12 Fun Ways to Prevent the Summer Slide

Fun Ways to prevent the summer slide

I grew up in a country where we didn’t have 3 months summer vacation so the “summer slide” wasn’t an issue. I hate the idea of my kids doing “school” in the vacation – but I also understand the problem of such a long break from academics.

But there are alternatives to worksheets and other boring ways to keep skills up. Here are 12 you can try.

1. Visit FUN and ENGAGING Museums.

There are museums … and museums. I grew up hating being dragged into museums by my parents but since becoming a parent myself, I have discovered not all museums are boring! So, how do  you pick a “good” museum?

See if the museum advertises hands on activities.

Do they have any scavenger hunts or similar activities for children to do while they go through the museum?  The Museum of Crime and Punishment in Washington D.C. has an extra activity you can purchase for a few dollars (you just need one per family so it is worth it) that gets you searching for answers as you view the exhibits. If you get everything correct you can solve the final puzzle and win some free merchandise. And Hampton Court Palace in London has a number of similar activities for children

Read review on places like TripAdvisor and see if other families with children give it a thumbs up.

2. Sign up for a Summer Reading Program

I think most local libraries have programs and then there is also Barnes and Noble’s one for children up to 6th grade where they win a free book after reading 8.

3. Travel

I wrote a whole blog post on that topic so if you think you can’t do it with children or can’t afford it – go read it! Even a few days road trip in your area exposes your children to new and interesting things. And if you get your children to help plan they learn research and planning skills too.

4. Computer  and Video Games!

There are many games that are surprisingly educational. Treat your children and buy them one or two new ones – but be sure they have educational value. Civilization was one of my boys’ favorite games growing up and they learned a lot of history without even trying.  Games like Nancy Drew and Myst encourage thinking skills. 

5. Sign them up for summer camps and classes

There are a plethora of summer classes in our city. The local university provides a number and so do many individuals and organizations. But another option is online classes. We offer a number of online computer and other classes, and DIY clubs has a host on a variety of topics.

6. Learn a new hobby

Quilling, photography, calligraphy, playing a musical instrument, cake decorating, wood carving – with the host of online resources it is easy to learn anything you want to. Obviously you will need to buy supplies but most kids should be able to at least get started by watching Youtube videos.

7. Start a business

Encourage your children to brainstorm and think of ways to make money. In our neighborhood we still have one family who runs a traditional lemonade stand for a few days each summer. We have others who offer pet sitting and lawn cutting services. If they have become skilled in some hobby they can try and use that in their business. My own children ran computer camps, built websites, fixed computers and did photography to make extra money.

8. Go Geocaching or Letterboxing.

This is a fun way to enjoy beautiful summer weather and keep those grey cells working at the same time. There are now geocaches and letterbox hidden all over the world just waiting to be found!  I have also just discovered Munzees which is an app and looks similar but I haven’t tried it yet. All of these are free.

9. Play board and card games

Just about any one of these has some educational value. They also serve as fantastic family activities. Settlers of Catan is one I know many families with older children enjoy (mine too!). All strategy games give the brain a good workout. Games like Bananagrams are small enough to take on vacation too – that’s the one we always throw in to take with us!

10. Apps

As most teens have smart phones and many homes have tablets or iPads apps children are likely to be on them anyway. Invest in a few apps that will have them hooked – but will be beneficial too. Here are some you can try: 

11. Do Logic Puzzles

These are great to do on car trips or while waiting in airports or dentist offices or anywhere you need to amuse yourselves for a few minutes. You can find them online, or buy books. You can also play online games that involve logic. And if you really want to treat yourselves, look for an Escape Game near you and do that as a family.

12. Jigsaw puzzles

When it’s too hot or too wet, this is another good family activity that is quietly exercising your kids’ brains. Some of our favorites were ones where you have to make a jigsaw puzzle to solve a mystery. My brother’s family have enjoyed 3D puzzles too.

Any more ideas on ways to keep kids’ brains active – without them feeling like it is just more “school”? Please leave a comment!

**Photo Credit: Thanks Adam Whitescarver for letting us use your photo!

**Some of the above links are affiliate links.

FundaFunda’s Online Spanish 1 Class

Online Spanish Class Homeschool


Our high school Spanish 1 online class is designed to give students a rich and engaging experience. It is taught by a native Spanish teacher, Suzette LaPorte-Ayo, and incorporates many different teaching tools.

We don’t use a text book but rather specially created videos – developed after many years of teaching experience.

