The rigor and pressures of the academic school year can be daunting and exhausting for many young learners as their teachers try to pack as much as they can into one year. Benchmark scores are striving to be met and teachers are just trying to make it through their set curriculum before they pass their students off to the next teacher.

The word summer comes to many as a breath of fresh air. It gives students a chance to slow down, catch their breath and, in many ways, just be a kid. The summer break can be a fabulous thing and doesn’t have to come without the sort of structure that the school day academics provide. Below are five different non-academic learning ideas for summer to keep kids learning, exploring, and having fun.

Make a Garden

It’s not always easy to get kids to eat their vegetables. Unless, perhaps, they are part of their growing process. Planting a garden with children can be not only fun, but also help teach kids many things. Gardening cultivates an understanding of healthy eating, the journey food takes to get to one’s plate, as well as helps develop the patience needed for things in life that do not produce an immediate result. Let your child be part of the entire process, from planting the seeds to helping care for the crops by giving them sunlight and water, and then being able to pick and enjoy them. Children love playing with dirt, having a sense of responsibility in something as simple as watering the vegetables, and enjoying the reward of celebrating something they grew. Try a summer garden with your kiddos. Your kids are sure to dig it.

Nature Walk

Nature walks are another great summer activity. Not only are they free, but they get children outside and exploring the outdoors. Nature walks can mean simply roaming one’s neighborhood or walking along a trail. Nature walks can also be a bit more purposeful. Bring a sack and have your children collect small items like rocks, sticks, and pine cones. Take the collected items home and sort them by size, shape, or color. Paint them for decoration or make prints from them.

Other ideas to do on nature walks include making stone stacks (called cairns), watching the clouds, or catching bugs. The options are endless and the benefits of the great outdoors will help foster lifelong, environmentally responsible, active habits.

Collecting Insects

If you used your nature walk to collect insects, you’ve now opened the door to more non-academic learning ideas for the summertime. Your child can create a small cage or pen to examine the bugs. Use a magnifying glass to look closely at the bug’s details. Ask your child questions like, “How many legs does the bug have?” or “What do you think the bug uses its antennaes for?” Try feeding the bug bread crumbs or lettuce and see what happens. When examining the bug loses its excitement for your child, use this time to talk about the purpose of bugs in our world and why it might be important to release the bug back into its natural habitat.


Geocaching is an outdoor recreational activity where people use a Global Positioning System (GPS) to hide and find small containers. Inside the containers, which come in all different shapes and sizes, can be just about anything. Maybe you will find a lego, a happy meal’s toy, or a feather. The containers can be found at specific coordinates all around the world. Following these coordinates teaches problem solving, mathematical, and spatial concepts. There is a geocaching app that allows for easy navigation and gives you an idea of how many geocache boxes are in your area. Be sure to bring a pencil so you can sign and date the logbook that is often found inside the geocache box. Happy treasure hunting! 

Pen Pals

It may come as no surprise that a study a few years back found fifty-four percent of eighth-graders performed at the Basic level in writing and twenty-four percent performed at the proficient level (National Assessment of Educational Progress). That means that the majority of our students are needing some additional support in writing. Writing can be difficult for many students, from the fine motor skills that go into handwriting to composing and formulating ideas. That is why having a pen pal for the summer can be an extremely powerful and positive writing experience for learners.

When it comes to choosing someone to write to, the options are endless. Is there a relative far away that is around your child’s same age? What about a great grandparent that would love hearing from your family? Or use a website such as Interpals to find an international pen pal that can help foster a worldly understanding as your child finds connections they have with someone from a different country or culture. If all those are a bit beyond your comfort zone or you are looking for something easier, find a neighbor down the street from you. It may be fun for your child to be able to physically walk their letter to their pen pal’s mailbox. If your child still needs more motivation to write, plan a fun field trip at the end of the summer as an incentive for sitting down and writing.


The pressures of the school year can cause academic fatigue for many students. The summer is often a much needed break and a chance for young learners to slow down and breathe. Yet summertime doesn’t have to come without any structure or educational opportunities. Non-academic learning such as creating a garden, going on nature walks, collecting insects, geocaching, and having a pen pal are all fun ideas for summer that keep kids actively engaged in learning. Give it a try, you might find the activities just as fun for you as they are for your child.