It Takes a Village: Lessons on Developing the Whole Child

I know you’ve got a lot more on your plate than your next work deadline. You have to pick your kids up from swim practice; you are worried about that cough your dad had over the holidays; you are daydreaming about writing that novel. The same is true of your children—they also have more to worry about, and way more to contribute, than taking the next test.

As adults, we are able (most of the time) to strive for balance in our lives. But our children don’t have enough experience to be able to do that yet. In order for them to be successful, we have to be able to show them how to manage the stress that daily life brings.

That’s where social, emotional and academic development comes in. The Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional and Academic Development is spending two years talking to parents, teachers and students to explore how schools can develop the whole child. And on a site visit to Tacoma, Wash., last month, commissioners got some powerful answers.

I was there as a parent advisor to the Commission. Here are three strategies we saw in Tacoma that hold exciting potential for communities across the country:

  1. Leverage the Power of the Community

Schools have a pretty single-minded focus: educate our kids. But what leaders in Tacoma realized is that you don’t have to bend other organizations to your priorities in order to build a community effort around supporting students—you just have to let everyone play to their strengths.

Take Tacoma’s Science and Math Institute (SAMI) for example. This high school, set in the middle of Point Defiance Park, uses its working relationship with the city Parks Department to foster experiences that are truly hands on, and sometimes unexpected. My student tour guide at SAMI told me about a calculus test she recently took while seated by the aquarium’s shark tank. She said the dimness and serenity helped her focus. Students manage ongoing research projects, train to be docents at the zoo, and can work on internships that allow them to apply their learning in real-world settings.

  1. Listen to Students and Teachers

We all know teachers wear many hats. That’s why it’s critical to understand that focusing on students’ social, emotional and academic development doesn’t have to be burdensome. In fact, Tacoma teachers say the Whole Child Initiative has made them feel more supported and free to do their jobs. The initiative has slashed tardy arrivals and absences, boosted test scores and reduced discipline referrals across the district. During my visits to Tacoma’s public schools, I witnessed how teachers are valued as front-line experts and are given opportunities for leadership.

Tacoma also actively includes student voices. At each school I visited, it was clear that not only do students feel listened to, they feel empowered: empowered to resolve their own conflicts, to speak with authority and pride about their schools, and be active participants in shaping their schools’ cultures. For example, students at Jason Lee Middle School advise educators on improvements that can be made and are an active part of the rule-making process. The PTA motto of “every child, one voice” was truly on display in Tacoma.

  1. Don’t Be Afraid to Get Creative

Each child, classroom, school and district is different. What’s unique about your community? You may not have Point Defiance Park, but what about a creative partnership with that homeless shelter down the road?

Tacoma’s schools are flourishing under the Whole Child Initiative, but to replicate that success will mean stepping outside of our comfort zones of fall festivals and fun runs. It will mean focusing on how we, as parents and community members, can do that extra little bit to establish meaningful relationships with the world outside of the school walls.

Our children are complex. Let’s help make sure their educations develop all their potential.

Van Overton is the executive director of SpreadLoveABQ (an organization committed to developing creative fundraising solutions for child advocacy groups); the co-founder of Duke City Dream Lab (an organization that works to make the arts accessible to all children); a three-year member of the New Mexico PTA Board of Directors; and an active volunteer in Albuquerque schools. Van is a member of the National Commission’s Parent Advisory Panel.

Celebrate Take Your Family to School Week All Week Long

Take Your Family to School Week (Feb. 11-17) is more than just a one-night event, it is a weeklong celebration of family engagement and the great work PTAs have done to support the school community.

This year we came up with an easy way for every family to participate in celebrating PTA—Daily themes!

Maker Monday: Celebrate the arts in your school community.

  • Showcase the artwork of your 2018 Reflections participants by creating a display in the school entryway. Share pictures of students, teachers and parents enjoying the display using #PTAProud.

Try-It Tuesday: Help create healthy eating habits by encouraging families to try a new food or recipe.

