Academic Writing Creative Writing

Tips and Resources for Young Writers at Any Age

ActivityHero shares the insights of writing professionals who work with kindergarteners through high schoolers. With these tips, parents can help support kids’ writing goals.

By Wendy Chou

Writing is a key life skill that engages and empowers kids–and is highly correlated with overall academic success. ActivityHero talked with professionals from two writing programs to learn their favorite tips. We also list online resources that will appeal to today’s tech-savvy kids, ‘tweens, and teens.

Tips for Elementary School Writers (Age 6-8) 

1. Have some fun

Darrell Dela Cruz, of Cupertino’s Communication Academy, recommends playing word-centered games to boost knowledge of words and definitions. Some examples are Mad Libs, Boggle, Scrabble, and Bananagrams.

2. Be a role model

Remind kids that writing matters in daily life. Adventures In Writing (AIW) Camp co-founder Jen Hartvickson tells parents: “Write lists, write thank you notes, write letters. When they see you writing, they will do what you do!” 

3. Check out these resources for elementary school writers

  • Storybird is an online forum that allows kids to create and share their own books or to read from the free online library.
  • Three Good Things – A Happiness Journal is a free app promoting a simple and positive message.
  • Krakeln is a friendly vocabulary-building app suitable for even young users.
  • Orange Street News  is a newspaper created by Hilde Lysiak (with her dad’s assistance) when she was just 7 years old and is the inspiration for her own book series.

Tips for Tweens (age 9-12)

1. Practice, practice, practice.

All the experts we consulted agreed that practice leads to writing improvement. Journaling and writing to pen pals can encourage regular writing habits. Jen Hartvickson also finds that tweens are more motivated when given free rein to choose their own topic.

2. Read widely, then discuss.  

AIW Camp Co-founder Hans Hartvickson sees value in parents and kids reading books together, then talking about “what worked” for them and why.

3. Try a song.

Hans Hartvickson suggests songs help teach writing traits and are fun too. AIW Camp has published many songs on YouTube.

> > Find writing camps & classes near you

4. Check out these resources for tweens

  • Stone Soup Magazine is a high-quality literary publication (in print and online) by and for kids.  
  • Youngzine presents current events for a school-aged audience and accepts kids’ submissions of articles and book reviews.
  • has featured kids’ works since 1995 (requires small fee to publish).
  • Brainstorm great reads with blogs like Brightly which lists dozens of titles sorted by age and genre.

Tips for Teens (age 13+)

1. Experiment with styles.

Take chances and try out new styles and content. Teens are starting to develop their unique voice.

2. The more practice, the better!

Consider entering contests at libraries and at school. Don’t stop there: find open mic events and poetry slams. Teens may enjoy blogging about a particular hobby and developing an audience. Many sites host blogs for free. 

3. Find online networking sites devoted to teens

Online writing communities allow teens to network and seek advice from other writers. Here are 4 recommendations:

  • Underlined is a teen-centered website that provides opportunities for collaboration and feedback.
  • Wattpad is the largest and most visible online reading and writing platform, giving it the nickname of “YouTube of writing”.
    Teen Ink hosts writing submissions by teens, including essays, articles, fiction and poetry. Teens can also contribute their art and photography.
  • Power Poetry is the largest online community for teens interested in poetry.

Final words of advice: Lighten Up!

According to Dela Cruz, parents shouldn’t make writing feel like a chore or something with a clearly defined “right or wrong answer”. The Hartvicksons believe kids need reassurance that mistakes and editing are to be expected along the way. Most of all, our experts all agreed that parents should provide fair and constructive feedback to kids. A “Goldilocks” balance means avoiding unrealistic over-praising, while also refraining from giving only negative comments, which can be demoralizing for kids. 

> > Find writing camps & classes near you

Community Service

18 Seasons to Harvest Compassion

Help your family grow compassion with inspiration from Warren Buffett’s family and Lion’s Heart, a teen service organization.

by Amy von Kaenel

Warren Buffett, the fourth wealthiest man in the world, shocked families when he announced his inheritance plan. He is donating 99% of his wealth to philanthropy, leaving just “enough to do something, not so much that you can do nothing” to his children.

His oldest son, Howard, is passionate about farming innovation, especially where it affects widespread famine. He is the author of 40 Chances, and talks about a limitation we all face when trying to make a positive social impact – time.

“All farmers can expect to have about 40 growing seasons, giving them just 40 chances to improve on every harvest. This applies to all of us, however, because we all have about 40 productive years to do the best job we can, whatever our passions or goals may be,” Howard Buffett writes on his website.

As parents, we only have 18 seasons to sow the seeds of compassion in our children.

Teen volunteers in a community garden for families facing food insecurity

There’s a lot we can learn from farmers when thinking about how we harvest compassion in our children. Here are a few lessons from the farm worth sharing:

Try to see the end-goal, then work backward. There’s a different skill to growing carrots versus berries. Likewise, you’ll need a different plan if you’re trying to save the whales or tackle food shortages. It’s a great conversation starter to ask how your kids see themselves helping others. Look for non-profits that offer teachable moments around your family’s value system. Parks and trails give those who love physical labor and the environment lots of exposure to both. Food pantries offer eye-opening interaction with people of all ages facing food shortages. Priorities and interests may change as your children grow.

