Lakeshore Staff Picks—Summer Reading for Kids

Posted by JoAnna Rowe | Lakeshore Retail Marketing Manager

Summer is a great time to get little ones reading! Lakeshore’s Research & Development Team has specially selected each title to appeal to children just beginning to discover the wonder of reading. And our experts should know—they are former teachers with years of classroom experience! Each book they chose helps develop and nurture essential skills in children—from early literacy and reading skills to social-emotional lessons on empathy, kindness and perseverance. Read on to learn what books they recommend and why!

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We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury (24 months to 7 years)

Recommended by Meghan Bruggeman

Children splash through a river, cross a tall field of grass and more in this exciting adventure featuring alliteration, word repetition and bouncy illustrations inspired by nature!

Why I Love It: This book is filled with predictable text, so it’s super-fun to read aloud. The repetitive language allows children to easily join in and “read,” even if they are not yet fluent readers.

Children can even act out the characters’ actions as they face obstacles throughout the book, such as walking through “thick oozy mud.” Engaging in a story this way really brings it to life! Plus, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt touches on story sequencing, vocabulary and descriptive words. It’s packed with educational value!


Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees (3 to 6 years)

Recommended by Parker Swanson

Children will love this heartwarming tale of Gerald the Giraffe, who thinks he can’t dance—until he listens to his own unique song!

Why I Love It: The excellent rhythm of Giraffes Can’t Dance makes it read like a long, playful poem. Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees take kids through a range of emotions as they get to know Gerald the Giraffe.

The book provides the perfect opportunity to discuss feelings and emotions with kids. It even helps kids develop empathy! When poor Gerald is teased for his lack of dancing skills, he is never alone—my students would be right there, compassionately sharing his distress. And near the end of the book, when Gerald starts dancing, my students would jump with excitement. I loved seeing how this story helped my students truly feel what the protagonist feels! This book is also great for discussing how teasing and bullying make others feel.


How Do Dinosaurs Stay Friends?* by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague (3 to 6 years)

Recommended by Bethany Hernandez

Dinosaurs are the perfect way to capture children’s attention! In this story, charming dinosaurs help kids connect with the text as they explore the book’s message about friendship.

Why I Love It: Young children may not know how friends should behave with each other or why certain behaviors are inappropriate or hurtful. How Do Dinosaurs Stay Friends? makes these concepts easy for kids to understand and apply to their own relationships!

It’s my go-to book for encouraging social-emotional expression and interaction!


The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn (3 to 6 years)

Recommended by Alison Glaser

An encouraging and reassuring book to comfort little ones headed off to school, camp…or any place that’s unfamiliar and scary.

Why I Love It: The Kissing Hand is a heartwarming, beautifully illustrated story. I used to read it to my own children when I had to be away from them. I kissed their hands and reminded them that they always carry my love—even when I’m not around.


Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle (3 to 6 years)

Recommended by Eric Chyo

The easy-to-follow rhyming text has a pleasant pace that captivates children—and encourages them to wonder what they’ll see next!

Why I Love It: Eric Carle’s artwork is a visual treat! I love observing the details up close, seeing the thick brushstrokes and layered shapes that form recognizable animals. Plus, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? has a strong rhythm, with the words following a musical, repetitive pattern.

As my sons grew older and started decoding words, they loved reading this book independently because they already knew the rhythm and pattern of the story. I have great memories of my boys exuding confidence as they read the book aloud without any help!


The Day the Crayons Quit* by Drew Daywalt (3 to 7 years)

Recommended by Emily McGowan 

When Duncan opens his box of crayons to discover letters accusing him of not using the crayons correctly—all written by the crayons themselves—Duncan has to figure out what he can do to make everyone happy.

Why I Love It: This book is full of humor and emotion! I love reading it with my kids—they laugh so hard at the idea of their crayons being alive!

Every time I read The Day the Crayons Quit, I’m struck by its powerful message of empathy and treating others with care. It helps little ones understand their emotions and discuss them in a safe way. I can’t think of a more valuable lesson!


Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts (4 to 8 years)

Recommended by Juliana Born

This inspiring book tells the story of engineer-extraordinaire Rosie—and her never-give-up attitude!