  • Pick a fruit or vegetable to be an honored guest! Set-up tasting stations throughout the cafeteria where students can try your featured ingredient prepared in different ways. Share the recipes that you used with your school community.

Writer Crush Wednesday: Share your love of reading!

  • Set up an area before or after school for students to read classic love poems and to write their own. There is no better valentine then one that comes directly from the heart! Check out this list for some school appropriate poems.

Techie Thursday: Use this day to highlight the “T” in Stem

  • Share an interview with the school technology administrator or robotics coach and ask them what things they wish the greater school community new about the technology opportunities within your school. Even better, set-up an online chat where parents or families can ask the questions live!

Family Celebration Friday: Celebrate all the families in your school community!

  • Use this day to take the time to thank everyone for celebrating with us this year!

With these themes every PTA member and school can participate in Take Your Family to School Week. We cannot wait to celebrate the founding of National PTA with you all week long! Remember to use #PTAProud to show how you are celebrating Take Your Family to School Week on social media! And, Make sure to share your events with us!

Alyssa Montchal is a Programs & Partnerships Program Manager at National PTA.

Enroll in the 2017-18 School of Excellence Program

Maybe you are looking to step up your PTA’s involvement in school improvements. Maybe something meaningful is already happening between your PTA and school, and you would like to see that recognized. In either case, National PTA’s School of Excellence program offers customized tools to help you to make a substantial, positive impact on school and student success, and to earn recognition for your PTA and school.

By enrolling in this program, your PTA and school administrators are making a year-long commitment to identify and implement an action plan for school improvement based on PTA’s National Standards for Family-School Partnerships.

Throughout the school year, you will use tools, resources and support provided by National PTA to bring positive change in family engagement. In the final step of the program, your work be evaluated through a Final Application. Those resulting in a stronger family-school partnership, will receive the two-year National PTA School of Excellence distinction and recognition that comes with an honor of this caliber.

The steps in the program are as follows:

Step #1: Enroll and Gain Support (Enroll by Oct. 1)

Enroll at and start to build your Excellence Team to improve family-school partnerships through the school year.

Step #2: Deploy Baseline Survey (September-November)

Use National PTA’s Baseline Survey to gain feedback on current family-school partnerships at your school.

Step #3: Set a Shared Objective (September-November)

After you’ve compiled your survey feedback, work with your Excellence Team and school administrator to choose one focus area and objective to concentrate on in the coming school year.

Step #4: Complete Initial Application (Submit by Nov. 1)

You will then complete an online Initial Application. Upon receipt, National PTA will provide you with a Roadmap to Excellence guide that contains specific recommendations that respond directly to the survey results and focus area you identified.

Step #5: Follow Roadmap to Excellence (Throughout School Year)

Using your Roadmap to Excellence, you and your Excellence team will develop an action plan to address barriers and expand methods for effective family and community engagement throughout the school year.

Step #6: Deploy Final Survey (March-June)

Towards the end of the school year, you will conduct a second survey to gather feedback from your school community to evaluate your progress over the school year.

Step #7: Complete Final Application (Submit by June 1)

With the Final Survey results, you will complete a Final Application online to receive a new Roadmap to Excellence to continue the momentum you have gained in engaging families the following school year.

Step #8: Celebrate Your Excellence (August)

In August, Schools of Excellence will be named and honored with this two-year designation. If awarded, you will receive information on how to plan your school and community celebrations as well as a banner to hang prominently at your school.

Join the ranks of over 500 PTAs who have earned this prestigious distinction. You too can achieve excellence and be known as leading the nation in effective family-school partnerships.

Enrollment for the 2017-18 School of Excellence is open. To learn more and to enroll, visit our website at Contact or call (800) 307-4782 for more information.

Amy Weinberg, MA is the Associate Manager of Programs & Partnerships at National PTA and serves as the primary contact for the 2017-18 School of Excellence program.