Play “what if”: As a wanna-be gardener, I’m guessing that when I throw seeds, dirt, soil amendments, and water together, something will grow. I don’t know how well it will grow. I’m not sure if every seed will sprout, but I’m willing to experiment. Volunteering is the same way. With 1.5M non-profits in the US alone, it’s near impossible to know which causes will be important to your family.

Consistency: The fall harvest also ushers in the peak time for community service. At the teen volunteer organization I work for, Lion’s Heart, teen volunteer opportunity inquiries spike during the holidays. Non-profits are happy to have the help during these peaks, but work hard year round to sustain the contributions of labor and donations through the rest of the year.

Reflect and revise: After you have a few community experiences under your belt, look for green shoots. Check in with your kids asking about their favorite and least favorite moments. If it’s mostly positive, forge a deeper commitment to the charity, keeping in mind the tasks that fulfill your child. If your child seems uninspired, avoid imposing more of the same and find new opportunities. It may be tempting to go into parent mode and stress personal responsibility. But when it comes to inspiring compassion, a lighter touch is better.

Share the load: After 18 seasons, the next generation will have to tend to and harvest their own communities. What better time than the formidable learning years to teach teens how to face societal challenges together? And when it involves socializing, it’s an easy sell. Ironically the teen that masterfully avoids chores is often the hardest worker at a food pantry. Call it positive peer pressure, a sense of group purpose, or just another mystery of parenting – but it works.

Get more information about Lion’s Heart or join a local group.


Preparing for elementary school tours and open house

Get the most out of your school tour or open house with these tips from education experts and parents

You’ll find a lot of private schools offering open houses and tours in October and November. Even though the school year just started, the admissions process for private and independent schools starts in the fall.

First, consider the differences between a school tour and open house.

A tour is typically held during a regular school day, and you can see the school and classrooms while they are in session. During your visit, you will get a personalized tour of the campus grounds and answers to all of your most pressing questions. Group tours may be offered on specific days of the week, or you can call the school to schedule a convenient time for a personal tour. Tours will usually have limited capacity. For example, Stratford Schools in the SF Bay Area and Los Angeles limits the tour to two families per tour, and you need to book it ahead of time. If you want your child to see the school, ask if the tour is family friendly.

An open house is usually on a weekend or evening, not during a school day. You can see classrooms, facilities, take a self-guided tour of the campus and chat with staff and administration. Open Houses are typically family friendly and you are encouraged to bring your child and other family members. There are usually just a few open house dates each year. You may not have to RSVP or sign up for an open house in advance, but many schools such as Stratford Schools have a simple way to sign up on their website or on ActivityHero.

As for what to look for or ask during the tour or open house, GreatSchools has a very helpful and comprehensive list of questions to ask during a school visit. If you are just beginning your school search, take a look at their top 10 questions to guide your thought process.

Other parents may also give you advice on what to look for. The Resourceful Parent suggests you consider whether the school’s motto fits with your family priorities and values in the article “Choosing a School: The Not So Obvious Questions You Need To Ask.”

To compare schools and get a better understanding of what’s a better fit for your family, visit more than one school. While private and independent schools offer more tours and open houses, some public schools may offer a tour for incoming families or allow you to attend their Open House in the spring.

If you’re collecting data points far in advance, you can also get to know the campus and some of the teachers by attending a summer program at the school. Most private schools allow all students to enroll in their summer camp or summer academic program.


5 Tips That Helped Me Succeed in High School ~

High school can be stressful! Here, a recent grad shares 5 practical tips helped her define high school success and achieve meaningful goals.

by Madison Lee

Math Homework with Pencil and Books

For most kids and their families, high school is intimidating. Kids suddenly have to start managing their schoolwork, activities, sleep, and social lives, and families want to push kids do their best without stressing them out — it’s a balancing act for everyone. As a recent high school graduate myself (Aragon High School class of 2016!), I can honesty say that I felt the same way, but today I am lucky enough to go to MIT, my dream school! I empathize with kids who feel the enormous pressure to succeed during their four years. But what is “success” in high school, and how can you help kids get there?

I remember once during junior year, I was stressing about what I would put on my college applications and came across an eye-opening MIT blog post called “Applying Sideways.” Essentially, the author advises high schoolers to study hard, be nice people, and pursue their passions, not with the goal of getting into a top college, but because they want to be good people. The idea is that these students will grow into smart, kind, passionate people, regardless of where they end up, which is what real success is. Perfect grades or Harvard acceptances are definitely exciting, but they should be side effects (hence the title “Applying Sideways”) of the student’s life.

I think that families should encourage kids to live this way: study, be nice to others, and do what they love. Here, I’ve thought of 5 tips that helped me work towards these goals in high school; hopefully, they will help your kids too!