The concepts taught are then practiced in a variety of ways including

  • websites like StudySpanish and Duolingo
  • watching shows like Sesame Street and cooking shows in Spanish
  • exploring Spanish speaking countries with Google Earth
  • playing online games
  • “shopping” on Spanish sites
  • using Pinterest in innovative ways

Once a week there will be  a live discussion time online. Students will need to attend a certain number of these each semester as we believe speaking the language is a vital part of learning it.

With the wide variety of resources used in this class it will be fun! And students will learn to speak Spanish.

We also have a Spanish 2 class so students can continue with the same teacher.

All our classes are listed here.

FundaFunda’s Online Computer Applications Class

Computer Fundamentals

Over the years of a teaching a variety of subjects, I often ask students to do assignments that involve them using a computer. And so often I am astounded at how much they don’t know how to do!

In an age where even young children often have smart phones, and students seem to spend so much of their time using technology – they still often have a very limited understanding of computers work and the many resources they can access via their computers.

This class is a full year credit designed for homeschoolers (but anyone is welcome to enroll). In states that require a Computer Applications or a Digital Literacy class, this will meet that requirement. But our class will go far beyond what is typically taught.

Our aim is that students will acquire a better understanding of how computers can be used. They will be introduced to a wide variety of online sites (all free) and ways of doing things.

Here are some things we will be covering:

  • the internet and copyright
  • internet and computer terminology
  • website creation (using a variety of different website builders)
  • graphic creation
  • spreadsheets
  • online research and citations
  • editing photographs
  • bookmarking
  • document creation
  • video production (just on a very basic level)
  • working collaboratively on projects over the internet
  • task management
  • slideshows (once again they will learn a variety of tools)
  • creating a digital portfolio
  • making money with their computers

Each week will focus on one main topic (though we introduce some secondary ones as well). Typically they will view a video with one of our instructors giving them a brief tour of the website for that week, with examples from how they are using it themselves. Then students will be given links to other videos, training manuals etc that they can use to learn more. To test mastery, students will then turn in assignments using the tool.

The course spans both semesters and will take about 4 hours each week.


Escape Game Rooms: Who Thought Critical Thinking Could Be So Much Fun!



I never imagined getting hooked on anything … but that was before my first Escape Game experience. In my defense, as I walked out of the first game with my two daughters, one of them turned to me and said: “When can we do the next one?”.

It turned out, we could do another one just over a week later, when my son was home from college. We felt we needed to let him in on the fun. And once he played, well, he felt he needed to play again – two days later.

So, all in all, I have played 4 different Escape Games in 4 different cities. 3 in Tennessee and 1 in Florence, Italy.

Each experience was similar – but also entirely unique.

So .. let me tell you what I can. It will become obvious why I can’t tell you much at all 🙂

The premise of all Escape Games is that you are locked in a room for 60 minutes and need to solve various puzzles in order to escape. The rooms we played allowed 6 – 8 to be in a room at a time but that can differ. You don’t want too few or it becomes very hard to get through everything.

It is not scary and there is always a way out so no need to feel claustrophobic. They do not require any physical skills. Just mental ones. If you like whodunnits and spy stuff – you will LOVE this!

Each room has a backstory. You learn this story as you start and then the clock starts ticking down …. you have NO idea how that gets the adrenalin going!! The games we played all allowed us 3 free clues. And we used all 3 clues in each game 🙂

Did we escape? The first time we did – even though our room only had a 27% success rate. It was 3 of us and 4 strangers at 8:30am and let’s just admit it – we were AWESOME!

Escape Game

But not so awesome on the next two occasions … though both times we were solving the final clue when the time ran out, so we were super super close to escaping!

We enjoyed each experience – even when we failed. And each time we talked for hours about it. And told everyone we saw how cool it was.

Trapped Escape Game

We have discovered that you can find Escape Rooms in most cities around the world. They are pretty new in the US but springing up fast. Different franchises have different names but if you google “escape rooms + {your city}”, you will find them. Check the ratings on Tripadvisor or Yelp. All the ones we did have 5 stars.

We did this when we were in Florence and loved the one we played there. We were thrilled to not only get out in time, but do in the best time in the past 3 months! This one was much more high-tech than the others with some cool gadgets we got to use – and we had to perform science experiments to solve clues.

Escape games are a really fun activity to do as a family. And what better way to get kids using their minds during the vacation? Kids from 10 years old should enjoy themselves and be able to contribute. It’s definitely great for teens and my 15 year old daughter has proved herself a very valuable asset each time.