How will you #ThankATeacher?

Teacher Appreciation Week is just around the corner and National PTA is celebrating in a big way!

The #ThankATeacher Contest encourages PTAs to share on social media examples of how their teachers deliver to students by using #ThankATeacher. Entering the contest is easy to do!

  1. Post a photo or video on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram that shows how teachers deliver to students in your school. Use the hashtag #ThankATeacher and make sure the post is public!
  2. Fill out the contest entry form at

The contest runs through April 17, 2017, and over $20,000 in prizes will be awarded to teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week in May.

Two grand prize winners will be selected to each receive a Google Express shopping spree worth up to $4,500 to help spruce up their school’s teachers’ lounges. Four first place winners will receive either a snack or wellness delivery worth up to $2,500 each to help stock up their teachers’ break rooms. All winners, including 25 runner up winners, will receive a Google Home for their school.

Three PTAs will also receive a library of 100 “I Can Read” books including characters like Pete the Cat, Amelia Bedelia, and Biscuit delivered at a school event featuring a children’s book author or costume character from HarperCollins Children’s Books. Ten additional PTAs also will receive an “I Can Read” book set for their school.

Teachers deliver so much to students every day and make a profound difference in the long-term success of children. Join us as we gear up for Teacher Appreciation Week by thanking the teachers in your lives and giving back.

Ashley Collier is the associate manager of digital communications at National PTA.

For Food Allergies, a Halloween Appeal: Go Teal!

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From classroom parties and Trunk-or-Treats to ghosts and goblins knocking on your door, Halloween puts snacking front and center. But for youngsters on restricted diets, the holiday’s focus on foods they can’t eat puts a big damper on trick-or-treat fun.

One in 13 U.S. children has a food allergy. That’s about two kids per classroom. For many, just touching the wrong food causes hives and the smallest taste can be life-threatening. Other students have different health needs that require a special diet, including diabetes, celiac disease and many digestive disorders. Like every other child, these children deserve a fun, inclusive Halloween.Print

Join the Teal Pumpkin Project to make Halloween happy and safe for all children—including those who can’t eat a chocolate or candy treat.

Why teal? Teal is the color of food allergy awareness. When you display a teal pumpkin (or a Teal Pumpkin Project sign), you’re letting kids and their families know that you have non-food goodies to share.

View More: by Food Allergy Research & Education in 2014, the purpose of the Teal Pumpkin Project is inclusion. Here are the benefits:

  • You don’t need to choose between offering either snacks or trinkets, so long as the food and non-food treats are kept in separate bowls.
  • Toys and prizes won’t go to waste, since they’re popular even with kids who love candy.
  • Some of these kid-friendly items are useful as well—such as glow sticks and glow jewelry that make trick-or-treaters easier to see at night or Halloween-themed pencils and erasers that come in handy as spare school supplies.

View More: your pumpkin comes from a farm or a craft store, painting it teal combines creative play with a lesson in empathy. Decorating a teal pumpkin or coloring an activity sheet reminds kids that while some classmates may not be able to eat some candies, we can include them in the fun by offering treats that are safe for them. We can trick-or-treat others the way we would want to be treated.

The 2016 goal of the Teal Pumpkin Project is for at least one home on every block to stock up on non-food treats and welcome all trick-or-treaters with a beautiful teal pumpkin. We hope this Halloween,  children with food allergies and other restrictive diets will spot a teal pumpkin on your doorstep or in your school Halloween festivities, and smile.

For more info—including links to free resources to help create a happier, safer Halloween for all—visit

Lois A. Witkop is Chief Advancement Officer for Food Allergy Research & Education. She is proud mom to two teens and is a parent member of the Robinson Secondary School PTSA in Fairfax, Va.

The Journey to Becoming a School of Excellence!

Group of Multiethnic People Studying About Teamwork

When a school and its PTA make a joint decision to become a National PTA School of Excellence, they are making a commitment to work together as a team to build effective family-school partnerships in their school community.

