Summer learning

Nearly every day for the past two weeks, I’ve received emails asking, “What do your kids do for summer learning?”

I have one big answer:

Also, reading, language, history, science, music. But it’s all pretty chill.

Let’s talk about Khan Academy. I’ve gushed about it before, but really, it’s the best. It’s FREE, it’s a world class education and available to everyone.

Best of all, once kids get going on Khan Academy, you never need to nag them again. In fact, you may need to say, “That’s enough math for today, honey.”

I asked Mary what makes Khan Academy so addictive and she replied, “It makes you feel smart.”

Hey, don’t we all want to feel smart? It’s the best incentive around.

Khan Academy has several different categories of learning, but most kids should start with math. Why math? Because the world expects you to read, but they will pay you to do math.

Maybe you’ve tried Khan Academy before to understand isolated concepts or try a bit of coding, but if you really want to get your kids addicted here’s the drill:

  1. Start at the very beginning with preschool math and then work your way through. Sure, we know our shapes and numbers, but all my kids found basic concepts from early math they’d simply missed. We all have sick days or times we fall asleep during class. Xander often sat at his desk in first grade and pretended he was battling dinosaurs, so he can’t be blamed if he missed something. Right now Gabe is working through the entire math curriculum (it only took him a week or so to finish preschool through 8th grade so it’s very doable).
  2. Make a concrete goal. For Xander (who started this whole trend at our house), he wanted to reach 1,000,000 points. For Mary who used Khan Academy as a replacement for math class last year, she wanted to finish 7th and 8th grade during her 7th grade year. In preparation, she did the entire early math curriculum up to 6th grade last summer. She’s now 58% done with 9th grade which she’ll be taking this fall.
  3. Work ahead. By the time school starts this fall for Gabe, he’ll be familiar with everything in his 10th grade math class as well as AP Biology. Why work ahead like that? Because it’s nice to feel smart. And both Gabe and Mary have challenging schedules this year. With three AP classes and two honors classes, it will be nice for Gabe if math feels easy.
  4. Set aside time every day. Most families like to use the morning for learning/projects. I try to keep that time free of appointments and activities. We do hike early in the morning, but then settling onto the couch for study feels like a privilege.
  5. Bribe if you must. Right now, no one needs additional incentive at my house, but last summer we offered Xander a big fat bribe to improve his ACT score by two points (oops, we forgot to pay him). I think most parents know when a bribe might be needed. Sometimes kids (and adults) just need a little something to boost them to the next level.

Obviously, the last two points apply to all kinds of learning, but let’s talk a little more about Khan Academy before I move on. Many kids don’t learn concepts in school because they feel stupid asking questions. With Khan Academy, you can replay the same hints and help videos over and over and over. And when you finally master a difficult concept, Khan presents you with a ‘PERSISTENCE’ badge. You can’t turn around these days without hearing about how kids need to develop grit; they need to fail and pick themselves back up again. Khan Academy teaches these concepts beautifully. Also, did I mention it’s FREE? We should all use Khan Academy and donate so they can continue to add more classes.

OK, on to other learning.

Reading— honestly, I don’t push reading at all. It’s simply what we do. Here’s the trick: buy books, read them yourself and talk about them. A study from RIF found that simply handing books to underprivileged kids provided a steeper learning increase than twelve weeks of summer school. Sure we still go to the library every week, but there’s power in having a book where you can write your own name, mark a page and share it with a friend or a sibling. Thanks to a nation obsessed with decluttering, it doesn’t take much money to create a home library. Check out the free book shelf at the library, shop at used book stores and visit garage sales to collect classics (and then donate extra books to kids in need). Who cares about the clutter? I care about my kids’ brains.

Language— Duolingo. Oh how we love you. And Disney movies in French, and music! Xander loaded my phone with Mandarin language apps and he’s working through those.

Science and history— These subjects border on playtime since Gabe turns to Extra History and TED Ed for these subjects. Still, he knows he can veg out for a bit and I won’t complain at all because he’s learning.

Music— everyone practices an instrument every day. But there’s a whole lot more guitar and ukulele in the summer!

As well as academic goals, each of my kids made a list of ‘life skills’ they are working on this summer. Those include:


driving a car





finishing an Eagle project

temple prep/mission prep

Personal Progress


swim teacher certification

tap dancing

mountain biking

rock climbing

and on it goes.

Maybe it sounds like a lot (or maybe it doesn’t) but we’re still finding plenty of time for sleeping in, watching Lego Batman fifteen times in a row and swinging in the hammock.

Happy Summer! Happy learning!



June 5, 2017


1 Comment

  1. Sarah

    June 9, 2017

    Good stuff Michelle! Your house sounds like my house this summer! Thanks for getting us going on Khan.

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