How to keep kids learning through play this summer


Playtime is just plain fun, and it’s also an essential way to keep minds and bodies active and thriving. As the warm weather hits and school ends, it’s the perfect time for families to explore and rediscover activities, games and toys, all while building those all-important developmental skills.

School’s out but that doesn’t mean the learning stops, too! There are plenty of great ways to keep your kids engaged over the summer so they keep on learning and growing—while still having fun. Yes, we’re looking at a different summer with fewer or no organized activities, but it’s a golden opportunity for a summer of play, where kids develop physical, emotional and intellectual skills. Here are some ideas about how to encourage that healthy play.

Make memories with tabletop games

Math, logic, spelling, reading, strategy, collaboration, improvisation, spotting patterns—that’s just a sampling of the skills that games can help to foster. Whether you’re trying out a card game, arranging tiles, rolling dice or playing a new or classic board game, there’s lots of fun and learning to be had. Games can also boost social skills, as children learn about sharing, taking turns, coping with losing, and flexibility. And, of course, family game night is a great counterpoint to screen time.

Splash around

Not only is water play a wonderful way to cool off and spend time outside in warm weather, it offers lots of developmental benefits, including promoting fine motor skills like grasping and scooping. For younger kids in particular, water play at a water table gives them hands-on learning: Does this sink or float? What happens when you swirl the water? Where did that bubble go? Water play can also be a soothing downtime activity.

Get gardening

No doubt about it, gardening and kids is a winning combination. While they’re getting their hands grubby with dirt and tools, kids are also boosting their mental health, relieving stress and getting a sense of responsibility and accomplishment. Growing things and hanging out in an outdoor setting gives them hands-on experience, plus a love for the natural world around them. Using tools helps develop fine motor skills, plus kids get an active workout as they dig and carry. There’s even research that suggests that kids who grow their own fresh produce are more likely to eat veggies, both now and as young adults.

Stock up on STEM

STEM activities (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) are an excellent way for kids to hone their natural curiosity, problem-solving and critical thinking skills, and perseverance. Even preschoolers with famously short attention spans are able to stay focused and engaged when they encounter the right STEM activity. Helping kids get interested in how the world around them works is one of the keys to stronger math, science and reading skills later on as well. Plus, you don’t need a lab: At-home kits, kitchen ingredients and even the contents of the recycling bin are all easy ways to get a young scientist’s mind going.

Spark imagination with pretend play

“Let’s pretend we’re making ice cream!” “Say we’re dinosaurs exploring the jungle….” “What if we could live in that tree?” Pretend play, or make-believe play, is quite simply acting out stories and scenarios with a variety of perspectives and emotions, and it’s a form of play that lasts through a large part of childhood. While it is a powerful way to enrich creativity and curiosity, pretend play also plays a big role in fostering empathy, communication, problem-solving, decision making and expressing emotions. Imagine that!


Kids, parents and caregivers will love these activities that keep on delivering fun (and learning too!) day after day.

This kit has everything you’ll need to grow your own pizza toppings—tomatoes, basil and peppers. Yum! Creativity for Kids Pizza Garden, $20,

This exciting water play set is a great way for little ones to splash around and learn all about how water works. Aquaplay Aqualand, $100,

Channel that energy on an indoor day with this active game that suits a variety of age groups. The Floor is Lava!, $30,

A version of this article appeared in our Summer 2021 issue, titled “The summer of play,” pg. 32.

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