1. Actively use a planner everyday

School planner and pen

I found that organizing my work with a planner or notebook was one of the best ways for me to stay on top of my schoolwork in high school. I always had two sections going in my planners: weekly, I would write every assignment I had with its due date, and daily, I would write down what parts of each assignment I wanted to accomplish and check them off as I went. It might sound like a lot, but writing your work down everyday quickly becomes habit. This tip helped (and continues to help) me enormously; when I’m always reminding myself of the work I have to do, I don’t forget about assignments. This ultimately relieves the Thursday night panic that a lot of students experience when suddenly they remember that a huge project is due the next day. In the end, using a planner puts me in the best position to finish all my work on time without stressing myself out. While I prefer written planners and notebooks, I also enjoy using Momentum, the productivity Chrome extension. I like that Momentum has a to-do list and a “main focus” for the day which is similar to how I like to organize my planners, but physically writing things down typically helps them stick in my mind better.

2. Take responsibility for topics you don’t understand

Student getting help from tutor in library

We’ve all been there: a topic doesn’t make sense and you just can’t bring yourself to care, so you move on and hope it’s not on the test. However, when something doesn’t come easily, we shouldn’t avoid it. Today, more than ever, there are endless resources to help with schoolwork — teachers, the internet, Khan Academy, Youtube, and more. For common classes and tests, there are tutoring services at schools or from private companies like Kumon and AJ Tutoring. Turning towards the confusing aspects of academics not only helped me learn more, but I also developed skills in studying and being resourceful. I know that it can be hard to be disciplined all the time, so I’m thankful that my parents encouraged me to take challenging courses and be diligent with my studies. It helped me to have parents who consistently reassured me that I could learn these difficult topics.

3. Find an outlet and schedule it regularly

High School Volleyball Match In Gymnasium

Whether it’s sports, clubs, leadership, or community events, I’ve found that having a non-academic activity I enjoy (check out ActivityHero to find classes!) really contributed to my success in achieving the three goals from “Applying Sideways.” Extracurriculars have been proven to better students’ academic performance, help kids meet new friends and be part of a community, and let students do things that they love to do. I played volleyball, which allowed me to take my mind off of school and do something I fully loved. I strongly believe that students should have some sort of mental or physical outlet that they commit to doing regularly, almost as if it were another class. It’s the stuff that you genuinely like to do that makes you happy and makes you who you are; the side effect is that colleges will be able to see your passion.

4. Build strong, positive friendships

Three friends stand looking at panorama on mountain

Another important part of high school is spending time with the people you care about. This contributes to the goal of growing as a good, kind person. The friends I made in high school are invaluable because they supported me and shared memories with me while unknowingly teaching me about what it means to be a good friend and a loving person.

When I was in high school, I carved out a specific time every week to socialize with friends: Friday after school. On other days, we’d use Instagram to connect and make plans for our Fridays — to share photos of places we could hike, new restaurants we wanted to check out, or just to share silly things that made us all laugh. Even if I only spent 15 minutes a day on Instagram, it gave me a genuine sense of connection with my friends, and tons to talk about and do together when we met on Fridays.

5. Take care of yourself — sleep!

Woman using a smart phone on the bed

I can see how trying to stay ahead on studying, participate in extracurriculars, and spend time with friends is extremely overwhelming. A lot of my friends, in their efforts to do everything all the time, forgot to do basic things to care for themselves. This tip may not specifically fit in with any of the three goals, but if kids fail to maintain their health, then none of the goals can be accomplished. We still have to eat enough healthy foods, exercise or maybe meditate, and have good sleep schedules.

In my opinion, sleeping is the most difficult one to tackle for high schoolers; it took me some time to get it down, but there’s a couple of things I do to help. Everyone knows it disrupts your sleep cycles to look at your electronics before bed, but most kids (including me) aren’t willing to stop using Snapchat or scrolling through Twitter as they lay in bed at night. When I’m doing this, I put my phone on “Night Shift” mode, so the screen is tinted more red than blue (the blue light is what disturbs your REM cycles). For my computer, I have f.lux, which automatically changes the tint of the screen from blue to red depending on the time of day. This is much easier on the eyes, and it’s healthier for my sleep cycles.

If I’m trying to fall asleep and can’t, some great resources are Calm and Headspace. They are aimed at relaxing the mind so I can get the rest I need for school or sports. Since most of us are addicted to our electronics anyways, taking advantage of the many assistive apps and websites can help us get to bed at a reasonable hour.

These tips made my time in high school a little more manageable and a lot more fun — I hope they help your kids grow into better versions of themselves, too.

If you want to get started, you can find more help with your academics, a sport you love, or fun things to do with friends on ActivityHero!

Math Mindfulness Yoga

Expert Tips to Ease the Back-to-School Transition ~

Don’t just muddle through the first weeks of school. Use these clever strategies from after-school teachers to help kids (and you) hit the ground running!

By Laura Quaglio

back to school

The first weeks of school loom with equal parts excitement and trepidation. Even though it’s a relief to return to the predictability of the school calendar, it’s tough not to dread the free-form anxiety that can accompany any type of change. Did you get the right binders? Will they have friends in their class? Will they like their teachers … will you? And how exactly did you manage to cram homework, after school activities (even their favorites), bathtime, and books into an evening with an earlier bedtime? Until the rhythm of the new school year is firmly established, you’ve got a recipe for general crankiness at home. It’s understandable. Expected, even. But does it have to be this way? Maybe a little. But that doesn’t mean we can’t try to make the switch more smoothly.

