For those of you who have children in competitive sports, it is likely that their coaches have recommended that the children keep fit and maintain their skills while they are away from routine training. Academic skills are no different. They need to be maintained over the summer months so that when school begins again in September, they are able to adjust quickly and get back to work rather than spending September and October trying to recall where they left off and dusting off the cobwebs on their unused study skills.

You might be thinking “Okay great. The last thing I want to do is set up school drills at home and make my kids miserable all summer. More to the point, I don’t want to make myself miserable trying to get my child (or children) to work through school work every day”. Fair enough. I do not want to do that with my kids either. Well then, how to keep skills up, while still making it fun (or at least tolerable) for everyone. There are different strategies for different levels of learners.

Emerging Readers 

It is tempting to give struggling readers a break for the summer, but is this really helpful? In short? No. Do not be lured into the idea that what struggling readers need is to be away from reading. It is important that they continue to read and to have some fun with their family members while they are continuing to improve their skills. I get that it is hard to watch your child struggle to read but think of it this way: if you give them a break, things will only feel harder for them (and more frustrating) in September.  What can you do?

Pick a family book to read out loud. Choose a book that is above the reading level of your child, but one that is of great interest to your child. Older kids might enjoy listening to Griffin and Sabine, by Nick Bantock (a series of letters between two people), The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani, The Secret Series by Pseudonymous Bosch, His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, or books by authors Rick Riordan, K. Rowling, John Green (to name a few). Read out loud and then talk about the book. Engage your child (or children) in a conversation about what they heard, how they picture the setting, the characters, the events, and what they think might happen next. Share your thoughts with them on how you imagine the characters and the setting and be as detailed as possible. This will promote their visualization skills that are important to reading comprehension and reading.

Have a book club! Everyone chooses a different book at an appropriate level and then set a date to meet for tea. Go to Tim Horton’s or Starbucks or your favourite gathering place and take turns sharing your books. Describe the plot and encourage each person to rate the book.

Play rhyming games in the car. Start with a word and take turns coming up with words that rhyme. Rhyming games build awareness of sounds at the ends of words and help kids identify similar sounds.

Make up funny sentences. Everyone write down ten words: include five nouns, four verbs, a preposition (inside, under, over, after, on, before, at) and then include some conjunctions (and, but, if). Put all of the words in the middle of the table and then take turns drawing cards and making sentences. Take turns reading the sentences out loud.

Play memory. Notice words that your child (children) are struggling with and put them on playing cards (or index cards). Create pairs of cards (again/again) and play memory. Every time someone flips a card, they read the card. Follow typical memory rules.

Consider letting them have some screen time with reading and comprehension apps. Comprehension apps can be found on and reading apps can be found on

Create a family newspaper! Everyone writes an article: it can be about something they did during the week or a made-up story. Then piece them together into a newsletter (or for those tech-savvy folks, put it into a google doc or your favourite program) and then take turns reading the stories out loud to one another. Ensure that you write at a level that is appropriate for all of the readers in the house!

Consider activities at the public library! In Calgary, the Calgary Public Library usually holds their Ultimate Summer Challenge offering incentives and prizes for reading. They also offer  FREE programs to choose from and FREE library cards.

Confident Readers

Any of the suggestions for emerging readers are appropriate for confident readers with a few modifications. Have a book club: Find a book you can all agree on and everyone reads the book together.

Play Trivial Pursuit, or Apples to Apples or Cards Against Humanity, or Fairy Tale. These are all games that require some card reading. Any of these games will help build vocabulary and are pretty fun to play! (If I do say so myself).

Watch a television show on closed caption and take turns reading the captions out loud in funny voices.

Writing Practice

The family newspaper is a writing exercise in addition to a reading exercise!

Everyone keep a journal.

Write notes to each other every day. They can be simple notes but challenge everyone to leave a note for another family member to find. Choose a new word every day that everyone must use in a sentence in their note. You can create a word jar and every person draws a note out of the jar and then incorporates it into the game.

Write each other postcards and mail them. It is always fun to get mail!

Play Telestrations as a way of writing single words or phrases.

Play Story Cubes (you can buy them at Chapters or Games People Play in Calgary) but adjust the game so that each person writes a sentence that matches the picture on the die they rolled and then fold the paper. The next person rolls a die and writes a new sentence. Then choose one person at the end of the game to read the funny story.

Pause a show or a movie at an exciting moment (this takes some getting used to) and get everyone to write the down what might happen next. Share the ideas and then push play to see who is right! 


It is important to have fun with reading and writing every day. This way, your kids will keep up their skills without realizing they are doing work (or if they figure it out, they will still likely have fun).

  • When playing writing games, try not to correct spelling so that the game remains fun.
  • Look for opportunities to model sounding out unfamiliar words and putting them back together.
  • When reading to your child, make mistakes! And when you make a mistake, do not get embarrassed or shrug it off, simply pause and saying something like “that did not make sense to me, I need to reread that word” and then sound it out and blend the sounds. This will help your child feel safe to make mistakes.

What about math you ask?

Basic Math Skills

  1. Play War. Flip two cards and add them together. The largest sum wins the hand. Follow normal war rules. For a more challenging version, multiply both numbers and highest product wins. (Jacks are 11, Queens are 12, Kings at 13, and Aces are either 1 or 14). If you child is younger or struggling with multiplication, all face cards are 10 and Aces are worth
  2. Play “Higher-Lower”. Roll two dies, add the two rolls together. Then guess is the next roll will be higher or lower. Then roll. If you are correct, you get a point and then guess if the next roll will be higher or lower and roll again. If incorrect, you lose your turn and then play moves to the next person.
  3. Play Cribbage.
  4. Play Dutch Blitz (available at Toys R Us, Chapters, Superstore) and make sure you are keeping score. Have the person who is working on their math skills keep score. Keep in mind there are negative and positive integers to work with here.
  5. Video games? I know, you don’t love them but there are some decent ones to play like:
  6. Play memory: make multiplication questions and write the answers on a separate card. For example: 3×3 is on one card, then 9 is on another card. The match is made when both cards are flipped over. Select facts that need work.


It can be so difficult to manage errors in math, especially when it is a math fact you have worked on a lot with your child. But, it is important to manage errors with the same thoughtful approach you do with reading and writing.

  • Have Lego pieces, pennies (if you still have a bunch kicking around like I do), pebbles, blocks, or whatever you might have on hand. Gently ask your child to count out the problem to find the correct solution and then have them repeat the statement. For example: 3+5=8
  • Does your child know Chisanbop? Remind them to use that. Don’t know what I am talking about? Check out this video.
  • Make mistakes yourself and then model how to keep your cool and double check your work!

Get creative. It is a fun opportunity to play games as a family or encourage siblings or friends to work together and helps the kids keep up their skills over the summer.

Good luck and remember to have an enjoyable summer.