There are three important steps on the journey to becoming a School of Excellence.

Step 1. Enroll

Step 2. Complete the family survey

Step 3. Complete and submit the Family School Partnership Scan

By now, most schools that enrolled are at Step Three. This step, the completion of the Family-School Partnership Scan and the receipt of a customized Roadmap to Excellence specific to local needs, provides a clearer picture of both the successes and opportunities for improvement. This leads to the decision of which path your School of Excellence team will take in the coming months. The possibilities are limited only by imagination and dedication!

After receiving the Roadmap to Excellence, some teams may wonder where to begin. For some schools, the Roadmap may seem extensive. This is the time to assemble the School of Excellence team, focus on specific opportunities for improvement and create an action plan by following these steps.

  1. Share your Roadmap to Excellence. Give your team plenty of time to review The Roadmap to Excellence before meeting. You may want to email a copy of it to your School Leaders and Board members or even set up a shared “School of Excellence” folder on your Google Drive.Organizing your School of Excellence documents (including your surveys and Family-Partnership Scan) on a shared drive—like Google Drive—is a great way to collaborate with your team. 
  1. Meet with your team. You may want to set a designated meeting time just to discuss The Roadmap to Excellence and your next steps. At your meeting, be sure to review the National Standards for Family School Partnerships. Discuss the joint goal you set with your School Leaders as part of your Family-Partnership Scan.Have your team identify two or three Roadmap recommendations per Standard to focus on for this year. You may want to narrow down your focus by identifying those recommendations that align with your School Improvement Plan, accreditation process, or any other big plans your school has for this year.Your focused attention to making substantial progress in a few areas per National Standards will help you be successful.
  1. Create an Action Plan. Now that you have identified your goals, it’s time to determine how you’ll reach them! Brainstorm with your team of parents, students (when age appropriate), teachers, school leaders, and community members, and get their ideas and input on what they can bring to the table to reach your common goal.Maybe you’ll continue or build on programs and activities already in place, or maybe you’ll move off in a new direction. Whichever way that you decide to go, don’t forget to take advantage of the many user-friendly tools and programs that National PTA has to offer—you don’t need to re-create the wheel! 
  1. Share your goals with your school community. This is a great opportunity to engage your families. Be sure to let families know how they can get involved and help by joining a committee, volunteering their time, or attending an event.You can use general membership meetings, your PTA website, newsletter and social media to promote your program, and be sure to highlight the special events and programs that are a part of your School of Excellence journey.
  1. Revisit your Roadmap often. Revisiting your Roadmap and those specific recommendations you have identified to work on this year periodically will help keep your team focused and on task.Set time on your Agenda at each Board meeting, general membership meeting, and principal meeting to discuss your School of Excellence progress, and don’t be afraid to rework and adjust your plan once you’ve see what’s working and where you may have an opportunity for improvement.After all, every journey has its pit stops and minor detours, and sometimes you make the most interesting discoveries along the way! 

Wherever the road to Excellence may lead you in the coming months, please know that you’ve taken an important step toward a better school community. It may not always be an easy trip, but there’s no wrong place to begin your journey.

In the words of tennis great Arthur Ashe,

“To achieve greatness, start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.”

You CAN achieve greatness for your school, your students, and your community! Through teamwork, dedication, and shared goals, you can achieve Excellence.

Kris Garst is a past president of European PTA, and currently serves on the European PTA Board of Directors as vice president for legislation as well as the convention chair

Lauren Van Hemert served as the president of The Centennial Campus Magnet Middle School PTSA for three years. She has also served on the Nominating Committee for the Wake County PTA and has promoted the National PTA School of Excellence on the county level.

Both Kris and Lauren are recipients of the 2016 Phoebe Apperson Hearst Outstanding Family-School Partnership Award.

