Keeping the kids entertained this summer can be educational

For most in the region, summer vacation started this week.

The bad news about that is parents know it won’t be long until the kids complain of boredom. The good news is resources exist to keep kids engaged and learning for the next few months. 

Keeping the kids learning is critical to battling the "summer slide." The U.S. Department of Education defines the summer slide as the learning kids lose if they don’t engage in educational activities over the summer. 

Exactly how much learning kids lose is hard to pinpoint.

Even before summer begins, Kathy Rayner, Executive Director of the Literacy Council of Bay County, sees gaps in kids' reading skills.

Rayner says when she evaluates fourth-grade students, she notices that many can read the words in grade-appropriate books, but don't remember what they've read.

“They read at or above grade level,” Rayner says, but when she asks them about the story, “They can’t tell you what they read. They’re not paying attention.”

Summer activities can build skills and combat the summer slide.

To get started, you'll need resources. Try the K5 Learning website for free, grade-appropriate educational worksheets and flashcards.

“It’s free,” Rayner says, adding that parents don’t have to provide an email to access the resources. “It has grade-appropriate spelling words, sight words, math, everything. You don’t have to sign in.”

Locally, you can get worksheets by contacting Rayner at the Literacy Council by email or phone. Worksheets and flashcards are available at Education Express, 406 E. Midland St.

Photo courtesy of the Bay County Library SystemRegistration is open now for the Bay County LIbrary System Summer Reading Program.If you need books, sign up for the Bay County Library System’s summer reading program. The program – called Adventure Begins at Your Library – started Mon., June 3 and runs through Sat., Aug. 3. Go online to learn how to sign up for the program and log reading hours.

Hours spent reading equal entries into drawings for prizes including toys, Squishmallows, ice cream, an outdoor movie projector, and more. The program is for everyone, from babies to senior citizens, so sign up yourself and have a shot at adult prizes including a Blackstone 22-inch tabletop griddle or a 40-ounce Stanley tumbler.

For books your child can keep, try the Imagination Library, which provides all kids in Bay and Arenac counties between birth and 5 years old, with one book each month.

Wherever you get your books, worksheets, or flashcards, start using them now. Kids in kindergarten through third grade should read aloud to an adult for at least 20 minutes each day, all year.

One way to make sure that gets done, especially in the summer, is a "token economy." Tokens can be poker chips, pennies, stars on a chart, or whatever works. The kids earn one token for reading for 20 minutes and another for their attitude about the task. 

“This works,” Rayner says. “They have to be able to see their little jar of poker chips or macaroni or whatever it is build up.”

After about two weeks, kids should have enough tokens to exchange for a prize. The prizes don’t have to be big or expensive.  

“I had one parent who went to the Dollar Store, she bought 20 items, she put ithem in a box in her closet. When the tokens built up, (the child) could go in and pick something out. It lasted all summer.”

Rayner cautions that the tokens should never be taken away as a punishment. And the program only works when parents are consistent. 

Resources throughout the Great Lakes Bay Region give families opportunities for fun and educational activities all summer. Check out the Bay-Arenac Great Start Collaborative for more ideas. 

Here are some other tips to get you started:

Reading & Writing

Rayner suggests book reports for those fourth and fifth graders who don't remember what they read. Don't panic, though. She's not suggesting in-depth analysis.

Instead, Rayner encourages kids to read a book at their reading level, take notes, and write a short report. 

"They have to write a book report, but they only have to write five sentences,” she says. “They read the book and they put the title and author in one sentence. Who are the main characters, what is the plot of the story, and did you like it?”

Photo courtesy of the Bay County Library SystemRegister now for the Summer Reading Program and you could get a free, reusable bag. Kids and adults who complete the program are eligible for additional prizes in August.For kids who can't read yet, Talking is Teaching, a series of signs posted in area parks and nature preserves, guides caregivers to start conversations with children about everything from the natural world to nutrition. Talking is Teaching is a national program.

You can have a little fun with sight words.

“Sight words can go on index cards and they can be taped all around the house - on the door of their bedroom, on the mirror in the bathroom, on the side of the refrigerator, oh the back of the chair they sit in,” Rayner says. “They have to holler that word out when they see it. Sometimes they have to spell it.”

It may sound simple, but it works. She knows of one family that taped up two sets of sight words, one for an older child and one for a younger child. By the end of the summer, the younger child knew many of the older child’s words too.


“Math should be done every day – just a page of math every single day,” she says. “Simple flashcards can be used to reinforce adding and subtraction and multiplication, but they still have to do the worksheets.”

The token economy works for math worksheets too.

Math doesn't have to be lists of problems on a worksheet. Try Bedtime Math for age-appropriate math activities. Don't expect a series of dry equations. Instead, the math problems put kids into fun situations.

For example, in lesson titled "Nature's Water Shooter," kids will learn about Old Faithful in Yellowstone. Then, depending upon their age, kids answer questions.

Young children debate whether Old Faithful's spray of about 185 feet reaches the head of a tall person or the top of a 12-story building. Older kids are asked to figure out when the geyser will spray again if it sprays about every 91 minutes and its last spray ended at 4:10 p.m.

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Kathy Roberts.

Kathy Roberts, a graduate of Central Michigan University, moved to Bay City in 1987 to start a career in the newspaper industry. She was a reporter and editor at the Bay City Times for 15 years before leaving to work at the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, Covenant HealthCare, and Ohno Design. In 2019, she returned to her storytelling roots as the Managing Editor of Route Bay City. When she’s not editing or writing stories, you can find her reading books, knitting, or visiting the bars of Bay County. You can reach Kathy at