Northwest NEWS

July 3, 2000


Guest Editorial

Sneaking in a smarter summer

by U.S. Education Secretary Richard W. Riley

   "No more pencils, no more books! No more teachers' crazy looks!"

   Are your kids looking forward to summer vacation? Great! But don't toss out those books and pencils yet--"summer fun" doesn't have to mean "dumber fun!" Exercising kids' brain muscles all summer brings big benefits in the fall. And not exercising them can mean a loss of hard-earned skills.

   A wise parent or caregiver can sneak a lot of learning into those lazy, hazy days. The good news is you don't need a lot of extra time or cash to give your kids a smarter summer. The trick is to make a game out of learning every day. Here are a few ideas:

   Challenge younger children to find letters of the alphabet on everyday items such as street signs, cereal boxes, or newspapers. By asking "How many A's can you find?" you also exercise counting skills.

   Have an older child practice math by using grocery coupons to calculate the final price of items on your list. Challenge the child to guess the weight of produce before reading the scale, and to compute the correct change at the checkout.

   Any daily reading, yes, even comic books, is good for your child's brain. A librarian can help your child select books on any topic--baseball or butterflies, horses or hurricanes. The secret is for the child to choose the subject, so that it doesn't feel like homework, and he or she is truly reading for pleasure.

   Writing weekly letters to a pen pal or distant friend won't feel like schoolwork, especially if the contents are strictly private. And older kids won't care that crossword puzzles boost spelling and vocabulary, if you make a game while traveling or cooking dinner.

   Have kids "paint" their names with water on a hot sidewalk, then watch the letters disappear. To sneak in some science, have kids guess how long it takes for wet footprints to evaporate, then time it. Challenge them to guess the melting time of ice cubes. Drop items in a pail of water to see if they sink or float. Have children record all guesses and results, and reward the "players" with frozen treats.

   For more sly science fun, find two similar, healthy plants. Have your child water one, but not the other, for a week or two, and observe daily. Make a leaf tattoo by gently clipping a small paper shape onto a large leaf. Remove the shape after a week. Discuss the results and have the child write it up to share the experiment with family members.

   Help your child make his or her own storybook. Make funny drawings, or glue photos of family members onto silly magazine pictures. A younger child can dictate the story; older children can write it themselves. Let creativity rule.

   America Reads, at the U.S. Department of Education, is giving away a free, colorful poster with PBS star Arthur on the front, and fun reading and writing activities on the back. When the activities are finished at summer's end, the child receives a certificate of accomplishment. Now that's a summer celebration.

   Once you banish the boredom of "dummer summers," you'll be sneaking in the most valuable lesson of all--never take a vacation from learning.

   To make this a bright and brainy summer, call (877) 4ED-OUBS and order your child's free Arthur Activity Poster in English or Spanish. For more activities, ask for free brochures, called Summer Home Learning Recipes, to suit your children's ages. To order materials online, go to

   For more guidance on reading and other learning subjects, call (800) USA-LEARN, or go to the America Reads website at