Each summer I do something special with my kids as they are home for the 12 or 13 week break.   June 1st  I create a list of challenges to complete for prizes.   I got the idea from the book, Super Summer Challenge by Linda Wicks.    I started this project when they were in kindergarten, and my oldest is now in 8th grade.  They loved it from the start and even now, they ask about it every time as the last day of school approaches. I love this idea because it is such a sneaky way to continue the education process through the summer, and to motivate them to learn in particular areas that may not have happened during the school year.  This year, for example, my list contains some long-term projects, things that can’t be done in one sitting.  Because at school, and later at work, the ability to work on a “big” project successfully and methodically is a skill I want my kids to have.

So here’s how it works.  Think of the things you would like your kids to accomplish in the coming year. What are their next steps in sports, education, life skills? Where do they excel or need a little extra help?   Divide this list into Physical, Mental, Spiritual, Social and Life Skills.

For each child the lists might be different.   I have one child who plays the trombone, and part of his list is to learn some new songs, and to practice lots of minutes.  My other child plays basketball and this year should work on free throws, so I am offering significant points for 10 free throws in a row.

I buy fun educational computer games like Algebra World and Typing Tutor to make the learning they do in the summer fun.  My son has a book called, “Mini Weapons of Mass Destruction”.   These are fun little catapults and crossbows to build out of office supplies.  I put this challenge on the list because the weapons all use physics and some mechanical engineering in their creation and use.   So bottom line, they are still learning and they are having fun at the same time.

We always work on some goofy things as well as the practical.  One year I asked them to cook an egg on the sidewalk.  They came up with some sort of solar cooker and got the points (and a great egg!!)   Besides this, I think everyone should have one or two “stupid human tricks” available to impress their friends, so I have put spinning a basketball on one finger and folding an origami flower on the list.  (the flower is a real hit with the junior high girls!)

This is also an opportunity to foster some spiritual things.  This year I will award prizes for coming up with 500 things for which they are grateful.  (I think every adult living in America should do this once in their lives. It would change this country completely.)

I look forward to this activity every year because it’s a chance to sit down actually think about our children’s futures.  My husband and I get the chance to purposefully decide what things we want to foster in them.  What character needs shaping this year, and how can we motivate something short-term that then becomes a long-term habit?   It’s a great opportunity to catch up on any learning skills that are behind, and to speed ahead in areas of interest.

Every completed task earns a prize and prizes are the motivator for my kids.  A camera tri-pod, a cell phone enhancement package and various computer components (which they will gleefully install themselves) are the top awards this year.  Maybe your children are motivated more by days out on adventures, or by one-on one time.  One of my friends offered a day at the American Girl Doll store in Chicago as a prize.  She said it was worth every penny for the progress she saw in her daughter that summer.  If you find out what they actually want, the motivation just flows.

So keep the learning going, take the Summer Challenge with me.