It is not a cheap activity – one reason for that is every room is monitored while you are in it – the clues they give you are tailored specially for you! All the ones we did also provided occasional hints (they provide them on screens or via walkie talkie). Doing one would make a great birthday activity or special vacation treat.

If you become addicted, look into getting the Escape Room Card. It costs $20 and gives discounts to an entire group – not that many games work with the card so check before you buy! But I think it would pay for itself even if you just use it once!

Here are links to the four we have done:

Escape Game Nashville – we did The Heist

Trapped Escape Game – we did Capone

Which Way Out – we did Casino Heist

Adventure Rooms – we did the Original Challenge


** Update: You can now buy Escape Game challenges on Amazon – ones you can do from the comfort of your home. I bought this one for my nieces and nephews who have done a number of Escape rooms and they give it the thumbs up!



So what are you waiting for? Go find one you can do this summer – then come back and tell us in the comments what it was like!


FundaFunda’s Online High School Geography Class for homeschoolers

Online high school geography class

As our world becomes more and more connected through the internet and the ability to travel easily, it is more and more important for students to understand the world they are part of. Fundafunda’s online high school Geography Class aims to help them do just that.

Many jobs have people all over the world working together on projects, many involve travel and many require interaction with other cultures.

All this means Geography is a very exciting and relevant subject to study – but all the excitement can so easily be destroyed by a dull text book and worksheets.

But you won’t find any of those in our online class! This course is intended for high school homeschoolers and after the completion of both semesters, they will have earned one full credit. Younger students may take it – but bear in mind the course load is high school level. And of course, non-homeschoolers can enroll too. Any students are welcome – but there will be about 4 hours work each week.

How will the content be delivered?

1. Video

Video allows students to actually “see” the place they are studying. They can hear the sounds and watch the people.

2. Research

Students will be assigned various topics to research – and their research will then be shared with their classmates in creative ways. They definitely won’t be completing worksheets! It is important that students are “active” learners. Benjamin Franklin said

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.

3. Websites

The websites won’t be ones that are just “textbook clones”. They might be games, or scavenger hunts, or Google earth! There are so many really engaging websites that take “experiencing” Geography to a whole new level. Webcams and 3D technology can help students feel like they are really there!

4. Interactions with locals

Students will each have a penpal in another country to interact with and I will also organize live video sessions with internationals (these will be recorded for those unable to attend live).

How will the students’ understanding of the work be assessed?

Our aim is to achieve a broad knowledge of world geography, and that students will retain much of this knowledge well after the class has ended. We are not huge fans of tests as a means of assessment but will rather use:

* Quizzes – these will be short and taken during or straight after instruction to check students are paying attention 🙂 They will be able to re-take them if they realized they had been daydreaming.

* Online games are a great way for students to learn where countries are, their capitals etc. Some of these have dashboards for teachers, but in other cases we will require a screenshot as proof of mastery

* Game creation – students will need to research and create games. And then, of course, they will play each other’s games.

* Presentation of their research – this will take different forms but will include short paragraphs, videos, posters, websites and itinerary planning.

The work will take students about 4 – 5 hours each week. They will be able to work anytime they want to – but there will be deadlines and they will have to keep up. On occasion, they will be working with classmates collaboratively and they will be doing peer assessments and interacting with each other in the virtual classroom. So it will be like a regular classroom – just online!

WARNING: Your children may enjoy this so much that they will be begging you to travel. Or maybe FundaFunda should just plan a round-the-world field trip for us all at the end of the course!

Ready to sign up? Visit us on FundaFunda Academy.

Feel free to leave questions in the comments.


Strategy Board Games for Kids and Teens

Strategy Board Games


My son-in-law, Josh Watson, loves strategy board games. And he plays them. A lot!  I don’t have the patience for most of them but some of my children love them and as I am sure many of your children do too,  I decided to interview him.

Meryl – How long have you been playing strategy board games?

Josh – About four or five years –  only seriously for one or two years.

Meryl – Apart from the fun, do you think this has any educational benefits?

Josh – Yes, although I would say that is not why I do it. I do it because I am interested in it. But I think there are a lot of things it has helped me out with. From some historical board games I have gained a sense of history; others have given me a mind for problem solving. There are some that teach you how to manage finances, which is a good skill to have. For instance,  in Age of Steam  you take out loans and try to pay back as little interest as possible on the loans,  and you repeat that process and try not to go bankrupt.

Meryl – If people wanted to get started in strategy games what game would you suggest?

Josh – Games like “Settlers of Catan” because it’s very popular and there are games like “Ticket to Ride” that are also popular. Those are the mainstream ones that are gaining in popularity.