“Any time you start a new routine or transition to something new, it can bring up fear, anxiety, worry … whatever word you want to use,” says Michelle Wing, founder of the San Francisco studio It’s Yoga, Kids, located in the Presidio. “This happens for kids especially, but also for parents.”

After school program directors like Michelle have some unique insights into helping kids switch gears, adjust to newness, and cultivate a positive attitude. That’s why we asked her to offer some advice on using the ancient practices of yoga and mindfulness to help kids gear up for school, settle down at bedtime, and generally de-stress. We also talked to Emily McCullough, director at San Francisco Math Circle at CSME at SFSU, about her ideas for rekindling kids’ enthusiasm for learning and their excitement for the activities (after school and otherwise) that will make their coming year great.

Find after school classes near you >>

Back-to-School Tip #1: Use Yoga to Settle Body and Mind

“Yoga engages your brain, your body, and your heart,” says Michelle. That’s why it’s particularly useful in helping people deal with strong emotions and stressful thoughts. Here are a few ways she suggests using it to ease the transition to back to school.

To settle down before bed: Aerobic exercise helps burn off excess energy when kids are having difficulty calming down and falling asleep. Michelle suggests Yoga Jacks (jumping from the Mountain Pose to the Star Pose quickly, like jumping jacks). Have kids do 10 at a time until they’re tired.

Another of her favorites is Mountain Climbers (hands on floor and “running” by alternating knees to chest). Michelle follows these mini aerobic sessions with some peaceful reading time before lights-out.

To relieve stress: Breathing-based exercises are a good fit here. First, spend some time in the Astronaut Pose (lay on floor with legs up the wall and hands on belly, noticing the belly rise and fall with each breath). Just 5 minutes or so may be enough to help them relax.

Also teach kids the Lion’s Breath. This means taking a big, huge inhalation while making the eyes really big, then exhaling fiercely while sticking out the tongue to the chin (resembling a panting dog). Repeat 3 times.

To wake up in the morning: To wake up in the morning: Before getting out of bed, parents can try Body Drumming, in which they tap every part of the child’s body, from the toes to the top of the head, to wake up the body and mind.

Next, they can take a Giant Breath, laying on the back with arms extended overhead, stretching the body from fingers to toes, as though you’re trying to touch opposite walls. Wiggle the fingers and toes, then roll to the side and place the feet on the floor to stand up. Then go brush those teeth!

Find kids’ yoga classes near you >>

Back-to-School Tip #2: Rekindle Kids’ Excitement for School

Emily McCullough, director at San Francisco Math Circle at CSME at SFSU says that the best way to prepare kids to “get back in the game” of learning is to engage their emotions. “Get them excited about the social aspects of learning,” she suggests. When school is in session, they’ll be able to reconnect with friends they didn’t see much in summer, and they can return to fall sports or after school programs that didn’t make it into their summer plans. “Getting kids excited about attending fun after school programs will likely make the back-to-school transition easier,” she says. Ask them what they’re looking forward to in the coming months – or what new activities they hope to try in autumn.

Also reminisce about academic successes from their previous grades. “Remind your students of the fun they had working hard and being challenged,” says Emily. Did they have a History Day project they were proud of? Maybe they created a fun music video about the water cycle for their science class. Think, too, about the upcoming school subjects that might pique their interest. If they love spatial activities like building or drawing, for instance, an upcoming year of geometry may be something to look forward to.

Back-to-School Tip #3: Start Hitting the Books — Informally

To get kids’ intellectual juices flowing, pay a visit to the library or bookstore. “Check out the books on math games and puzzles,” suggests Emily. Or books with fun and innovative approaches to whatever subjects they enjoy.

Don’t worry too much about workbooks or textbook review right now, she adds. “The procedural fluency and conceptual understanding will naturally come back with practice, and they will get plenty of that when they return to school,” explains Emily. “It’s excitement and interest that we need to cultivate.”

happy girl going back to school
Copyright: maximkabb / 123RF Stock Photo

Back-to-School Tip #4: Look into Enrichment Programs

If your student can’t get enough of math or enjoys playing with numbers, puzzles, and patterns in their free time, they might enjoy a program like the “math outreach and enrichment program” offered at San Francisco Math Circle. “We provide rich mathematical content in an engaging context, as well as much encouragement,” says Emily. “The students must bring the rest — energy, interest, and an openness to try new things.”

She adds that an enrichment program might be a great fit for students who once enjoyed a particular subject but now seem bored or frustrated by it. Maybe they aren’t challenged enough at school, or perhaps they had a negative experience in that subject with a particular teacher. You may be able to reignite your student’s love of an “old favorite” subject matter through after school enrichment.

See a list of after school activities near you >>

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17 Movies, Books & More About School

Whatever their thoughts on school, kids identify with these books, movies, apps, and TV shows about students learning life lessons in the classroom.

