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Your Child’s Brightest Summer: Teacher-recommended activities and reading lists for all ages

Jul 05, 2017 11:51AM ● By James Houck

The recipe for an imaginative, engaging, and mentally stimulating three months off from school is here, with our teacher-recommended activities and reading lists for all ages

By James Houck

Before the last bell rang of the 2017 school year, What’s Up? Media polled local teachers for their pro tips on how they’d like to see students keep their academic prowess up to speed during summer. We present their answers to our questions, as well as a compiled “Summer Reading Recs” list.

QUESTION: What types of activities do you recommend to your students to keep them engaged academically during summer?

“Outdoor adventures that tap into all kinds of academic skills, along with family time, would be my top suggestion. Journaling (with writing, pictures, photos, collage, doodling, etc.). Pinterest ways to keep up with math facts – millions of ideas!”—Cheryl Shoots, School of the Incarnation

“For preschool-aged children, playing is learning. Build with blocks, play in the sand, paint, et cetera.”—Donna Miles, Calvary Center School

“I favor more informal opportunities for skill retention. For example, have your child polish their writing skills by keeping a diary or journal when on vacation. Likewise, give their math skills a boost when working on a summer recipe or project. Make learning relevant, fun, and authentic, and summer learning can be both effective and enjoyable for the whole family.”—Victoria Scheffer, The Alpert Family Aleph Bet Jewish Day School

  “I usually suggest working on cursive handwriting, keeping a journal of birds they have seen, and occasionally practicing math facts. Mostly I want them to build up a background knowledge pool by going on family trips, having conversations with grandparents and parents, and trying new activities.”—Elizabeth Mackes, Rockbridge Academy  

“I recommend kids join a summer camp! Of course, summer should be a time for playing and having fun. But there’s no reason playing and having fun cannot also be a learning experience.”—Amy Coleman, Indian Creek School

“Many of my students are preparing for the SAT and the ACT. I recommend taking advantage of one of the many practice applications that are available online. Students can sign-up to have a daily practice question text messaged, emailed, or tweeted directly to them. By doing a small amount of practice on a daily basis, students avoid becoming overwhelmed during their much-needed summer breaks!”—Regina O’Hara, Archbishop Spalding High School 

“This summer children can constantly in engage in making and sharing inferences about the world around them. An inference is formed when children use their knowledge and reasoning to come to a logical conclusion. We infer a lot when we read in school, but we also make inferences on a daily basis while playing sports, going on trips, cooking, and playing with friends. Verbalizing inferences helps children understand their metacognition and will defiantly help to keep their minds sharp this summer!”—Erin Godwin, St. Mary’s Elementary School 

“I feel the students should include some writing activities to accompany their reading. They can write summaries, descriptions, create new jacket covers, recommendations to a friend, hold book clubs, and even have a book themed party. Additionally, they can visit their local libraries for activities, keep a journal of their thoughts, or visit museums and aquariums. They can cook and follow a recipe, join a camp, and arts and crafts always aids in the learning process.”—Diane McGrady, The Alpert Family Aleph Bet Jewish Day School

“Unplug. Unplug! Unplug from passivity and into renewal. Because i-things often serve merely as a distraction from life. Children must learn how to use them, [correctly] limit (not eliminate) them even during summer.”—Christina Cawley, Rockbridge Academy

“I feel strongly that students need to get a real break from the rigor of traditional academics in the summer (unless of course they do need some additional tutoring to get them up to speed for the fall). With that in mind, my best advice is to encourage your son or daughter to take up a new hobby that catches their eye. Great summer examples could be learning to fly fish, trying out some historic hiking trails, building a tree house, volunteering at an animal shelter, or starting a garden.”—Matt Stone, The Boys’ Latin School of Maryland

“Host a Book Tasting! This activity gets students not only reading, but talking about reading. It lets children see that reading is not just a solitary event, but one that can be done with friends in an enjoyable, social manner. There are many ways to set up a book tasting, but the main idea is to sample, or taste-test, different books to see if they are appealing.”—Ann Wilson Jung, The Boys’ Latin School of Maryland

“Regardless of age, occasional trips to the library should be part of your summer itinerary. The county libraries are free and probably within a few miles of home. Enjoy trips there every few weeks and make your home a print-rich place this summer. Check out books, magazines, DVDs, and books on CDs for those long car rides.”—Evelyn Armstrong, Annapolis Area Christian School

“Favorite journal writing tip, from poet Naomi Shihab Nye: write just three lines a day. If you write three lines a day for even 30 days, you will have 90 lines and many possible poems or little stories. Play with the words and see how they go together.”—Amanda Newell, The Gunston School

QUESTION: Do you have any favorite education apps (for ipad, android, other) or websites that you recommend for your students?

