeschool. :P But I have a plan for this summer, to give things more structure.

  6. We like to spend a lot of time at the library letting the kids get as many books as they want.

  7. Lots of library time, some time in French each day (my daughter is in French immersion), museum visits, nature learning (getting out in nature) and lots of travel. But honestly, I think free play is very important and we like to get lots of time for that in the summers!
    I love the idea of summer journals!

  8. My 10 year old goes to computer camp each summer, and last year she did a research project on global warming, which she made into a video. We do lots of natural learning outdoors, and spontaneous googling of things that we discover. Often it translates into getting books from the library on the topic as well. Last year was big for snails and toads :)

  9. We encourage reading by having reading time each night. Him and I both cuddle up and read for a half hour each night.

  10. Reading, though that's a year round endeavour. Summer is more about nature learning - wildflower hikes, wandering the yard with a magnifying glass, guessing which pest is eating our tomatoes before we do... that kind of thing.

  11. Summer learning for us is the same as learning all year 'round: we take daily activities and learn from them: listening to audio books, reading our nightly book, but also calculating when movies should start to finish by bedtime, what money will be left over when we shop, garage sale shopping with set amounts of money to figure out what we can get, checking out everything in nature, lots of collecting then googling what it is afterwards. Have a great summer everyone

  12. We join the reading program at our local library each summer. I am lucky that both my boys love to read in their beds each night before going to sleep as well :)


  13. We do a lot of journal writing. Also, the kids each record the books they have read...makes it a bit of a competition for my son which motivates him.