Why I Love It: This book gets kids excited to build their own inventions! After reading Rosie Revere, Engineer, your kids might start rummaging through your junk drawers to find materials for their creations. But Rosie Revere, Engineer does more than just inspire creativity. It teaches kids that failure is a part of learning—an important message for little (and big) perfectionists everywhere!


We hope your kids enjoy these educational summer reads! Find a Lakeshore Learning Store near you to stock up for a summer of reading.

*Available in stores only.

Your Back-To-School Prep List

Guest Blog by Brandi | Lakeshore Blog Ambassador from Mama Knows It All

It’s time to head back to school, and after a fun summer with no homework or rules, it can be tough to get back in the swing of things. As a former educator, I’ve done this a million times, and I have plenty of tips to share that will help make the transition from summer to school a little easier for you. Even if you aren’t the most organized mama (guilty!), or you’re just not ready to let go of summer break yet (guilty again!), I know you can get your kiddos ready before the bell rings on the first day of school.

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Step 1: Get Organized

Before you go out and start purchasing a bunch of new school items, organize the things you already have. If you didn’t file schoolwork and other papers away when school got out at the beginning of the summer, do that now. I put all of my daughter’s things away in the My Keepsake Portfolio and stored it out of the way.

After you go through the papers, empty out pencil boxes and crayon containers. I understand that school shopping is part of the fun of going back to school, but that doesn’t mean that pencils, crayons and markers from the year before have to go to waste. Instead, put them in containers on your kids’ desk so they can use them for homework and projects.

Throw out anything that is run down or beat up and make space for all the new materials your kids will be bringing home!

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Step 2: Go Shopping

After you’ve organized things at home, it’s time to go shopping for supplies. Here’s something I learned the hard way: Before you go, it’s super-important to make a list. Even though you might think you can wing it (especially if it isn’t your first time at the rodeo), it’s never a good idea to go back-to-school shopping without a thorough list. Although most schools send a list of supplies for each grade, make sure you think of supplies you’ll want to keep at home.

Picking up the Arts & Crafts Supply Center from Lakeshore Learning Materials is an easy way to make sure you have craft materials on hand for homework and school projects. It comes filled with things like pom-poms, sequins and other fun items to add color and pop to schoolwork.

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If your budget allows, double the supplies on your list so you don’t have to go out later in the year to replenish everything. If you have even more wiggle room in your budget, triple your list and donate a set of supplies to your kids’ classrooms for the teachers to keep on hand.

Be sure to involve your children in the shopping, too. It’s a great learning opportunity! Let them help you make a budget, price items and keep track of what you’re purchasing. It will help them get back into school and learning mode.

Step 3: Create a New Schedule

For most kids, summer schedules are much different from school schedules. Now is the perfect time to start implementing a schedule that will help your kids succeed when school starts back up. Start moving their bedtime up just a bit, by five or 10 minutes each night, to make sure they’re getting enough sleep. When they wake up in the morning, have them get dressed, eat breakfast and work on a project for a few hours…instead of going into summer chill mode!

It will also be helpful to create a calendar that lists every family member’s activities. Add things like Girl Scouts, piano lessons and anything else that you know the times and dates of for now. Sit the entire family down and go over the schedule. Set expectations for each day and get everyone on the same page. For example, make sure your kids know not to ask for play dates on Wednesday because that day is super-busy. You’ll all be at home a lot less once school starts, so you’ll have to maximize the time you do have.

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Your children might not like following a schedule, especially if things have been pretty free flowing over the summer. But trust me, it’ll make a world of difference when that alarm starts buzzing at six in the morning!

Step 4: Prepare to Learn

Getting back into the learning mindset can be a challenge after a few months of leisure. If you haven’t already, get your kids ready for school with some fun learning games. We’ve been loving The Allowance Game® and the Add-It-Up! Archery Set. Both focus on math skills, foster confidence in learning and engage the entire family.

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You can find a bunch of learning games at Lakeshore Learning Materials (even during the school year) to complement the work your kids are doing in school. Just because school is starting, it doesn’t mean the fun has to end. In fact, you should get ready for a new phase of fun to begin! Happy back-to-school!