By the Kids’ Media Experts at SmartFeed

Education has long been a popular setting in mainstream media, both for inspiration and for entertainment. It has introduced us to famous teachers (Mr. Kotter, Mrs. Frizzle), famous schools (Ridgemont High, Rushmore, Wayside School, Hogwarts), and famous school-centric stories and shows (Wonder, South Park, Saved by the Bell). In each case, we watch with excitement, empathy, or humor, based on our own set of school experiences. And sometimes we get to relish the experience of seeing school (and the learning process) in a whole new light.

See a list of academic classes near you > >

Find a tutor > >

Here, we have gathered a list of titles for families who want some academic role models or lessons for their children, as well as a couple selections that simply offer a little scholastic comic relief. Reflecting a broad mix of real-life and fictional stories, the listings here prove that there are many different ways to learn and many different ways to teach.

Great Books with a Schoolroom Setting

The Year of Miss Agnes book coverThe Year of Miss Agnes
Ages 6+
Schoolteachers don’t usually last very long at this one-room schoolhouse in Alaska. Miss Agnes is different. Not only does she stick around for a year, she also makes learning relatable and enjoyable to the citizens of the remote village.



Frindle Book CoverFrindle
Ages 8+
Adventures in vocabulary are in play in this story. A boy creates a new word for an ordinary object, and his creation catches on, much to the chagrin of his teacher and parents!



princess-academy-coverPrincess Academy
Ages 10+
Strong community and deep friendships form in this fantasy novel. Love of words and learning propel the heroine to become an invaluable resource within her community.



An App for Kids’ Academic Enrichment


Wizard School

Ages 7+
This creative app taps into the user’s imagination and enthusiasm in true 21st century fashion. Videos, photos, drawings, and inventive challenges combine to inspire learning.


Kids’ Movies with Inspiring Academic Role Models

Akeelah and the Bee
Ages 7+
A girl’s journey to a big spelling bee is supported by her community. At times she struggles to embrace her own intelligence and worth.





Ages 9+
This documentary follows several competitors for the National Spelling Bee. Hard work, family, and big dreams are part of the equation that helps get these kids on the big stage.


On the Way to School

Ages 9+
Most Americans have a simple way to get to school; a short walk, bike ride, or trip in a car or bus will get us there. For other kids around the world, it’s not easy, or comfortable, but it’s worth it because they desperately want an education.


the-miracle-workerThe Miracle Worker
Ages 9+
The story of Helen Keller and her teacher is beyond inspiring. Helen has no understanding of language or of interacting normally with family members. Through ingenuity, perseverance and patience, teacher Annie Sullivan opens up the world of words and language to her student. Annie is a testament to all teachers’ hard work. A must-see.


Ages 10+
Determination and hard work are the life lessons strongly represented by the main character in this fine film. With the help of a kindly teacher, teammates and friends, the underdog Rudy fulfills his life’s dream. Definitely best for tweens and older, due to language, a death and sports violence.


See a list of academic classes near you > >

Find a tutor > >

TV for Kids’ Academic Inspiration and Fun

Little House on the Prairie
Ages 7+
The one-room schoolhouse in this beloved series is not the only location where education takes place. Pioneer children living on a farm learn a variety of practical tasks and life skills every day. History and geography are natural discussion topics when watching as a family.


Ages 8+
Exhibiting a strong level of curiosity, the crew of Mythbusters sets out in each episode to prove an idea, sometimes an urban legend, sometimes an idiom like “a bull in a china shop.” There are often explosions, items being thrown into walls, or things launched skyward, all in the name of science and discovery.


More Mature TV and Movies About Academics

These titles have more mature themes and language, so they’re recommended for older teen audiences.

dream-schoolDream School
Ages 14+
The mission at this school is to inspire and encourage teens at risk of dropping out. Celebrity mentors and teachers have their work cut out for them. Be aware: Strong language and personal circumstances mean this is best for teens and older.

Dead Poets Society

Ages 14+
This classic is an inspiring coming-of-age story that celebrates creativity and a free spirit. There are mature themes and activities, so this is best for older tweens and teens.


Good Will Hunting

Ages 14+ (rated R)
This Academy Award winner demonstrates that academics can open doors for people from all classes (e.g., a working-class Boston youth), but you have to believe in yourself and want to walk through those new doors.


Freedom Writers

Ages 13+
An idealistic high school teacher discovers the way to connect with her students is to help find their similarities. Her emphasis on really listening to her students is notable. The hip-hop soundtrack will appeal to teen viewers.



Stand and Deliver
Ages 13+
Sacrifice and hard work are front-and-center in this inspiring movie. It is based on the story of a real math teacher who went to extreme lengths to teach his kids math, and eventually AP Calculus. The students struggle with life issues outside of school, but while in school they become driven and engaged. Real-life scenes can be rough, and the language is questionable at times, but relevant to the movie.



To Sir, With Love
Ages 13+
This classic is another inspired teacher tale. Real-life issues such as class and race are addressed, while the teacher works hard to connect with and discipline his students so that they are ready and able to learn.


See a list of academic classes near you > >

Find a tutor > >

Academics Reading

4 Tips To Beat Summer Brain Drain

Research shows that summer brain drain is real — kids can fall behind academically during the long summer vacation. Here, 4 practical tips that can help.

