We’re heading into the second half of summer break, and if your family is anything like mine, you’ve been putting off summer homework and the practice work you promised that you’d keep up with the kids over the break. You want your kids to have a carefree and blissful summer vacation like you remember from the idyllic days of your own childhood, but the truth is if you let them completely escape from all maintenance math or reading practice, they’ll slide backwards in their academics and spend the beginning of the next school year gaining milestones they already achieved last year. Here are a few ways to get back into the swing of learning and using their brains without disrupting the delights of summer break.

First, incorporate learning and using their brains into your daily routine. Ask your kids to cook and bake with you, and talk to them as you do it about measuring ingredients, adding and subtracting eggs or chocolate chips or blueberries, wholes, halves and smaller parts, and reading instructions, labels on packages and recipes. Not only does this help them practice some of the standard “3 R’s” but it helps them blend these skills into real life. When you’re walking in the neighborhood, count cars or barking dogs. Read street signs and billboards out loud. Challenge your kids to find words that have particular letters in them or look for certain colored letters as you drive through town.

Make practice work a prerequisite before screen time each day. If you were sent home over the summer with work that your children must complete before summer break is over, divide the work left to do by the number of weeks left in summer break, and you’ll have a good idea of how much work should be done each week. You can estimate how much should be done on each of the five weekdays in each of those weeks, and communicate this with your kids. Be clear with them - they must finish whatever your schoolwork goal is each day before they’re free to play on the computer, watch TV or play on your smartphone or tablet. You’ll find this is a great motivator. If your home is screen-free (a small wonder in this day and age!) then use whatever else it is your kids love (Legos, playing in the treehouse, etc.) to drive them to focus on their academic summer work each day.

Look into your local library system and other kid-oriented organizations in your community to see if they have learning programs that can compliment age-appropriate learning for your children. You may be able to find free or low-cost science programs to participate in, or reading promotion programs that your kids don’t balk at. If you don’t find any programs like this, create your own reading program through the library system. Make a “reading reward map” for your kids that they can fill up as they read or listen to books you read to them, with a fun end of summer reward at the end if they reach their reading goal.

Finally, utilize online learning programs that are often free and designed just for this purpose of minimizing summer backslide. There are myriads of fun math games and spelling activities that cleverly blend learning with video games and fun action that your kids will love. Many of these sites are designed to protect your kids from online predators but let them explore and soar at the same time. If you find the right kinds of online games, your children won’t even know they’re being asked to use their school smarts while they’re playing.

Summer break is an opportunity for you to present learning in a different light. Learning isn’t just confined to the classroom, and is something that we all continue to do throughout our entire lives. Starting up summer school work and the supplemental activities that can go along with it shows them how to enjoy using their brains in lots of new ways. Summer education shows your kids that learning is important, illustrates for them that it can be fun, and shows them that learning is important to you as well. It sets an example for them and reinforces that this is an important part of their lives. Take the opportunity to make summer learning great for your kids!