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Host Your Own Family Olympic® Games

Guest Blog by Susie | Lakeshore Blog Ambassador from Busy Toddler

The Olympic® games are here! What better way to introduce and kick off the games than by holding backyard Olympic® games for your family? Kids (and adults) will love these simple activity ideas, and you’ll love how easy they are to set up.

I had so much fun making different activity stations for my family. I set out with two goals—having family fun…and introducing my young son to several new games, each targeting a variety of skills. Spoiler alert: I nailed it on both goals! Our family loved this lineup of games, and it was especially fun having all the activities ready to play from the get-go (instead of having to stop and set up between stations).

Here are my eight favorite backyard Olympic® games for families. I’ve also included what my son loved about each game and what I (as a mom and a former teacher) loved about them as well.

1. Backyard Skee-Ball

Who doesn’t love skee-ball? I’m such a big fan of this arcade game that I wanted to introduce it as a backyard game for my son. I set out three bowls in varying sizes and gave him a bucket of balls to shoot with. This variation was just as fun as the arcade version…and definitely not a gimme for Dad and me! You can make the game a little more challenging by standing farther back to shoot. My son loved the challenge and thrill of scoring. I loved the rule-following (you have to stand a certain distance back) and the eye/hand coordination practice the game provides. We used balls from the Let’s Get Moving! Numbers & Counting Kit.

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2. Bowling for Cones

Talk about a game that’s easy to set up…and fun for all ages! This game captured the whole family’s interest; we were all dedicated to knocking down the pins. We used a soccer ball and cones to create a makeshift bowling alley. It’s not easy rolling a ball on uneven grass, so this took some turns for each of us to master. My son loved trying various ways to knock down the cones (rolling, kicking, and throwing the ball). I loved seeing him use persistence…and watching him wait patiently for his turn. We used the Best-Buy Color Cones as our “pins.”

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3. Paper-Plate Flying Disc

We took a few thick paper plates and decorated them using markers and crayons. Then we used them as homemade flying discs (think Frisbee)…and oh-what-fun that was! We measured the distance each one flew and learned some new tossing skills (Dad is oddly good)…plus, we made something fly, which is always a hit with the kids. My son loved learning a new skill—he’d never thrown a flying disc before! I loved that he got to use gross motor skills to throw the discs.

4. Fast Number Feet

Here’s a gross-motor-skills game with a math twist! Using large dice and some numbered feet, I made an awesome game for both toddlers and the elementary-age crowd. I scattered the numbered feet on the grass and handed my toddler the dice. He threw the dice, read the numeral, and raced to find the matching foot. He couldn’t stop laughing…and neither could we! My son loved the fun of rolling the dice and finding the matching foot, and I loved how the game combined math and movement to create a total two-for-one activity. We used the feet and dice from the Let’s Get Moving! Numbers & Counting Kit.

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5. Bicycle Obstacle Course

There’s no velodrome in our backyard, so I set up a simple obstacle course on our patio with cones. This course worked great on bicycle and on foot! I used chalk to add arrows between the cones to make the course a bit like bicycle slalom, which added just the right amount of challenge. We took turns on our bikes going around the course. My son loved weaving around the cones, and I loved that he was using his problem-solving skills to get around each obstacle. We used the Best-Buy Color Cones in our setup.

6. Balance Beam

Ever since watching the U.S. Olympic® Trials for gymnastics, my son has been hooked, so I knew I had to include a balance beam in our backyard Olympic® games setup. The balance beam was perfect for turning, twirling, and leaping. It was also a snap to rearrange the pieces into different configurations. It was a big hit—and of course, Mom and Dad had to give it a go, too. My son loved sticking his dismount with a huge smile, and I loved watching him use balance and coordination to walk across the beam. We used the Beginner’s Balance Beams for our gymnastics routines.