“While finding a balance of screen-time and more traditional pastimes is something that every household must decide, there are a number of wonderful apps that can aid in summer reading. While most require a subscription or account to allow for purchasing said eBooks, the below apps come with safety features, parental controls, and the ability to track student reading time. Similarly, students can choose to have books read to them, or even record their own reading in order to improve fluency and diction, as well as highlight important sections, and annotate their passages for work on summer reading packets. A few of my favorite reading apps that I have used both personally, and in my classroom include: Nook for iPad; Kindle for iPad; Audible; Reading Rainbow Skybrary.”—Victoria Scheffer

“I love to use the SeeSaw app with students in my class. Through SeeSaw, students are able to share pieces from their digital portfolio. They share discussion responses, images, notes, videos, and links.”—Erin Godwin

“;;;; Mad Libs App; Grammar Bytes; Wordbrain; Alphabetty; Daily Wonder; Pick-a-Path; iMovie; Math vs Zombies; EverWeb Clipper; Puppet Pals; Nearpod; Poetry Creator; StoryLines; Wordventure; and Weird But True.”—Diane McGrady

“Do they help build skills which nurture confidence in the child? If it motivates them to appreciate a musical genre, become better problem solvers, enlarge their appreciation of the world geographically and culturally, invites them into the awe of scientific discovery, gives them a know-how of do-it-yourself activities and projects, allows them to learn how to draw or code… sounds great! Use apps as a tool not as an end in itself.”—Christina Cawley

“InferCabulary: this program was an instant hit with my students. The creators, who hail from Maryland, describe the program as a ‘web-based, visual vocabulary and reasoning program using the Semantic Reasoning method.’ [Another is] SYNC: your teens might not listen to your advice, but they will likely listen to the high-interest, theme-based books on this site. This summer reading program releases two downloads per week and is available free of charge. Visit to join.”—Ann Wilson Jung

“NGAkids Art Zone (National Gallery of Art); Stella and Sam Story Pack; Draw and Tell HD by Duck Duck Moose; LetterSchool; Pattern Game by IKIDSPAD LLC; Doodle Buddy for iPad; Little Writer; Scratch Jr.”—Barbara Oglesbee, Indian Creek School

“Pixel Press Floors, a game creator that can translate student’s paper and pen designs. Green Screen, an easy to use movie making application.”—Joe Christie, Severn School

QUESTION: What “summer field trips” would you recommend families to visit?

“Calvert Cliffs is an amazing hike to a beautiful beach on the Chesapeake Bay. They have a variety of trails to choose from depending on ability level. The kids can search for shark teeth, shells, and other treasures. The park has set up small informational stands near the shore so that you can identify and learn about the items you find on the beaches.”—Kristin Long, Severn School

“My toddler and I love to visit Pierce’s Park on Baltimore’s Pier Five. It’s a lovely park that’s inspired by sound and music, plus it is close to the Waterfront, the National Aquarium, and Mr. Trashwheel! I’d also recommend the American Visionary Art Museum and the Reginal F. Lewis Museum, also in downtown Baltimore.”—Ashley Fetterolf, Indian Creek School

“Being a history teacher, it is wonderful to be able to visit so many local historical sites with my students, right here in Annapolis. Specifically, the Historic Annapolis organization offers a variety of engaging tours and historical programs at locations such as the William Paca House and Gardens, the James Brice House, and Hogshead. [And] Annapolitans are fortunate enough to be centrally located to some of our nation’s finest historical sites spanning the centuries from colonial America to the present, so make your family’s summer an historic one!”—Victoria Scheffer

“Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary (hiking, kayaking, nature observation); Catoctin Mountain Parks (hiking, camping, nature observation); or a nearby island…for instance: Tilghman Island, Smith Island, Solomons Island.”—Cheryl Shoots

“I recommend that parents take their children into D.C. to visit the many museums that surround that National Mall. My favorite place to explore and learn is the National Museum of Natural History. If you plan ahead, you can even take part in one of the hands-on, inquiry based immersion exhibits that are offered through the museum. You can also plan on visiting the junior discovery rooms or catching a documentary on the IMAX screen.”—Erin Godwin

