The ABCs of Summer: Literacy on the go

Kids in car

During summer vacation, many parents and children spend time on planes, trains and automobiles. Whether they’re taking a short day trip or an extended vacation, families can easily turn travel time into literacy-building time. Here are suggestions for parents to help reinforce language and literacy during summer travels.

Activities to reinforce language and literacy while traveling

Driving Along: Sure, drivers should keep their eyes on the road, but also keep kids observing and talking, playing games with the letters, numbers and words they see along the way.

  • Play the License Plate Game. Depending on players’ ages, search passing plates for single letters, one-digit numbers, multi-digit numbers or nonsense words (GAC!) If players know alphabet or number sequences, they can identify the letters or numbers in order, by whoever finds the next one fastest or by taking turns.
  • I Spy with My Little Eye is a great vocabulary builder, linking descriptions and definitions to objects. “I spy a red sign that has eight sides and one word on it.” (A stop sign.) “I spy something you wear on your back to carry things in.” (A backpack.)
  • Sing songs to make the ride more pleasant and provide the benefits of interactive language practice.

iPad, iPod, or Paper: No matter what technology families use, have everyone bring along things for reading, listening and writing. Magazines seem made for summer — they don’t mind getting wet or sticky, and will be happy to be recycled rather than hauled home. Kids magazines are available by subscription, by single copies in bookstores, for iPad or tablet or my favorite way — at yard sales! Here are some great ones:

  • Ranger Rick and Ranger Rick, Jr. are published by the National Wildlife Federation, so they are all about the animals kids love. NWF has a very engaging website with family friendly activities, contests, suggestions for apps and short articles presented by Rick the raccoon.
  • Highlights now publishes three magazines to accommodate children from toddlers to tweens.
  • The Cricket family of magazines has 16 publications for different ages and levels. The youngest in the family, Babybug, is the Winner of a 2013 Parents’ Choice award! Check out their webpage for some freebies.

Write On: During the school year, youngsters may be reluctant to write-on-demand with the promise of corrections and multiple drafts. Summer writing should be free and easy, on blank paper and activity books. You can find the latter at Sam’s Club, Walmart or CVS on the cheap. Skill workbooks and word puzzles are fine, but keep any instruction to a minimum. Coloring books are fun, especially when you go “outside the lines” and add speech balloons with dialogue for characters like the Little Mermaid and Spiderman.

We’ve Got to Talk: For language acquisition, nothing beats conversation. A long drive can be a perfect distraction-free zone in which families can talk. Don’t forget that parents play an essential role in children’s language development, so they can sprinkle their end of the conversation with the occasional “big word.” It’s the quintessential way to add words to a child’s vocabulary.