By Jillian Chamberlain

Child reading in library in the summer

It’s the time of year that teachers both look forward to and dread: summer vacation. Don’t let their sad smiles fool you, many teachers are just as excited for the break from the vigorous routine as the kids.

But deep down they know what’s going to happen to all the time and attention that they’ve given to their students. According to Marra DeGraff,’s Personalized Learning Ambassador, “Recent studies have concluded that students show little or no academic growth over summer and at worst may lose one to three months of learning – with the greatest loss in Math.”

 >> Find an Academic Camp or Class

A growing number of schools are giving students summer homework, taking a cue from Asian countries, where summer is not a two-month break from school but two months of mandatory school-at-home whereby teachers give piles of workbooks that kids need to finish by the start of the next semester. Even if your child’s school isn’t assigning extra worksheets or reading lists to help kids better retain their knowledge, there are four things that you can do this summer to help your kids return to school in the fall with the same level–or even more!–of knowledge that they left with in June.

Read, Read, Read!

beat summer brain drain

Reading is a terrific way to keep kids’ minds engaged. If they’re avid readers, they’re probably already looking forward to the quiet days of summer reading.

And if they’re not excited about reading? Remember that a little reading is better than none, and try some of these tips to help boost their enthusiasm:

  • Choose books that match their reading level. Make a book list, or ask the children’s current or future teacher for a list so that the kids are reading quality books that are age appropriate.
  • Create a special space. Set up a reading nook and have snack and reading time each afternoon. Even if they’re a little too old for picture books, try to join them during this reading time, if your schedule allows. Pick up a novel or a magazine (but maybe not your phone), and you’ll not only keep them company, you’ll demonstrate for them just how relaxing it can be to immerse yourself in great reading on a long summer afternoon.
  • Join a community reading program. Most local libraries offer summer reading programs, often with milestones and prizes to help make reading more fun.
  • Make a game of it. Try this summer bingo idea from Pre-K Pages. Print off a copy or get inspired and create personalized bingo sheets for each child.

Find an Academic Summer Camp

A week or two of an academic summer camp can let your child go deeper into the subjects they like, or discover something new to love. One SF Bay Area parent recently raved about a math camp and explained “my daughter, 14, hates school math. She likes puzzles… I was looking for a different kind of logic camp and Mathletes was the jackpot.”

A parent in Atlanta had similar comments about Discover Science Center, “My 6 year old had so much fun playing and doing experiments. She loved bringing home her final results and the lab journal they created and used to document their findings. She honestly didn’t even know she was learning.”

Popular academic camps include math, writing, science, STEM or STEAM and foreign languages such as Spanish, French or Mandarin Chinese.

>> Find an Academic Class or Camp

Make Use of Online Learning Programs


Kids can challenge themselves with a number of academic websites. Two to consider:

  • GiftedandTalented uses a combination of multimedia instruction and automated assessment of student work to personalize each student’s experience. In just 20 minutes, 3 times a week from home, kids can not only retain but also advance in math over the summer. They also have reading comprehension and writing courses. Get a 10% discount with code: LEVELUP.
  • Khan Academy is another popular resource that offers free video lessons in math, biology, art history, computer programing and more. Your kids can get extra help in areas where they’re weak and need to get ahead or branch out and study something new that intrigues them.

Take Educational Outings

Along with the traditional summer outings to state fairs, water parks, and roller coasters, fit in a few educational trips to keep your child’s mind active and the curiosity flowing all summer long. Start with the local art, science, and history museums, but don’t stop there. Have you always wondered how farms operate, how potato chips are made or what it was like to live 100 years ago? This is the perfect opportunity to plan outings to local places where your kids can get answers to the many questions that they have.



Guest Posts Preschool

14 Books, Movies & Apps That Teach Toddlers About Friendship

Toddlers learn how to be a good friend by watching and imitating others. They’ll find an assortment of positive examples in these books, shows, and more.

By the Kids’ Media Experts at SmartFeed

When you’re ready for your preschooler to unwind with a show, movie, book, or app, why not share some positive media that can help them foster better face-to-face relationships with their peers? The following friendship-themed choices show youngsters how friends interact, centering on themes like sharing, teamwork, inclusion, and generosity. Whether the best friend in these stories is a duck, a pirate, a dump truck, or a ballerina, these worthwhile role models will be a big hit with your kids.

Books That Teach Toddlers About Friendship

Little Blue TruckLittle Blue Truck
Ages 2+
This fun story will appeal to most toddlers, starting with the first pages filled with truck sounds and animal noises. The title character is kind and generous so he has plenty of friends to help when he gets in a bit of a mess. Everyone needs friends … even a little blue truck.

Sandwich SwapThe Sandwich Swap
Ages 3+
A fight over “whose sandwich is better” comes between two best friends. This story is about much more than a sandwich, of course. It addresses differences, tolerance, and the importance of friends.


Frog and ToadFrog and Toad Are Friends
Ages 4+
Frog and Toad are the best of friends. They have different temperaments and opinions, but they always respect each other and are excellent role models for how friends should treat each other.



Little ElliotLittle Elliot, Big City
Ages 4+
Beautifully illustrated, this book tells the story of Elliot, a lonely elephant in the big city. Finding a friend and doing things together makes everything right in Elliot’s world.