Engaging Parents in 21st Century Classrooms

education, elementary school, learning, technology and people concept - close up of school kids with tablet pc computers having fun and playing on break in classroom

This blog was originally published on P21’s Blogazine.
Let’s face it—classrooms are very different today than when most of us were in school. Smart boards have replaced chalkboards and projectors. Computers, tablets and smartphones are increasingly being used instead of paper, pencils and books.
Technology and the internet have created countless new opportunities for education. Children like yours and mine can now read about virtually any subject from anywhere and connect with people and places around the world. Teachers are harnessing the power of the technology to bring curriculum alive and personalize instruction to meet the unique needs of every child. Digital learning is essential for the development of skills students need to thrive.
Technology also provides important opportunities for us as families to be more involved in our children’s education as well as for families, teachers and school staff to engage in regular and meaningful communication about student learning.
As the new year gets into full swing, it is important that we as parents are aware of the technology our school uses and how we in turn can use these tools to support our children’s success in the classroom.
Here’s how schools can help:
Share with parents the online systems, portals or apps your school is using. Make sure they know how to access these tools and use them to track their child’s progress and ensure they are receiving the right supports.
Technology provides a variety of ways for families, educators and schools to share information with one another and keep in touch. Technology allows families to access information quickly, easily and when it is most convenient for them. It is important that multiple mediums, platforms and dissemination tools are used for real-time dialogue and parent-school communication.
Many parents are active on social media. And through social media, relevant information can be communicated in a timely fashion. Use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to deliver news and important updates, share pictures and encourage parent engagement.
It’s important that families have a seat at the table and the opportunity to provide input when decisions are made that impact their children and schools. When families are included in all stages of technology decision-making and implementation, they better understand the benefits for their children and are invested in the outcome.
While technology provides great opportunities for family involvement and parent-school communication, it can be a barrier to engagement. For example, a preponderance of portals and apps require parents to register and save passwords again and again frustrating the parent until they shut down. Equally frustrating, some systems are not mobile-friendly. These factors can be a hindrance for parents when it comes to using these tools. It is imperative to evaluate and eliminate such barriers to increase access to and use of technology among families.

Technology is a powerful tool for teaching, learning, connecting and communicating. It is critical that parents are empowered with opportunities to be engaged as well as with the tools and information to support their children in the classroom and beyond.

Nathan R. Monell, CAE is the executive director of National PTA and a proud father of two public school students. National PTA is dedicated to promoting children’s health, well-being and educational success through family and community involvement.

 National PTA is a proud supporter of the Future Ready Schools initiative, which is aimed at maximizing digital learning opportunities so all students can achieve their full potential. Schools that are Future Ready understand that parents play an instrumental role in the learning environment, and as such, need to be highly engaged and recognized as a vital part of the school community. National PTA echoes the recommendations and characteristics of parent engagement in Future Ready Schools.






Family Engagement is Critical to Education


This blog post was originally published on Medium.

As an educator and parent, I’m always excited by the back-to-school season. I love meeting new families and helping students grow and develop as they learn new skills.

The start of this school year is even more exciting than usual because it’s the beginning of a new era for our nation’s classrooms. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) — the new federal law governing K-12 education — goes into effect this year.

While many teachers, students and parents won’t see immediate change in their schools and classrooms, states are actively working to create new education plans to implement ESSA that we hope will soon make high-quality, well-rounded education a reality for every child.

For the first time, ESSA acknowledges the critical role parents and other stakeholders play in student success and school improvement efforts by requiring that they be involved in the development of new education plans and implementation of the law.

Parents and their children are the consumers of our nation’s public education system, and parents have always been essential partners in education. However, they haven’t always been included at the decision-making table. This has caused confusion, mistrust and backlash when new initiatives — whether at the federal, state or local level — have been considered and implemented. ESSA now provides a unique opportunity for parents and families to give their input and to hold states and districts accountable for their children’s educational experience.

So how should states, districts and schools engage families in implementing ESSA? I have four suggestions.

