Keeping Kids Engaged with Learning this Summer | United Way of Metropolitan Dallas

How to Keep Kids Engaged with Learning throughout the Summer Months

After more than a year of pandemic-related disruptions, stress and flat-out boredom, many kids are understandably feeling burnt out, overwhelmed and disengaged.

Researchers have found that COVID-19 has had a profound impact on children’s physical, mental and social health. The stress and trauma of the past 15 months has also led to significant learning loss for many children; Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath believes students in the state will need four to five years to fully recover.

At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, we’ve identified education and health as two of the building blocks of opportunity, along with financial stability. As our region continues to recover from the effects of the pandemic, it’s important that we all prioritize learning, physical and mental health, and social emotional wellness for North Texas children.

Below, we share expert tips on keeping children engaged this summer and helping them look ahead to a brighter future. These insights come from partners of the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas HOPES and Texas Home Visiting Program, which provide parent education, home visiting, support services and connections to vital community resources throughout North Texas.


Summertime routines are key.

Our partners were quick to point to a lack of routine as one of the biggest challenges of summer. Without school, kids’ days can easily become unstructured, which can lead to boredom and a lack of productivity.

“My advice is to find a routine that works for everyone in the family and stick to it,” says Alejandra Alfara from Avance North Texas.

Consider establishing a routine so kids know when to expect to do chores, play, see friends, go to sleep, etc. This will help them transition back to school once summer is over. You can even create a daily or weekly calendar that spells out what your kids can expect.

Alfara also recommends creating a “chore chart.” “Everyone helping with chores also helps parents, and it teaches children independence, responsibility and collaboration with other family members,” she said. “Make it fun by giving stickers each day for completing chores and a small prize at the end of the week—quality time as a family, going somewhere special, etc.”


Now is the time to make learning fun.

For many kids, COVID-19 took the fun out of learning. Summer is a great time to get them excited about exploring, experimenting and discovering again.

Here are some easy ways to have fun while sparking a love of curiosity and learning:

  • Read a new book as a family every week, then act out your favorite scenes. (Want to put a new spin on reading time? You can get a FREE one-year subscription to Vooks animated storybooks through our partnership with Atmos Energy. (Sign up here.)
  • Try Kidappolis, a mobile app with interactive early learning opportunities that makes it easy to enagage kids both online and offline. Use code UWMD21 for free access.
  • Watch story time…from space! Check out Story Time from Space, which features astronauts on the International Space Station reading stories and conducting fun science experiments.
  • Attend summer camp right in your living room with KERA’s Camp TV: Guided by an enthusiastic head counselor, kids will learn through play, fun activities and virtual field trips to museums, zoos and more.
  • Have a weekly movie night that centers on a different theme. (Think “Jurassic Park” for science, or “Karate Kid” for sports.) Afterward, try talking about the story and characters; this can help kids remember details from the past and build their storytelling skills.
  • Work together to build a birdhouse or a mini shelving unit to display your child’s favorite knickknacks.
  • Go on a picnic and see how many different plants, birds or bugs you can spot.
  • Play a board game that is both fun and educational, like one of these: 10 Fun Parent-Tested Math Board Games.
  • Do some gardening or try out a DIY science experiment with these tips: 18 Clever Ways to Bring Gardening into the Classroom.
  • Teach your kids some cooking basics (which are also chemistry basics) with these Cooking With Preschoolers
  • Visit YouTube or Pinterest and search for arts and crafts you can do with common household items.
  • Go on a nature walk at a local park or nature preserve, and see how many armadillos, squirrels or birds you can count.
  • Set up a scavenger hunt around your home or neighborhood.
  • Head to the library, a park or a museum and simply explore. Diana Bahena of Avance North Texas says this is even beneficial for babies: “Summer is a good time to take them out and explore. Even though many moms still have newborns, it gives them a chance to start opening up their minds to all of the resources and educational opportunities in their own communities.”


Swap out screen time for real-world experiences.

Right now, time away from screens is more important than ever for kids’ wellbeing. Although technology can be a great way to keep kids interested in learning, it’s important to give their eyes (and brains) a break from all that screen time.