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7. Pass the Ball

This was a fun game for partners—and it was surprisingly challenging! I taped sticks to the backs of two paper plates (I used duct tape) and gave one to Dad and one to my son. I set a ball on the homemade paddles and gave the boys one goal: pass the ball back and forth without dropping it. This was such a challenge for my young son, but he loved trying to control the ball. I loved seeing him use his grip and arm strength to play the game. I can see so many additional game possibilities for using these paddles: paddle volleyball, a relay race…and even faux golfing!

8. Seal Ring Toss

Who doesn’t love a good ring toss? This seal-themed ring toss was the perfect station in our backyard Olympic® games. I set out two inflatable seals at different angles to make the game challenging. Using the inflatable rings, my son would aim and throw at each seal. He absolutely loved tossing the rings! Of course, we parents love this game too—it’s not just fun, it also helps develop eye/hand coordination and gross motor skills. Plus, it’s not an easy game, which levels the playing field and makes it fun for all! We used the Soft & Safe Ring Toss for this station.

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It’s time for you to set up your own backyard Olympic® games for your family. The setup is simple, and the payoff is huge. My son can’t get enough of these games, and he keeps going back to play again—always a sign of a fun time!

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7 STEM Activities You Can Do at Home & Beyond!

by Eric Chyo | Lakeshore Product Development Manager

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What would you guess is the most important ingredient for valuable STEM learning? It’s not fancy lab equipment, complicated engineering books or the latest high-tech gadgets. Every kind of STEM learning out there actually hedges on one much simpler concept: curiosity.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math, but beyond that intimidating acronym, STEM simply represents a hands-on approach to exploring the world, examining how it works and solving real-life problems. So if you have curious kids, they can practice STEM!

Research shows early STEM learning benefits kids across multiple subjects.1 So while you’ll undoubtedly see more STEM activities popping up in the classroom, don’t let the learning stop there. Get in on the fun and support STEM learning at home with these simple activities (for ages 5 & up) that turn your kiddos into the super-solvers of the future!

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1. Join the maker movement

Celebrate the ultimate creative activity: making stuff. Your kids don’t need expensive equipment or special instruction manuals to start making—just their own creative minds, a few easy-to-find materials and some encouragement. Here are a couple of ways to get your kids making:

  • Turn a regular craft table into a maker space by piling it with any materials you have on hand—like straws, rubber bands, craft sticks, cardboard, toilet paper rolls, plastic foam, tape, glue…and other odds and ends. Ask your kids to build! If they need a little boost, pull up some ideas online and help them build their first creation.
  • Start collecting large cardboard boxes and encourage your kids to find new ways to use them. Kids can make anything imaginable from recycled cardboard—castles, houses, cars, vending machines, robots and rocket ships…the sky’s the limit!

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Having “ready-to-go” materials around helps kids create the moment inspiration hits. Plus, it gives them firsthand experience with the design process!

2. Turn wonder into discovery

Every little question your curious kids ask—and we know they ask a lot—presents a prime opportunity for STEM learning. Whether they ask how the toilet flushes or how the refrigerator light turns off, you can answer tons of questions in our digital age. Simply head online together and investigate the answer.

When you see your kids playing with their favorite toys or eating their favorite treats, ask them to guess how those items were made. After they come up with a solid guess, research How It’s Made videos on YouTube that give kids an up-close look at the manufacturing process of their favorite products. Not only will this help foster a healthy sense of wonder, it will also help kids build up their “bank of knowledge.”

3. Tinker with everyday tools

A child’s daily routine includes tools, gadgets and inventions that all resulted from a design process, and therefore, can be improved. Have your kids brainstorm how they might design even better versions of things they use every day. They might make scissors more comfortable to hold, design a toothbrush for fun brushing or even improve a spoon handle to minimize dribbling.

Ask your kids to sketch their new and improved tool and explain what they’ll change and why it’s an improvement. They can even create a working prototype! For example, kids can work with clay or play dough and old spoons to create a spoon handle for a steadier grip.

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Then have them test out their new design…and watch them get a huge kick out of using something THEY invented. As they design and test, they’ll feel just like real engineers—with the power to improve things and invent from scratch!

4. Take advantage of community workshops & events

Your local hardware stores and craft stores probably provide workshops for awesome make and take projects just for kids. As kids delve into these exciting workshops, they’ll handle tools and materials they don’t have at home, and the more tools kids can use, the more opportunities they have to invent, improve and innovate.