Shop for toddler programs > >

Apps That Teach Toddlers About Friendship

Sago MiniSago Mini Friends
Ages 2+
Virtual playdates are a fun activity in this app. Numerous activities and a variety of different friends make for lots of choices. Fine motor skills get a workout during game play.


DoraDora’s Enchanted Forest Adventures
Ages 4+
This interactive book tells a sweet story of kindness and friendship. There are some Spanish words to learn, and a sticker page at the end adds some interactive fun.


Movies That Teach Toddlers About Friendship

AngelinaAngelina Ballerina: Dreams Do Come True
Ages 3+
Angelina Ballerina has big dreams. When she has a chance to realize one of them, she has to decide — with the help of her family and friends — what to do. Enhanced by music and positive characters, this movie is sure to charm.


JakeJake and the Never Land Pirates: Jake Saves Bucky
Ages 3+
This feature-length movie (based on the popular TV show) is a great adventure for preschoolers. Jake and his crew work together and problem-solve to save a dear friend. Kids are engaged when Jake speaks directly to viewers and involves them in the quest.


Lost and FoundLost and Found
Ages 3+
In this gentle and colorful film, a young boy finds a penguin on his doorstep. In their journey together back to the penguin’s home, they find a way to communicate and become true friends.



Ruby’s StudioRuby’s Studio: The Friendship Show
Ages 4+
Using music, animation, and a friendly cast, this show is truly effective at discussing the ups and downs of friendship for young children. From starting a conversation … to finding common interests … to coping with a mean friend, all topics are thoughtfully covered. Parents can also tune in to gather ideas for further discussion.

Shop for toddler programs > >

TV Shows That Teach Toddlers About Friendship

Sarah DuckSarah & Duck
Ages 2+
This sweet animated series follows Sarah and Duck as they explore their neighborhood with curiosity and enthusiasm. The duo is always learning new things, with counting and picture identification as other positive aspects of this series.

Stinky DirtyThe Stinky & Dirty Show
Ages 3+
Based on the book series by Jim and Kate McMullan, Stinky and Dirty are best friends who use creativity and teamwork to solve problems.



Tumble LeafTumble Leaf
Ages 3+
Simple science concepts are explored in this fun animated series. Animal friends make up the cast, and they work together to learn and share with each other.


Ages 4+
There’s a reason this show is currently in its 19th season. Arthur and his friends and family experience true-to-life scenarios and work through social and emotional issues in thoughtful ways. A true classic that all ages will enjoy.

Academic Writing Gifted Math Public Speaking Reading Test Prep Tutoring

When Kids Aren’t Getting What They Need at School

Want homework help? Solid study skills? Better test scores? Here, experts offer insights to help you find the right academic programs for your kids.

By Laura Quaglio

child who wants academic help
You’re diligent about driving your kids to soccer practice and piano lessons. But now that midterm grades are drifting in, you might be wondering if it’s time to consider adding academic enrichment to that list of after school activities. Not surprisingly, the educators we interviewed for this article offer a simple answer: Yes! But their reasons — and the added perks of after school academic classes, tutoring sessions, and camps — might help you decide to make the leap this year.

For starters, kids everywhere can benefit from being immersed in a supportive environment where they will have their individual needs addressed and met. Just look at how much colleges “sell” their small student-teacher ratios, and you’ll see how appealing it might be for your child to be one of, say, 10 students, instead of 30 or more kids vying for a teacher’s attention.

See a list of academic classes near you > >

Find a tutor > >

Also, as parents, we know that practice equals progress. It’s why we invest in soccer camp and piano lessons. And though our kids “could” practice penalty shots and major scales on their own at home, or we “could” do that with them, chances are it’s not going to happen. And if it does, it may not be pretty.

The big difference between choosing an academic enrichment program (instead of enrolling kids in sports or the arts) is that many of us don’t know where to begin or what questions to ask. Because we know how vital our kids’ minds are, we’re afraid to foray into this area at all. Before we can sell our kids on the idea, we need to have confidence in our decision.

For some expert guidance, we turned to three experts for their insights into the different types of academic classes, camps, and tutors available to kids:

  • Darrell Dela Cruz, the education coordinator of Communication Academy in Cupertino, California, whose goal is to help students develop confidence in their communication skills, which can help them be more confident and successful in all aspects of their lives
  • Abby Hunt, director of brand and communications at Wyzant, the nation’s largest online market site for finding tutors and coaches for learners of all ages
  • Winnie Wong, PhD, founder and director of instruction at EDNova Academy, in San Mateo, California, which aims to inspire, guide, and nurture the next generation STEM leaders and empower students with knowledge so they can choose who they want to be

Before we get to the questions you might want to ask of any academic program, let’s take a quick look at some of the main differences between tutors, camps, and classes.

Tutors, Classes, and Camps: Some Key Points

Each of these types of academic enrichment offers its own unique benefits. “If you need help in a very specific subject, you’re not always going to find a tutor right down the street,” says Hunt. The same is true of local classes or camps. That’s why Wyzant offers connections to 80,000 tutors, many of whom are willing to offer online lessons and support. Tutoring also provides a highly customized approach, allowing each child to receive the full attention of one instructor.