First, invite families to participate. It seems basic, but many families do not feel welcome or know that the law requires that states and districts involve them in developing new education plans. Education leaders should use a variety of communications channels to reach out to parents and share ways they can get involved. Educators can also rely on a trusted messenger — such as PTAs — to communicate better with families.

Second, make messages to parents easy to digest. Most parents do not come to the table with expertise in education policy, but they are experts on their children. It is important that educational jargon is explained in simple terms — how does this affect my child and what can I do? Families must also be provided greater context about current policy and programs to understand ESSA’s impact on existing practices and future policies.

Next, translate materials to reach all families. It is essential that ESSA-related materials be translated into at least one of a community’s most popular languages other than English. Although it takes time and resources, this demonstrates a commitment to making sure all parents and families have the information they need to support their child’s learning and development.

Finally, demonstrate why family participation matters. If families are included in all stages of ESSA implementation, they will understand the ways it relates not just to their children but to every child in the community, the state and across the country. Mechanisms should be provided to allow parents to give regular feedback, and education decision-makers must listen when they do. When all voices are heard and valued, everyone’s engagement rises and consensus is easier to achieve.

ESSA provides an important opportunity for every part of every community to unite in designing the best education system possible for our nation’s children. But for education to be truly successful, family engagement must go beyond ESSA. Forty years of research proves that family engagement makes a real difference, so states and districts must prioritize it. Systematic and sustained efforts to integrate families into the fabric of our schools is key to our nation’s future.

Laura Bay is president of National Parent Teacher Association (National PTA), a nonprofit association dedicated to promoting children’s health, well-being and educational success through family and community involvement. This essay is part of a series on parent engagement produced by the philanthropic foundation Carnegie Corporation of New York.



10 Ways to Get Kids Reading this Summer

This blog was originally posted on the Great Schools blog.


School’s out, the days are longer, and suddenly kids have time on their hands, and you’d like them to put down their tablet and pick up a book. After all, studies show children who read when they’re out of school do better academically than those who avoid cracking open a book.

California Library Association is asking patrons across the state to encourage their local libraries to be a part of the Five Book Summer Reading Challenge. CLA has innovative programs to share or seek at least a calculation of how many books were read. Reading just five books during the summer reduce summer learning loss–significantly more than three or four books. Here are 10 ways to get even the most reluctant reader started on a reading adventure.

  1. Get inspired by Hollywood

    Movies can be a great way to get kids excited about reading, so kick-start summer with film adaptations of popular children’s books. Parents might Netflix Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), based on a book by Roald Dahl. If kids warm up to Mr. Fox, you’ll be able to introduce them to the book version  as well as other titles by the author, such as James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and The BFG.

  2. Take a book-themed vacation

    “I can go anywhere!” — or so says the theme song to the PBS show Reading Rainbow. Parents could do a lot worse than taking those songsmiths to heart and helping children plan a vacation inspired by a book they love. To start, try reading Liz Garton Scanlon’s picture book All the World while planning a trip to the beach. New Englanders might visit Providence, R.I., after reading the historical young adult novel The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle.

  3. Meet the authors

    Kids of all ages can benefit from attending an in-person literary event. Authors routinely make appearances at bookstores to read their latest work, and these events are often sparsely attended. Seeing the person behind the words could inspire kids to try a new book. For dates and times, check local news and bookstore websites.

  4. Get cookin’ with books

    Parents of kids who aren’t interested in the more traditional children’s books might want to steer their offspring toward other genres. Cookbooks can encourage kids to master practical skills while providing a delicious payoff at the end. The American Grandparents Association recommends 12 cookbooks for kids 3 and older. And children who branch out into the world of food blogs will find endless reasons to keep reading.

  5. Wise up on magazines

    Magazines cater to many interests and can inspire kids to read deeply on subjects they enjoy. Among magazines suitable for younger readers, several well-known magazines, such as Sports Illustrated and National Geographic, offer “kids” editions. Parents’ Choice has a list of spring 2015 winners here. Teens in particular may want something for the more mature: Seventeen, Teen Vogue, ESPN or MAD — and most magazines are available for electronic readers such as Kindle and Nook.