You can even check out local events, camps and science fairs that offer STEM activities…so your kids can get even more hands-on experience with exciting new tools and materials.

5. Meet the inventors of the past…at your local library

Have your kids imagine a world without electricity, medicine or even chocolate chip cookies! Tell them people from the past invented many things we enjoy today. What did those people all have in common? They asked questions, examined possibilities and innovated solutions to improve their world.

Ask your kids what invention they want to learn about—from bicycles to computers and even candy bars! Head to the library and help them find books to answer a few simple questions about their invention:

  • Who invented it?
  • What inspired the inventor’s idea?
  • What materials did the inventor use to create something completely new?

After learning about real-life inventors, kids will be inspired to see if they can be inventors too!

6. Learn up-close at a museum

Nothing brings learning to life quite like your local museum. If your kids love dinosaurs, they’ve probably enjoyed books and movies on the topic, but a museum can awe them with real dinosaur bones! Plus, kids can discover exciting STEM career paths they never knew existed—like becoming a paleontologist!

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7. Observe workers in action

The next time something around the house tragically stops working, turn the disaster into a learning experience! When your plumber, electrician or mechanic arrives, ask if you and your child can observe their work. As you watch, encourage your child to ask questions about their tools and the problems they discover as they work.

Kids can learn so much from watching a worker’s process of tinkering to detect and correct a problem. As kids observe and question, repairing a toilet turns into an educational experience! Plus, since your handyperson will stick around until they solve the problem, kids also learn the importance of persevering to solve problems—an essential STEM skill!


1. National Research Council, “A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas,” The National Academies Press (2012): 2-4

Summer Fun: 6 Ways to Learn Through Play

by Patti Clark | Lakeshore VP of Research & Development

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Nothing sparks the imagination quite like summer. As kids leave behind the school year’s routines, they become more curious than ever—feeling like explorers embarking on grand adventures!

However, research suggests that all too often kids actually “slide” backward over the summer, losing two to three months in their academic skills. Fortunately, this phenomenon known as “summer slide” can easily be avoided. You can help your little explorer sail into summer with simple activities that keep their days full of fun―and engage their minds at the same time! By doing so, you’ll make great memories and help your child succeed as they enter their next school year.

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1. Unleash your child’s creativity with an Inventor’s Box

What incredible inventions live in your child’s imagination? Find out with an Inventor’s Box! Don’t worry—it’s easier than it sounds! Just write “My Summer of Inventions” on a large poster board and load a box with building blocks or bricks and raw materials like discarded packaging, straws and cardboard boxes. Ask your child to create any building, vehicle or contraption that springs to mind!

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When they’re finished inventing, invite them to “show & tell.” Ask questions about the invention. How does it work? Does the contraption have a name? What inspired such a cool idea? Snap a picture of the creation, glue it to the poster board and label it by name. Keep inventing all summer to help kids build an impressive roster of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) skills and make memories of the summer they invented a hamster-sized roller coaster.

2. Skip, hop & jump to boost math & reading skills

If you have a sidewalk and some chalk, you have hours of learning fun! Get started by drawing a 5′ x 5′ grid on the sidewalk and write a letter in each square—common letters like A, E, T, S and I work best! Call out simple words and ask kids to hop on the letters that spell each word. Who can get the longest word correct? Offer a small prize for the winner! Now, erase the letters and replace with numbers to make an exciting math maze! Invite kids to count from 1 to 20 or skip-count by 2s, 5s, 10s or 100s. Then draw an out-of-order number sequence grid on the sidewalk. Ask kids to hop and skip over the squares to count in the correct order. For older children, pick a number and have them jump on the two numbers that equal your number when multiplied! They’ll get great exercise and build key math skills!

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3. Act it out!

The ability to retell stories and summarize nonfiction texts sets kids up for lifelong reading success…and they don’t need to touch a pencil or paper to practice! This summer, ask your child to act out the story told in each book they complete. Kids can make costumes, props and even cast family, friends and pets in the production. For nonfiction books, kids can put on a newscast to report the important facts they learned!

