12 active learning games to beat the “summer slide”

12 active learning games to beat the “summer slide”

The summer slide.

I’m not talking about the park or water variety. It’s the worry parents and teachers have that kids may lose some of their educational progress while on summer vacation. Will all their knowledge go slip-sliding away?

We know that kids learn social skills, teamwork, and physical skills through play. But what if we snuck in a bit of teaching while kids are moving?

Learning doesn’t just happen in classrooms and study halls. Why not in backyards and on beaches? Instead of screen time, let’s encourage playtime. Kids won’t even realize they’re developing “school skills.”

Keep your kids moving and learning with active learning games like these, and they’ll return to classrooms in the fall with happy memories and sharp minds.

Math activities

Instead of worksheets, build numeracy skills through play. Here are some fun ideas to work on addition, subtraction, fractions, mental math, time, money, geometry, multiplication, counting, patterning, and estimating.

1. Bowling

Bowling is a great way to incorporate counting for younger kids and subtraction, and even percentages, for older kids. Whether you play in your backyard or at a bowling alley, have your kids count how many pins they knocked down, how many are still standing, and what percentage of the pins are up or down (four of 10 knocked down? Hey, you got 40 percent of the pins!).

Math skills used: counting, subtraction, and fractions.

2. Obstacle course

Kids love obstacle courses. Make it simple for the younger crowd and more challenging for the older kids. Kids love using stopwatches (old school?) or a timer on a phone. How long does it take to make it through the course? Have them keep a list of everybody’s time and compare the results.

Math skills used: time and statistics.

3. Paper planes

Use the web to find the best designs for making awesome planes and get them soaring. How far can your plane fly? Try again. Did it fly further?

Math skills used: measurement and estimation.

4. Dancing

Get some summer tunes pumping and have your kids follow a sequence of moves. Can they jump, jump, spin, jump, jump, spin? Maybe the older kids can floss, floss, robot, robot, floss, floss, robot, robot?

Math skills used: patterning.


While reading is always encouraged, literacy skills such as letter recognition, writing, reading and following directions, vocabulary-building, retelling a story, letter-sound relationship, rhyming, and communication can all be practiced during active play.

5. Scavenger hunts

Who doesn’t love a good scavenger hunt? For the younger crowd, have them find things beginning with certain letters and for older kids, provide written clues in the backyard or while on a walk.

Literacy skills used: letter-sound relationship, reading.

6. Rhyme time

Have kids sit in a circle with one child, the Word Bird, standing in the centre. The Bird starts the game by calling out a word. The child sitting directly in front of the Bird has to say a word that rhymes with that word. The next child must come up with another rhyming word and so on, until one child can’t think of a word. That child then becomes the Bird and the original Bird takes their place.

Literacy skills used: rhyming

Related read: 10 ways raising a physically literate child is like raising a reader

7. Drama llama

Writing and acting out stories are fun for every age. Older kids can write out a script while younger ones can have a parent or older child write out a story for them. Use props or costumes and invite friends and family for a unique Broadway show.

Literacy skills used: writing and storytelling.

8. ABC categories tag

Put a twist on regular old tag! Choose one person to be “it.” Before the game begins, “it” gets to choose a category, such as fruits or veggies, colours, or names. When “it” tags another child, “it” calls out a letter. If the child who’s tagged can’t think of a word belonging to the chosen category beginning with that letter, they’re out. Kids can decide before the game begins if certain letters can’t be used (unless your child is familiar with the xigua fruit). Perhaps Q, X, and Z could be eliminated from the game.

Literacy skills used: vocabulary skills.


Leave the lab coat at school and use games and activities to explore the various branches of science that kids love including life cycles, seasons, planets, animals, magnets, weather, states of matter (liquid, solid, steam), volcanoes, engineering, anatomy, shadows, senses, and paleontology, and skills including problem solving, observation, predicting, and classifying.

9. Chalk bodies

Have one child lie on a hard surface such as a sidewalk or in a schoolyard, and have them straighten their arms and legs. Another child or adult then traces the child’s body. Younger kids get a kick out of just seeing their body drawn out and recognizing its shape. Amp up the activity by asking younger kids to colour different body parts such as arms or legs, or to add parts such as noses and fingers. Older kids can label body parts by writing the names on the shape. At the end of the body part naming, let loose and colour the shape in multiple colours, then add a hat, funny shoes, or a fancy hairstyle.

Science branch used: anatomy.

10. Skipping stones

Skipping stones involves rocks and water, two things that kids already love to play with. On the shore of a large, calm lake, pond, or river, have your child find and throw a flat, smooth stone across the water so that it bounces. The aim is to see how many times their stone can skip before sinking. Techniques involve holding the stone between their thumb and middle finger palm-side up to release the stone on the water, using their non-dominant hand. Children can try using different weights or shapes of rocks, throwing when standing straighter or bending, or holding the rock different ways. While your kids may not be able to match the stone-skipping world record of 88 skips (!), they might improve the number of skips as they change up their technique.

Science skills used: observation, velocity, and problem-solving.

11. Fort-building

Get your kids out into the woods or the backyard and have them find items from nature that they can use to build forts. Big sticks, little sticks, rocks, moss, dirt, log, bark, leaves—it’s up to them! The forts could be for themselves or for their stuffies. Maybe they could pretend to build a fort for a pet. The challenge is how kids will figure out how to put the pieces together and have them stay together. Would it stay standing if it rained or snowed?

Science branches and skills used: engineering, problem-solving, nature, seasons.

12. Poison ivy tug-of-war

This go-to game gets a bit precarious when kids could end up with an itchy, blistery rash. Or it would if the poison ivy wasn’t make-believe. Gather up a kiddie pool or a large blanket and have your kids fill or cover it with leaves. Have the kids split into two teams, with each team standing on each side of the “poison ivy,” holding opposite ends of a rope. On the word “go,” see which team can pull the other into the toxic greens. With each new game, kids can rearrange their teams. If the younger kids and older kids were put on different spots on the rope, would that change the outcome? What would happen if they all pulled together?

Science branches and skills used: problem-solving, force, acceleration, nature.

Include park slides and slip’n slides in your summer plans. But if you can throw in a few activities that keep children’s minds sharp, you can beat the dreaded “summer slide.” It’s a win-win for all involved.

One response to “12 active learning games to beat the “summer slide”

  1. Awesome, I have a summer group of kids ages 7-14.
    Will defiantly be using a few of these idea’s !

    (Thank you! )

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