Meryl – If somebody liked “Settlers of Catan”, what would you would suggest if they were ready to move on to the next stage and become a bit more “serious”?

Josh – Games like Puerto Rico, Carcassonne, Dominion, and El Grande.

Meryl – How long do most of them take to play?

Josh – It depends but for most of them you are looking at two to four hours at most.

Forbidden Desert Board Game

Meryl – Are there any shorter ones you can play?

Josh – Yes! Like Hanabi, and Kemet.  I would suggest going on boardgamegeek.com. It’s the number one board gaming website.  Take a look at their extensive list of top games – they have all sorts of genres. One that won the educational award is “Forbidden Desert

Meryl – Are there any that are suited to children, say upper elementary/middle school?

Josh – Yeah! I’d say “Forbidden Desert”.  I’d say there is a whole genre out there of kids’ games. You can even get people to play Werewolf which is kind of a version of “Mafia”. Games like Resistance, are a little lighter, more “party” game for the kids.

Forbidden Desert Board Game

Meryl – You mentioned earlier that some games gave you a feel for history. Can you mention a few of those?

Josh – One is Twilight Struggle. In fact, most strategy board games are rooted in history. Sekigahara is another. And games like Combat Commander are WWII history games. It depends on what you’re looking for. There are also ones like Manhattan Project. It’s a little more whimsical but still rooted in history.

Meryl– -The final question:  What is your top favorite? Why?

JoshWar of the Ring, it’s artistically beautiful and compelling in the game and replicates the book in a very real way. You are forced to make decisions that the characters in the book were forced to make and it feels real.


I am sure some of you have favorite strategy board games you play as a family. Please share in the comments.

Photo of Twilight Struggle used in main image is CC BY-SA 2.0 from Nacho Facello

What 90% of schools don’t teach – but should

The subject 90% of schools don't teachDo you know that 90% of schools in the US don’t teach computer programming? This statistic blows my mind, particularly in light of the fact that jobs requiring coding skills are growing at two times the national average and they are some of the highest paying jobs.

Less than 2.4% of college students graduate with a degree in Computer Science, and of those only 12% are women!  (Stats are from http://code.org/stats)

I am sure that one of the reasons so few take Computer Science courses at college is that they really don’t know what programming is all about, and many think it is something only geeks study.

And while the 39 000 students who took the AP Computer Science Exam in 2014 was an increase of 26% from the previous year, the number was still low compared to subjects like AP US History which had 460 000 students take it.

One of the reasons for the lack of teaching in schools is the lack of teachers who can code. “We need to train students today to have the skills that we don’t have,” says Ravi Gupta, founder of RePublic Charter Schools in Nashville in an article on marketplace.org. “But we don’t have enough people who have the skills to teach it .”

More and more people are realizing that something needs to be done to get children programming. Code.org has done a wonderful job with the annual Hour of Code and I have watched students write their first lines of code – and get so excited about what they have achieved.

England and Estonia have added programming to the elementary curriculum and Finland, Singapore and Italy are following suit in 2016 (article about it is here)

Tom Cortina, assistant dean at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science has this to say about why programming should be taught at school:

Early exposure brings benefits. When younger kids learn computer science, they learn that it’s not just a confusing, endless string of letters and numbers, but a tool to build apps, or create artwork, or test hypotheses. It’s not as hard for them to transform their thought processes as it is for older students. Breaking down problems into bite-sized chunks and using code to solve them becomes normal. Giving more children this training could increase the number of people interested in the field and help fill the jobs gap.

And Maria Klawe, President of Harvey Mudd College says

Coding is today’s language of creativity. All our children deserve a chance to become creators instead consumers of computer science.

So what can you do if your child is at a school that is one of the 90%? What can you do if you don’t know how to code?

Fortunately there are ways for students to fill in the gaps themselves. For the self motivated ones who don’t need much assistance there are free sites like codeacademy.com and khanacademy.org where students can work at their own pace.

For those who need more structure and someone to be there to answer questions, there are now a number of online courses they can enroll in. We have a $9.95 4 week one that just introduces the elements of game programming (design, graphics and logic) in a gentle fashion to students. And then we have 5 week (or full semester) classes in Scratch and Python which both focus on game creation which most students really enjoy doing.

And you will probably find your local university offers classes to school students in the summer as well. I know ours does.

But whatever you do, find a way for your children to learn to code. Even if they never become programmers, most jobs in the future will require at least an understanding of it. In addition, the critical thinking and problem solving skills learned along the way are invaluable.