4. Go on a reading treasure hunt…outside!

Want to get your kids moving and boost word recognition and reading skills at the same time? Grab some paper or index cards and write down words associated with a movie or theme that gets your kids super-excited. If they absolutely love Star Wars, write down battle, Jedi, force, lightsaber and so on. Make a list of the chosen words and hide the cards around your yard or at a local park. Then call out the words and let the scavenger hunt begin! If you have more than one player, see who can find the words first! Play the game with as many themes and movies as you want—hiding the cards somewhere new each time!

5. Turn an ordinary nature walk into an educational expedition

A simple measuring tape turns an everyday walk into an exciting mission of discovery! Ask your kids to keep an eye out for the longest leaf in the park or your neighborhood. When they’ve found it, hand them the measuring tape and ask them to figure out the leaf’s length. Keep playing with tons of different objects. Challenge kids to find the largest rock…and the tree with the largest circumference!

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6. Make lifelong friends and practice writing with a pen pal

Summer is prime time for kids to broaden their horizons, and that includes making new friends! Help your child meet kids outside of school with a pen pal program. Head online, search “pen pals for kids” and register your child for their very own pen pal. Your child will build a lasting friendship and boost writing skills!

Patti Clark is Vice President of Product Development at Lakeshore Learning Materials, one of the country’s premier producers of children’s educational products. A former elementary educator, Patti leads Lakeshore’s efforts to create quality, standards-based materials for early childhood programs, elementary classrooms and homes nationwide.

How to Keep Kids Learning Over Summer Break

by Christine MacGregor | Lakeshore VP of Marketing

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As a beach mom, I think summer is the perfect season. I just love sand, sun, long days and even the smell of sunblock in the air. There’s only one thing I love more than everything else about summer combined—spending even more time with my daughter!

There is a tiny downside to summer: As my excitement builds, I start getting a little nervous. How will I possibly come up with enough activities to keep my daughter busy, learning and having fun all summer? Talk about pressure.

We kept hearing the same concern from tons of other moms, so we created a summer learning calendar to help all parents—myself included—tackle summer with confidence. Our calendars include two full months of activities kids in preschool to third grade will love…and they’re free! Download your copy here or pop into any Lakeshore store to grab one.

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We designed our calendar so you could pick and choose your activities…and even switch around the dates. As for my daughter and me, we stuck our calendar on the fridge and started going through and circling our must-do activities. Here are just some of the activities we’ve circled so far:

Thursday, June 2: Play dress-up with old clothing.

I knew all those old clothes would come in handy one day! Dress-up isn’t just fun—it’s also a great way for kids to exercise their imaginations. My daughter hasn’t even seen what materials she has to work with yet, but she’s already decided to dress up like an astronaut. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with! I’m also brainstorming some games we can play while trying on outfits…so she can learn about the roles different people play in our community.

Wednesday, June 8: Use craft sticks to build a small birdhouse.

My daughter points out pretty birds she spots in our yard all the time. Usually, they take off too fast for us to get a good look. My daughter hopes a birdhouse will entice the birds to hang out in our yard a little longer…so she can get a closer look. She might even become a little bird watcher.

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Wednesday, July 27: Place an egg in vinegar and watch what happens.

To be honest, my daughter is so curious about this one…we might have to do it before July rolls around.

Sunday, July 31: Make some lemonade and start a small business!

I had no idea I had a budding entrepreneur on my hands until we selected this activity. My daughter jumped right into planning out all the details. She’s insisting on using real lemons, so she’s going to test a few different recipes before the big day.

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My daughter loves going to Free Crafts for Kids at our local Lakeshore store! She’s determined to make it out to Free Crafts for Kids on June 11 for the Blast Off Rocket Ship and on June 25 for the Crabby Headband.

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We haven’t even looked at all the activities in our summer learning calendar yet, but it’s already been such a relief to have so many great activities to choose from! I’m even going to take my calendars with me when we go on trips so I know my daughter will always have plenty to do. Now all I have to do is sit back, relax and count down the days until summer break.

Want even more ways to help your kids learn through play this summer? Check out our Summer Learning Page for even more great resources!