  6. Create a readers’ theater

    Parents can bring books to life by staging scenes from favorite stories. Act out characters, read scenes aloud, try funny voices, and use props from around the house — do whatever it takes to get kids excited about the story. By imagining themselves in the roles of their favorite characters, children can make a deeper connection to what they’re reading.

  7. Listen to your books

    Parents might not realize that audiobooks are freely available for checkout at most public libraries. Take your children to the library (or iTunes), and pick out the perfect summer tale, then set aside some time to listen to the audiobook together.

  8. Throw a blog party

    Make reading social by helping your kids — or, more likely, having them help you — set up a reading blog on sites such as Blogger, WordPress, TypePad, or Tumblr. While getting them set up should be relatively painless, kids might need encouragement to keep writing, so make sure you help them stick to a schedule. For even more online fun, see if you can get your children’s friends involved as well.

  9. Organize a summer series

    With school out, children have extra time to get sucked in by the compelling narratives of popular series. For the youngest set, start with picture books such as Babar. Genre books can be particularly addictive for older kids: The Lord of the Rings is a classic — and one of the best.

  10. Be strong and read hard!

    It’s especially important for parents to model the behavior they want to see in their children. Some parents only read after their kids are in bed, but summer is a great time to take the books off the bedside table and make them part of vacation or leisure time. Whether that means booting up the Kindle or dusting off old Anna K, show your kids you still love a good read, too.


4 Ways to Keep Your Kids Engaged This Summer

Summer break is an important time for children to bond with family and friends, participate in enriching outdoor activities and enjoy a break from school. But while enjoying the free time and taking advantage of all the season has to offer, it is essential that children do not take a break from learning.

Research shows that children experience learning loss when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer months. Keeping children engaged in learning during summer break will help ease the back-to-school transition when the time comes and help them start the new school year on the right foot.

Summer activities provide fun, teachable moments—connecting real-life activities to what children have been learning in school reinforces those skills. These moments also provide great opportunities to expose children to new ideas and information and allow parents to encourage creativity.

Here are four ways to optimize learning during summer break:

Explore a National Park, Museum or Historic Site—Parks, museums and historic sites provide opportunities to bring learning to life for children. Many historic sites stage reenactments of battles or demonstrations of life during that time period. Almost all of the parks have activities for children. Ask your children to identify things they learned in school and nurture their navigation skills by making a scavenger hunt for your outing. You can also put your kids’ math skills to the test by giving them a set amount of money and having them manage their spending throughout the day.

Read Every Day—Studies show that reading daily during summer break is the most important activity families can do to prevent learning loss. Take your kids to the local library and borrow books to read over the break. And spend time reading together as a family—it helps children develop their literacy skills and excel academically.

Go to a Cultural Festival—Many communities host cultural festivals during the summer months, which are great occasions for children to learn about different cultures. Sample authentic food and drink, listen to storytellers, watch traditional dances and enjoy the artwork created by local artists from that culture. After attending a festival, discuss the experience as a family and encourage your kids to Google answers to any questions.

Keep a Journal—Summer activities abound, and recording them in a journal is a great way to capture those memories. As an added bonus, encouraging your kids to write about daily events helps boost their vocabulary and practice their handwriting as well as their grammar, spelling and creative writing skills.

Family schedules can be grueling during the summer—running from camps to swim meets to baseball and softball games—but it is important to keep learning a priority. Engaging in educational activities for an hour or even 30 minutes each day will support children’s success and ensure they start the new school year on track.


Laura Bay is president of National PTA, a nonprofit association dedicated to promoting children’s health, well-being and educational success through family and community involvement. In addition to leading National PTA, Bay is a coordinator for assessment and instruction for the Bremerton School District in Bremerton, Wash.