Carnegie Mellon University

May 2024 Director's Corner: Summer Learning Opportunities

a family picnic in the grass

Though the school year is ending, opportunities for children to learn and parents to facilitate development are plentiful, particularly in the summer months. Here are a few ideas to help you think about simple ways to promote children’s growth in each of the key domains of development.

Self-Esteem and Independence

  • Since the pace of summer is typically slower, allow time for children to do as much as possible for themselves. The resulting increase in independence will promote self-esteem AND help prepare the child for new responsibilities at school next year.
  • Sharing experiences and ideas provides an opportunity for children to discover the value of their contributions. Allow time for leisurely conversation while sipping lemonade or taking a walk. Invite the child to suggest activities for the day, ways to celebrate a special event, or items to pack for a picnic lunch.

Interaction and Cooperation

  • Summer often brings more time with extended family and friends, which encourages important social interactions. The longer days and special activities, on the other hand, often change sleep schedules and other important routines. While it is essential to learn flexibility, you’ll find that children are best able to cope with the necessary changes when they get enough rest and enjoy the comfort of consistency. Your efforts in this area will make all of the suggestions below more successful.
  • Interacting siblings, cousins, playground partners, etc. all provide opportunities to practice taking other perspectives and negotiating. These valuable skills can be learned best when adults help children to think in advance about situations that might arise. Anticipating another child’s interests, planning to choose one activity the child likes and one the peer likes, and considering ways to handle a sibling’s refusal all help the child respond more appropriately when the time comes.


  • Extra car time during summer travel is wonderful for word games and songs. Remember that oral communication is the foundation for written communication.
  • Read a book. Read it again. Consider alternate endings. Write and illustrate your own version.
  • Get doubles of photos from family outings and travel so that the children can have some from the extra set. Consider making a summer photo journal with the child choosing the photos and dictating or writing the captions themselves.
  • Choosing and preparing postcards for mailing to family and friends is another great way to promote meaningful writing skills.

Discovery and Exploration

  • Ask questions that promote thinking about how and why things happen the way they do. Use “I wonder …” and respond to questions with “What do you think?” The local library is a wonderful source for children’s non-fiction books for help in discovering answers.
  • Choose a sunny space at home for observations and collections. Grow a plant, collect pebbles, or keep a pet bug for a while. It’s helpful to have a magnifying glass, trays for sorting, and a clipboard with paper and colored pencils for recording observations.

Physical Capabilities

  • Many of the ideas listed above include fine and gross motor practice.
  • Helping with family chores both indoors and outdoors can also strengthen physical skills (as well as independence, which fosters self-esteem). Invite children to help with the gardening, laundry, table setting, dishes, etc.
  • Remember that children need to practice every skill repeatedly to develop effective coordination and build strength. Creating an obstacle course or developing “carnival” games are fun ways to encourage repetition.

Artistic Expression and Appreciation

  • Notice and draw attention to art EVERYWHERE! The shapes and patterns in nature offer intricate examples. Designs on posters, buildings, bridges, etc. can inspire children’s own creations. Notice sounds and movements as well, since they are part of music, dance, and drama.
  • Provide a wide variety of open-ended materials for art, dramatic play, creative movement, and exploration of sound. Collage materials in an “invention box” with lots of glue can yield hours of fun. Simple scarves or pieces of interesting cloth can become a hundred costumes or parts of interesting forts.

Best wishes for a safe and relaxing summer! We encourage you to share your experiences with us via postcards, journals, photos, etc. and look forward to welcoming many of you back in the fall. For those of you making transitions to other schools, good luck and please keep in touch. You’ll always be part of the Children’s School family.