A 21st Century Stocking Stuffer for Kids – an Online Programming Class

Stocking stuffer for kids

If you are looking for a unique stocking stuffer for a 4th – 12th grader this year, consider giving one of FundaFunda’s Online Intro to Game Programming Classes.

At $9.95 it is a really good price for a 4 week online class that is graded and where a student can earn a certificate on successful completion. (They can also finish with a $10 coupon off any of our other courses if they pass).

This class is intended for students who have never done any programming. It touches not only on program logic but also game design and game graphics – so it is a really good way to expose students to all those different aspects of video game creation.

Students do have to complete the class in the allotted time, but they have flexibility each day as to when they will go online to do their assignments.

The classes start the Monday after Christmas.

At the end of the course we ask students to complete a survey. Here’s why some of them said they would recommend it to others (I just cut and paste so you are getting EXACTLY what they entered).

i would recomend this course to my friends because it teaches a lot of really useful programming skills and it kind of changes the way you look at the computer after learning all of the things it teaches.

Because technology is one of the new languages. Many people should be able to learn a little bit of it.

Because it is super fun.

its a fun course and if someone wants to learn the basics its really simple and well done in this course

The class was fun and good to figure out if you really would be good at programming.


If you are giving this as a stocking stuffer – here is a graphic you can print off to put in the stocking.


Gifts Teachers will like – for under $5

Teacher gifts

  The last week of school is a fun time for teachers as their students shower them with gifts showing their appreciation. As I have been the fortunate recipient of many gifts over the years, I thought I would share some of my own feelings about what makes a “good” gift. Firstly, I know for me it really is “the thought that counts”. Handwritten notes from the students are very special. This year one wrote a note that  referenced a recent lesson and that made me smile. So parents, don’t stress too much about what you will get – but do encourage your kids to write the notes!


Secondly, there are lots of inexpensive things you can buy that will be appreciated. Most parents are buying for a number of teachers and teachers all know that so they aren’t expecting anything more than a small item. Here are some ideas:

1. Food

Target has a large range of beautifully packaged items that cost $5 or less. I can’t imagine anyone not appreciating these items.

Target Collage

The other option would be to bake your own food. This year I got very yummy chocolate chip cookies (they are long gone), peanut brittle and a variety of other homemade items.

2. Gift Cards

gift cards

Money is often tight for teachers so a gift card for $5 is a nice way for them to be able to spoil themselves with a treat. Any coffee shop (is a great idea – Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts etc). Ice cream / frozen yoghurt stores are another nice place to get gift cards from. And Amazon and iTunes of course as you can get ebooks and movies and apps for under $5.

3. Seasonal items


Tree ornaments can serve as a nice reminder of the student for years to come. These can be bought or handmade.

If you come from another country then something from that countries traditions is cool. Last year my daughter gave her teachers Christmas Crackers as every South African family would have those at their Christmas dinner tables.



4. Interesting hand made items

One of the nicest things I received a few years ago was a personalized hand soap in a dispenser. I found this blog post which explains how to make these. The photo is from that post.

Pinterest will have many more ideas.



5. Plants

I must admit that most of the plants I receive die within a month, but I am sure most people do a better job at looking after them. I even managed to kill a mini cactus. But herbs and small plants aren’t expensive and are pretty as well as functional.

You can pick them up in grocery stores – but you can also order online at stores like Amazon.


Any more ideas? Please share them in the comments.

Knot So Fast Review

Knot so fast game

If you are looking for something a little different to give as a gift to a middle or high schooler, Knot So Fast is worth considering.

Thinkfun has come up with something that has been around for ages (literally!) – knot tying – and turned it into a game.

The kit comes with a piece of rope, a ring – which is needed for some of the knots, and an instruction booklet.


There are 40 challenges, and of course they start easy and end up super-complicated.

A diagram shows what the knot looks like – and the person playing has to study it carefully and figure out exactly how to twist and turn the rope to achieve that. Fun facts on each page give more information about the knot and how it is usually used.


Knot So Fast has been designed as a single player game, but you could turn it into a multiplayer game by buying more rope and rings. If you did that – players could race to see who was first to create the knot correctly. Or if you only had the kit as is, you could time the players as each created the knot and see who could do it the quickest.

I like this little game because it not only exercises the mind but also teaches a useful skill. Because it is small and compact it is easy to take on vacation and even to do on long road trips.

Please note: the links in this post are Affiliate Links – that means I make a small amount but you don’t pay anything extra.

I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Tomoson.com. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

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