Create an at-home summer learning plan with your kids

While summer is a great time for relaxation and fun, it’s also a great opportunity to make strides in learning goals that can’t be fit in during the normal school year — and providing kids a structure, incentive and tools to do so is a sure win-win for your family.

Wouldn’t it be great if your kids actually wanted to learn, and could independently work towards learning goals without a lot of WORK from you this summer?

Here’s how!

STEP 1: Choose an exciting reward

You can get your kids excited about the prospect of summer learning by first picking a reward that motivates them.

Either a big reward at the end of the summer, or small rewards along the way, should match the commitment you’ll expect from them and fit well with their attention span. Older kids with greater internal motivation and focus can be given one larger reward based on a larger goal, but younger kids or less-motivated kids may need rewards along the way. Or, even better, choose a little of both.

Favorite Rewards

Rewards that your kids can’t get any other way usually work the best to create a unique incentive. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Kiwi Crate, Tinker Crate & Doodle Crates

This subscription-based model of kids’ activities has been a favorite in our household for a few years now. The packaged, do-it-yourself kits are great because they not only are great rewards for learning, they include their own learning activities as well. Talk about a win-win!

Tinker Crate

2. Take them on a special outing

Kids love going out to amusement parks, museums, trampoline parks… there are so many kid-friendly places to choose from. These outings can eat up a summer family budget quickly if we’re not careful. They make for perfect rewards, however, when matched up appropriately with learning goals, because they become well-spaced out with at-home time while kids are learning. Less expensive outings can be used for smaller learning goals, and more expensive outings can be used for bigger learning goals.

3. Have them earn a useful item that you were going to get for them anyway

I’m a big believer in taking advantage of things that my kids enjoy most by not simply giving the items to them, but allowing them to “earn” them. If you’re going to give them to them anyway, why not attach it to something you want them to do, so you both get something out of it?

After all, who doesn’t enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes from working towards a goal and reaping the rewards? Not only does it teach accountability, it also makes kids more likely to take care of an item when they perceive it as something they’ve had to earn. It’s a good life lesson, in my book.

Clothing, bikes, computers and digital devices are examples of items that most kids love to have, are a considerable purchase, and may be items you’ve already considered purchasing for them outright. This makes them perfect items for kids to earn since they often don’t fall into the “gift” category.

STEP 2: Engage them in choosing their learning goals

Now that you’ve got a reward in mind, you can shape a learning goal that appropriately matches the reward. But even more importantly, you can help direct your child to pick something that will be useful and enjoyable for them.

I like to direct them towards learning goals that either:

  • Is of interest Allow your child to get involved in a subject matter that really sparks their curiosity. Examples: Science, engineering, chemistry, physics, Making, Art
  • Keeps them ahead Help your child keep up with or get ahead in a subject regularly taught at school but they may need to keep up with more. Examples: Reading, Writing, Math
  • Gives them breadth Teach your child a subject they may not have been taught (or exposed enough to) in school but you’d like them to learn. Examples: Music, Typing, Cursive, Programming, Foreign language


STEP 3: Provide kids with learning tools and a way to track goals

There are many activities available outside the house that kids can partake in, but the goal of this learning plan is to allow kids to independently engaged with their learning and tracking their progress without a lot of involvement from you.

After all, we need time for ourselves too! When kids can set up and engage in their own learning, without a lot of assistance, they can often do it anywhere, and it creates a win-win for child and parent.

My favorites learning tools are ones that my kids can work on and use independently, rather than ones that require a lot of parent involvement. I also don’t like to heavily reward educational tools that are masked as games or toys – these already have built-in rewards (entertainment) and don’t usually need extra incentives to get my kids engaged with them.

My favorite and recommended independent learning tools:

Khan Academy

Great for: traditional subjects (math, reading, writing), science, programming *


Great for: music lessons, entrepreneurship, media art

Great for: making

Great for: Reading, Writing, Cursive writing

Great for: Cursive writing

Great for: math

Great for: programming

Great for: Emerging readers

Math Mammoth

Great for: guided math on worksheets, rather than on-screen

Dance Mat Typing

Great for: typing

Language Habit Toolkit

Great for: reinforcing a foreign language (older kids)


Great for: programming

We’ve used every one of the above resources in our household. I’ve chosen those that are well-liked by my kids, are useful and educational. Also, most of them are free!

Ways to track progress

Several of the above resources, like, Tynker and Khan Academy, allow students to make their own accounts and track progress. These systems, if used alone, make it easy to define when a learning objective or goal is completed — your child’s goal can simply be to complete a course or several courses.

Another way to define progress is based on amount of time spent on the work. Sometimes, I’ll set a reward at 10 “extra credits” and tell the kids that an extra credit is worth 15 minutes of work towards their learning goals.

A certain number of pages in a workbook is also a way to measure progress.

If you are looking for a way to track progress along the way that is visible and provides a sense of accomplishment for your child, I recommend simply printing out a rewards chart (like this), tacking it on the wall, and allowing your child to mark off spots based on your agreed upon system of measurement.


What my kids decided upon for this summer

My 11-year old son wants to learn cursive, because his younger sister learned it in school while his elementary teachers did not teach it. He also will be learning quadratic equations, since it’s a prerequisite for one of his summer camps.

My 9-year daughter wants to do an accelerated math program. We’ll be working with Math Mammoth worktexts.

My 7-year old daughter will be doing cursive and music.

All 3 kids will track progress using the rewards chart to earn subscription-based activities (like Tinker Crate & Kiwi Crate).

I welcome your comments about learning tools or plans that have worked well for you! And for the next few months, I hope your kids find lots of time to play and enjoy the season, but also learn some great lessons not just towards new learning goals, but of the value of working towards an objective and reaping the benefits. It’s a win-win, and one I hope you can incorporate some of these ideas into your summer!