Summertime is just around the corner, and my second grader will be a newly-appointed third grader.  Summer, for us, means swimming, sleepovers, and a bit of educational “stuff” to keep us on our toes.

One of my favorite activities to do with my boys is so simple, it is amazing that I don’t try it year-round.  For the summer, I set up several “themed” boxes.  These boxes are self-contained learning centers that can travel with us, be stored on a shelf or in a closet, and cost virtually nothing for me to set up.  We love to pull out a box on a rainy day or when we’re not feeling our best.  And, when my little guy is napping, we usually find time for the boxes then as well!  I typically use plastic lidded bins, but shoe boxes would work as well.  The idea is to find things to use in a different way that will be fun and enjoyable while still promoting my child’s educational needs during the long break. 

I will normally have about 4 or 5 boxes set up for the summer.  Some of them will be used over and over, and sometimes I find that I need to “tweak” the contents of a thematic box or change the entire concept of the box entirely.  Here are some of my favorites that are easy and fun to use.  But don’t stop with what’s here – add your own ideas and create an entirely new box to try with your children!

Science in a Box – Last year, we had seeds left over from our gardening, pots, materials to make plant markers, jars, crayons, dirt and all sorts of botanical things.  We not only planted seeds, but once our seedlings came up, we tried growing them in different environments: in a closet, without water, without soil.  It was interesting to track the plants’ growth (or lack thereof) during those few weeks!  We kept a log of our findings, and my son would draw pictures of the plants each day.  This year, we are putting household items such as vinegar and baking soda, cooking oil and bottled water, food coloring, old playdough, construction paper, and markers.  My son is really interested in volcanoes, so we will be doing the old baking soda-vinegar eruption experiment in our playdough volcano at some point!

Family Newsletter – If there is one thing my son loves to do, it is write.  So, I’m cutting him loose on my laptop this summer, armed with items and ideas in his box.  In our writing box this year will be paper, stamps, envelopes, a list of addresses, pictures, stickers and markers.  He is going to use my laptop to compose a family newsletter to mail to all of our relatives.  He has already started on a couple of stories, and we will set it up in a newspaper-style format.  However, he loves to draw as well, so we’re reserving space for a comic strip he’ll be making.  This is a box he will definitely use several times this summer to keep everyone up to date on our family “happenings”!

Letter games – This is definitely a rainy day box!  In this one, I keep our magnetic refrigerator letters, a magnetic writing board, our game of Boggle.  We use this one to play word games.  Our favorite is to spell out a really long word in magnetic letters, such as “summertime” or “playground”, then rearrange the letters to make smaller words.  Oftentimes, I will put old magazines or junk mail in the box as well, and then he composes a letter to a family member by cutting out the words he wants to use.

Photography box – Pack this box with a disposable camera, a notepad and pencil, sturdy paper and a marker.  This one is perfect for a vacation or just for a jaunt around your hometown.  Have your child take pictures of things he or she finds that are of interest, and make a note in the notepad of what each picture is.  Once the film is developed, have your child create a picture book of their excursion!

Math in a box – The possibilities are endless with this book.  Pack it with a deck of cards, paper, pencil, a couple of dice, perhaps a spinner and a few coins.  Have your child create their own board game.  The cards can be used to determine the number of places to move.  Or, use the cards to create number sentences, such as 8 + 2 = 10.  Have them rearrange the cards to make a subtraction sentence.  If your child is working on multiplication, then try multiplying the two cards together!