“I don’t know another parent who doesn’t both look forward to, but yet dread the summer holidays in equal measure. On the one hand, there’s some welcome respite for everyone from the humdrum of getting up, getting uniforms on, getting fed and getting to school. There might be a holiday to look forward to, or visits to friends and relatives. But on the other hand, there are also six weeks or more during which the responsibility is entirely on us to keep our children stimulated and entertained. And that’s before we even think about how we’re going to make sure they still do something worthwhile and educational so they don’t forget everything they’ve learned during the past school year.
Much has been said in recent years about the ‘summer slide’, a recognised loss of academic skills and knowledge that occurs when children are away from school over the summer holidays and suspend their usual reading and learning patterns.
But at a time when children want to forget about school and enjoy a break from their usual homework routines, how can we as parents empower them to continue their learning in a way which works in harmony with the desire to be outside or away from home, or just enjoying some simple play time or ‘down time’?
As a former technology & IT teacher (and a father of two children), I think the answer lies in harnessing the technologies which most of us now have in our homes; be they smartphones, tablets or computers. We know that the majority of children today are digitally savvy; growing up with a fantastic grasp of the technologies at their fingertips and engaged by the wider world with which they can interact and are permanently connected to on a daily basis.
So rather than worrying about how we’re going to cajole our children into reading, writing and continuing their maths learning this summer, here are some ideas on how to use some of the most creative and innovative apps and resources on the market which will fire up their imaginations, get them being creative, keep them entertained AND keep them learning this summer. Just don’t tell them about the learning.
Start by using the onboard camera app on the device that you have. Get your children taking the photos and videos on your travels. Inspire them to think more artistically about the composition of the image rather than the “snap” that we have all become so familiar with taking at every opportunity.
This book-making app promotes literacy and creativity by enabling children to create eBooks and stories, adding drawings, photos, and stickers. Then they can record their voices on every page and share their stories with friends and family.
Animoto is an easy to use video creation app. Many schools ask children to recount the highlights of their summer holidays on their return in September. Perhaps encourage your child to get ahead of the curve and create a short video of their adventures that can be shared when back at school.
Strip Designer is a simple app for creating comic strips. Children can add photos or their own drawings and can choose from a variety of fonts and designs to add speech and text before saving and sharing it. Challenge your children to create a comic book for every week of the holidays, so they can think about selecting the best information and images to tell the story of their adventures.
This game creation app allows children to create simple games for a variety of devices. As well as giving children their first coding skills, the games encourage them to make a plan and utilise any knowledge they have of a particular subject. The website offers a great insight into how the games are already being used as a learning tool in classrooms.
Sphero is a new type of game system featuring a robotic ball, which you control with a touch, tilt or turn from your smartphone or tablet. Children can draw shapes and create a path that the ball will follow. Admittedly, this is a pretty costly investment, but something so innovative yet simple for children to use that I thought it warranted a mention. It adds much to preparing children for the new Computer Science curriculums being put into place this September.
One of the great luxuries of the summer holidays is allowing children the odd late night, with no school to get up for in the morning. SkyView is an augmented reality space exploration app, which will allow the whole family to explore the universe. So pitch a tent in the garden (campers, you’re all set), toast some marshmallows and then simply point your device at the sky to discover stars, constellations, planets and satellites.
The Kid Science app brings a science lab into your home with a wide range of simple but exciting experiments that kids can conduct using everyday household items. There are ideas for a variety of age groups and include everything from Mad Scientist’s Green Slime to Cornstarch Goo and Marshmallow Catapults! Children will have the chance to experience some mind-blowing chemical reactions. Videos and photos explain everything in a step-by-step manner and children can also create a shopping list of ingredients they need to buy. Take it a step further and ask your children to use one of the many grocery-shopping apps available to note the prices of individual items on their list and to calculate a total cost.
Summer holidays are the perfect time for children to be outside in the garden and this interactive gardening app from dirtgirlworld is jam-packed with things that will want to make your children get outside and get grubby! The app teaches kids how to grow and harvest food and rewards them with lots of free songs, videos, recipes and badges along the way. There is also a camera that lets them take pictures with dirtgirl and scrapboy in different poses.
For those of your heading off on holiday this summer let the kids take the heat out of the trip planning with Bound Round. It’s an interactive travel app designed by and for children and gets them researching the best kids’ activities in your chosen destination via a wealth of videos and mini-games. They can also create a travel plan of must-see attractions and then store their experiences in story and photo form in a travel journal, which can be shared with friends and family. There are also e-postcards that can be sent during your holiday.
goHenry is a smart new way for children and teenagers to learn about money in the real world, by actually using it themselves. The system creates an online account for parents, with linked pre-paid Visa cards for their children, which encourages them to earn, save and responsibly spend their own pocket money. You set the ground rules by deciding what they can spend and where, so there’s no danger of any unexpected huge bills. Whilst making decisions about what they can afford to buy, children will also be using great day-to-day arithmetic skills.
Pix-Star is a wireless digital picture frame and provides an easy and innovative way to share photos with family members. There is some investment to buy one but in my personal opinion it is worth it the whole year around. Simply take a photo using the camera app and then email it to a unique email address provided the picture frame. Let the kids keep their relatives in touch with the summer holiday adventures by sending them a flurry of photos, enabling them to stay closely in touch even when they might live some distance apart. In my own experience, Pix-Star has enabled my daughters to stay in touch with their grandparents and for them to have engaging conversations about the photos when they call.
If you’re one of the many families that will be spending a significant amount of time travelling in the car with the kids this summer, then it’s worth checking with your mobile phone provider if they support tethering. This allows you to turn your mobile phone into a Wi-Fi hotspot by sharing its Internet connection with other devices such as laptops and tablets, and can be a useful tool for alleviating boredom. Switch off the sat nav and challenge the children to use Google Maps to plan out your route, calculate travel times and research stop off points of interest.
And just in case it all gets a bit too much on the gadget front, a reminder that parents can use the new Dinner Time app to lock their children out of any devices and create a break period, whether it’s to get them to the dinner table for some family interaction or to bed for a well-needed rest.”
About Andrew Goff
Andrew Goff is COO at Gazoob, a developer and publisher of children’s interactive and educational apps. Andrew started his career teaching Technology & IT, something he continued for over ten years. A member of the senior leadership team in his last two appointments, he was instrumental in the adoption of new technologies for learning.
Over the past 12 years Andrew has led the successful development of companies around technology and education. Most recently he has been responsible for working with a number of schools to develop their ‘Building Schools for the Future’ plans.
Specialising in educational children’s apps, Gazoob is responsible for bringing the well-known Biff, Chip & Kipper learn-to-read books from Oxford Reading Tree to apps for iPhone, iPad, Android and Windows devices. With 48 books available across 6 reading levels, the apps contain both reading books and phonics books at each level. The stories are true to the traditional Biff, Chip & Kipper books, but the apps have the added benefit of containing extra games and puzzles that better engage children and help encourage good story recall.
The Read with Biff, Chip and Kipper apps make it easy for parents to keep a wealth of reading material at their fingertips this summer, without having to carry bulky books when they travel.
The Biff, Chip & Kipper apps make it easy for parents to keep a wealth of reading material at their fingertips this summer, without having to carry bulky books when they travel.