Take time to engage with your children without the TV, phone or computer as much as possible. Here are some tips to try:

  • The team at Family Care Connection tells parents to look for affordable (or free) summer camp programming through your city’s parks and recreation website, with the local library, at nearby arts and crafts stores, or with your child’s school district.
  • Once Upon a Month, a program led by United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, Ferst Readers and Boone Family Foundation, offers wonderful picture books to children from ages 0 to 5 who live in Dallas County. You can sign up to receive a different book every month—FREE—at org/Texas.
  • For older kids, consider signing up to volunteer as a family. Check out our Vomo website for volunteering opportunitieswith United Way of Metropolitan Dallas and other local non-profits throughout the summer.
  • Limit screen time for kids (and maybe even for yourself) to a certain number of hours per day or week. Challenge each other to stick to it and give prizes to your kiddos when they do.
  • Go on a bike ride or walk as a family around your neighborhood or at the nearest park—it’s a great opportunity to chat about your day together while avoiding getting glued to your screens.
  • Have your kids listen to podcasts and audio books so they can enjoy a good story without staring at a screen. This helps develop different areas of the brain and requires concentrated attention for following along. Audio books are free through public libraries (check your local branch for details on how to participate, or use Libby to borrow audiobooks from the library on your phone). Or, try out the popular VPR “But Why”: A Podcast for Curious Kids.


Encourage physical, mental and social health.

COVID-19 proved that it’s important to focus on the health of the whole child—including their physical, mental and social health. Here are some tips from Family Compass for encouraging mental and social health this summer:

  • Don’t forget to care for your basic needs, because kids can sense when parents are feeling stressed and overwhelmed.
  • Prioritize naps and a regular bedtime.
  • Take mental health breaks. (This goes for you and the entire family!)
  • Find creative ways to connect. Set aside intentional time with your kids to find out how they’re doing.
  • Create a feelings journal with your children (use drawings for little ones who don’t yet know how to read or write).
  • Be consistent with your kids to create a routine, build trust and foster your relationship.
  • Teach (and demonstrate) stress management whenever possible.
  • Establish good habits by teaching kids about healthy eating and physical exercise.
  • Help your child develop self-esteem by praising them and telling them about all their best traits.
  • Play and laugh together. Kids need this now more than ever.
  • Maintain open communication with children.
  • Be willing to answer any questions children may have.
  • Go to the library or look online for COVID-related books that are children friendly. For example, Sesame Street in Communities is a good resource with videos made for families and children regarding about social isolation due to COVID-19.

Of course, one of the best ways to keep kids healthy during the summer is to give them nutritious food. Our home visitor partners say providing summertime meals can get expensive and stressful, since many students rely on school breakfasts and lunches during the school year. A variety of community organizations and school districts provide free meals throughout the summer. To find a distribution site near you, simply call 211.


Stay entertained with free community events.

Money can get especially tight during the summer, when kids aren’t occupied with school all day. Luckily, North Texas has a lot to offer in the way of free events. DFW Child magazine has a great list to choose from:

  • The Dallas Museum of Art celebrates summer with its free Late Nights the third Friday of every month. Activities include art projects, yoga and storytelling time.
  • The Latino Cultural Center, located in downtown Dallas, offers family-friendly activities the second Saturday of each month.
  • Dallas is now home to seven “spray grounds”: fountains that you and your kids can play in for some refreshing fun. From the South Central Sprayground to Belo Garden to Klyde Warren Park, this could be the summer where you explore them all.
  • The Nasher Sculpture Center offer Free First Saturdays (currently held virtually) that feature a variety of artist-designed projects and experiences in both English and Spanish.
  • At the Galleria Dallas, PALS (Play, Art, Learn, Seek) Kids Club offers fun experiences each month, plus prizes and giveaways.
  • Dallas-based EarthX offers Story Time Planet, a fun and educational TV program designed to spark environmental consciousness in children from a young age. You can stream their previous episodes anytime, and new episodes are scheduled throughout the summer.


Additional Resources

Eager to help your family move past the pandemic? Here are some additional resources that may help:

This article was published on: Jun 3, 2021