“Piscataway Park in Fort Washington, Maryland; National Colonial Farm in Accokeek, Maryland; Gettysburg; The Elizabeth Myers Mitchell Gallery St. John’s College; Sandy Point State Park; Maryland Science Center; Ghost Walking Tour of Annapolis; Naval Academy Planetarium; and the Annapolis Summer Garden Theater has some shows appropriate for children and teens.” —Diane McGrady

“For fun, do a ‘never-tried-this’ field trip! Have the child do the research. Read about options. Explore it online. Plan it. Let them calculate the distance traveled or the time necessary. Spend the day going places you’ve never been, eating foods you’ve never tried, using transportation you usually do not. The best suggestion I received this year was from a sixth grade student who suggested we ride bikes as a class around Theodore Roosevelt Island in Washington, D.C. My students are enamored with the idea because it is one of their own.”—Christina Cawley

“A summer trip that I would recommend is seeing live theatre in our area. Baltimore, Olney, and Washington, D.C. have great theaters for American classics and Shakespeare. Also, the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. has an impressive collection! One might explore the great legacy of Poe in the city of Baltimore.”—Marshall Lancaster, St. Vincent Pallotti High School

“NASA Goddard Visitors Center; Robinson Nature Center; Pierce’s Park in Baltimore; Art Galleries (BMA, Walters, National Gallery of Art—check out their programs for young children); Jug Bay Wetlands Sanctuary; and Dinosaur Park in Prince Georges County (1st and 3rd Saturdays of the month).”—Barbara Oglesbee

“I recommend visiting the Smithsonian, especially Air and Space or the Modern Art Museum. Art and math are intimately connected and visiting a museum is a great way to view shapes and math in a different light. Air and Space is a fabulous way to connect math and real world.”—Lydia Meeks, Wye River Upper School

“The Smithsonian Folklife Festival is an amazing learning experience for children of all ages and lasts several days. Many places children visit have books that can support and deepen their understanding of where they have been and what they have seen.”—Gretchen Moran, St. Anne’s School of Annapolis

Summer Reading Recs

A collection of teacher recommended books for each age group

Pre-K & Kindergarten

The Very Quiet Cricket
by Eric Carle

The Grouchy Ladybug
by Eric Carle

Growing Vegetable Soup
by Lois Ehlert

Ella’s Summer Fun: A Kid’s Yoga Summer Book
by Giselle Shardlow

Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo
by John Lithgow

Anna’s Table
by Eve Bunting

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!
by Mo Willems

Harry Horseshoe Crab, A Tale of Crawly Creatures
by Suzanne Tate

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
by Laura Numeroff

Lower School: 1st–5th Grades

Flora & Ulysses
by Kate DiCamillo

The Absent Author (A-Z Mysteries, Book 1)
by Ron Roy

Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye (Geronimo Stilton, Book 1)
by Geronimo Stilton 

Bridge to Terabithia 
by Katherine Paterson

The Indian in the Cupboard
by Lynne Reid Banks

by Roald Dahl

by Gordon Korman

Because of Winn Dixie
by Kate DiCamillo

Little House on the Prairie
by Laura Ingalls Wilder

by Jon Scieszka

Took: A Ghost Story
by Mary Downing Hahn

Scaredy Squirrel Series
by Melanie Watt

Middle School: 6th–8th Grades

Serafina and the Black Cloak
by Robert Beatty

Fish in a Tree
by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

The War That Saved My Life
by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

A Series of Unfortunate Events
by Lemony Snicket

House of the Scorpion
by Nancy Farmer

The President Has Been Shot!
by James L. Swanson

In the Heart of the Sea
by Nathaniel Philbrick

Le Petit Prince
by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

by Jorge Luis Borges

The Schwa was Here
by Neal Shusterman

by Stephanie A. Bodeen

High School: 9th–12th Grades

The Great Gatsby
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights
by Steve Sheinkin

The Hobbit
by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Glass Castle
by Jeanette Walls  

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾
by Sue Townsend    

Wuthering Heights
by Emily Bronte      

The Hate U Give
by Angie Thomas

Purple Hibiscus
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Born on a Blue Day
by Daniel Tammet 

Hidden Figures
by Margot Lee Shetterly

The Man Who Knew Infinity
by Robert Kanigel

The Thing Around Your Neck
by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie

How to Read Literature Like a Professor
by Thomas Foster