It’s been documented and studied.   Summer learning loss is a real thing.  This is not groundbreaking.  The adage “If you don’t use it, you lose it,” though applied to many things, has been proclaiming this truth for a while.


Technically, summer learning loss is defined as the loss of academic skills and knowledge over summer break.  While it varies from student to student and subject to subject, students can lose anywhere from 1-2 months of content  during the summer break if they do not read or participate in any activities that encourage them to learn or maintain skills throughout  the summer months.

As scary as that sounds, summer learning loss is not something that should send us running about like maniacs, printing countless worksheets, flashing endless flash cards, and creating an impossible summer reading list stacked with books that weigh more than our children do.  Truthfully, with moderate to light practice that doesn’t even look like practice, your student will forget less than you think.

To keep the learning going and your little’s mind growing without burning them out, I’ve got the educational low down on scavenger hunts, plus a simple list of 6 other fun activities that will help your student with both hard (measurable and quantifiable, i.e. academics) skills and soft (attributes that enable someone to interact effectively, i.e.  important stuff other than academics) skills.  If your child’s future teacher has given him a list of things to practice for next year, simply make those skills the objective of some of these fun activities.

Scavenger Hunts

Scavenger hunts are a summer educator’s dream because they are versatile, enhance both hard and soft skills, and can get your learners moving and engaged.

-Easily CustomizableSONY DSC

Scavenger Hunts can be easily individualized to meet your child’s learning goals while at the same time capitalizing on their interests and abilities. Would your child rather play pirates, treasure hunters, explorers, or detectives than sit and complete a worksheet or look at flash cards?  The theme of your hunt and which skills you reinforce in the clues are up to you! Incorporate math skills by making the solving of number problems part of getting to the next clue.  Have your child use actual map skills.  Further involve your child in a story you are reading together or learn more about science and nature.  Have them solve riddles, answer questions, find objects.  The possibilities are endless.

-Develop Problem Solving & Reasoning Skills

Critical thinking, critical observation, following instructions, and the use of deductive reasoning are all absolutely invaluable soft skills that are sharpened as your child works through clues, finds items, and makes the connections between symbols and physical objects.  If your hunt is timed, time management, organization, and prioritizing also play a big part in success.


-Take Full Advantage of Hands-on Learning

Scavenger hunts allow your student to be on the move and independent which can be a big deal when moving summer learning from the “dreaded” to the “awesome” category.  Through actively working to solve number problems, find objects, read a map, and make connections, the goal is for your child to become personally engaged in the learning process.  Applying math problems, the reasoning process, or experiencing a story in this tangible way “makes the learning stick” because the concepts and processes become a part of your student’s own experiences instead of just abstract ideas.

-Inspire Teamwork

SONY DSCScavenger hunts are the most fun when done with friends, so invite a few over to play!  When done with others, you will find your child developing skills like being able to collaborate with others to achieve a task, communication and listening skills, and adaptability.



A Quick List of Other Learning Opportunities

  1. Cooking Together– math skills, reading skills, fractions, time, chemistry, following instructions, kitchen safety, nutrition, food facts, life skills
  2. Write Your Own Guinness Book of RecordsHave your child keep a record of various feats (how far he can jump, etc.) and chart it. –math skills, charting, data collection, mean, median, mode
  3. What Can You Buy?At the grocery store, pretend your child has $5. What can he buy?  How many things can he buy? –math skills, money, life skills
  4. Visit historical landmarks, state & national park, authors’ & artists’ homes, monuments
  5. Chart Your Course- Let your student use a map to chart your course or follow along as you run an errand, visit a place of interest, or go on family vacation. Have him calculate time and/or distance. –map skills, math skills, life skills, navigation, geography
  6. Family Book Club- Schedule regular trips to the library to let children roam (supervised) and investigate on their own. Let older ones use the library computer cataloging system.  Get them their own library cards.  Talk about the books you read.  Even listen to a book on tape together. –library skills, research skills, reading and listening skills

More frightening than summer learning loss is losing the love of learning forever. Learning is a part of our everyday living, even as adults.  As parents, part of our job is to capture that and expose our children to the joys, wonder, and learning opportunities inherent in our everyday activities.   No matter where we stand on the idea of summer learning, we can all agree that cultivating inquisitive personalities who do not shrink (or shriek) at the idea of learning, but rather charge forward with investigative gusto and ability is the ultimate goal.


Additional Sources:

This Is Your Brain on Summer- New York Times

Benefits of Scavenger Hunts- Institute for Educational Advancement

Why Summer Learning Deserves a Front Row Seat- Johns Hopkins University

Scavenger Hunt Education and Entertainment