On the other hand, taking academic classes in a small-group setting teaches kids to work together cooperatively, to communicate as a group, and to listen to different viewpoints and ideas from different students. Classes result in steady improvement over time. “To cultivate a good habit, you have to take time,” says Dr. Wong. Classes also allow students to learn about a particular subject matter and then build upon that knowledge steadily.

Camps, though, will immerse kids in a topic, giving them a very strong foundation of knowledge, says Dela Cruz. “Kids are preparing, practicing, presenting, and receiving feedback, all within a short period of time,” he says. This provides them with tangible results quickly — and leads to the formation of strong bonds between the kids and their instructors and fellow students, since they spend so much time together for several consecutive days.

Classes generally result in steadier improvement, and kids will retain the concepts for longer because they continue to practice over time. One suggestion? If your kids take a camp and enjoy it, consider enrolling them in weekly classes or at least following up with another camp, which can serve as a refresher course so they won’t lose what they have gained.

Questions to Ask Instructors and Program Directors

When you’ve narrowed down what type of program you’d like to try, consider asking some or all of these questions to help you find a location that’s a good fit for your family.

What is your teaching philosophy?

Many after school educators share a common frustration about the school system: that it causes kids to focus on failure. “Failing is not the opposite of success,” says Dr. Wong. “It’s the way to success. If you don’t fail, you won’t learn anything and be able to improve.” Her approach is to instill a sense of curiosity into her students and give them the tools to glean information about any subject from the internet and experts in the field.

Other locations may focus on “teaching to the test” — helping kids pass or improve in a particular standardized test or in a certain topic such as a Common Core subject. If you’re looking for your child to make quantitative improvements in test scores, that may be the right avenue for you.

And different tutors — even those referred by the same service – will each have their own unique approach to sharing their knowledge, offering support, and measuring success and improvements.

Be sure you find a location and instructor whose teaching philosophy matches your parenting philosophy and academic goals. Think of it this way: If you want a good key lime pie, you’ll be happier going to a bakery that specializes in it than you would if you visited a cupcake bakery and explained your recipe for pie.

When will I see an improvement in grades and test scores?

According to Hunt, research showed that students generally see one grade improvement in the class (in grades K through 12) for 8 hours of tutoring. That means four 2-hour sessions or eight 1-hour sessions — whatever combination. And that was across all subjects. However, keep an eye out for other less-quantifiable improvements, too.

“Kids will develop their own curiosity. They will be challenged and frustrated, but they will learn how to resolve that in their own way with a lot of support. And they’ll want to learn more. Although good grades are important to maintain, it is not our main focus. We aim to assist in cultivating a learner who sees pass grades. We want our students to appreciate and value the process of learning. We believe knowledge is power. Good grade is a natural by product of proactive learning. If they cultivate their curiosity and build a strong foundation for learning, the grade will come in.”

Many establishments actually promise to raise standardized test scores or report-card grades by the session’s end. If you don’t see an improvement in any way after a few weeks, ask the instructor why. If they don’t have a response that satisfies you, consider seeking a new instructor who is a better fit.

How large are class sizes?

“The main benefit of a tutor is that one-to-one interaction with an expert,” says Hunt. Some tutors, though, might offer small-group instruction at a reduced rate. And sometimes tutoring is offered online.

Many academic classes and camps welcome slightly larger numbers, but they usually keep groups small enough for kids to enjoy the perks of both private instruction and group communication. For instance, at both EDNova Academy and Communication Academy, class sizes typically max out at 12 kids.

These student-teacher ratios mean that instructors can “learn how students think,” says Dr. Wong. Some kids will rush to finish a task and overlook important details. Others won’t take risks so they don’t challenge their limits. She tries to identify kids’ strengths and weaknesses, then help each child get their weaknesses “out of the way.” This is much easier for an instructor to do if they have a smaller number of kids in their class. Think about what you want your child to get out of the instruction and just how much one-on-one is really necessary — or whether they’ll do just fine in a bigger group.

How will you communicate with parents and schools?

“We like to talk to parents about what they’re looking for,” says Dela Cruz. For instance, if a child is in a public speaking or debate class, the parent might want the child to work on being louder or speaking more clearly. Then the instructor will keep that in mind when working with that child.

“A tutor should be communicating with the parent to create a curriculum,” says Hunt. This should be based upon what the goals are and how the child learns, whether it’s a hands-on approach, reading a text, watching videos, or a combination. Parents, too, should communicate with the instructor, she says. “Where do you think the child needs help first? If you’re not sure, ask their teachers at school. The more coordination between the teacher and parent and tutor, the better the experience will be.”

What takes place in a session, class, or camp?

For EDNova Academy students, education is project-based. For instance, for nine or 10 weeks, kids might focus on 3D printing. Not only will kids learn how to make something using this technology, they’ll immerse themselves in the subject. They will research the history of 3D printing and why it has become popular. They’ll learn what it is used for and brainstorm possible uses for it in the future. “They will learn they can print a 3D kidney or a 3D chocolate,” she says. “That kind of thing really sparks their interest in learning. They say, Let me find out more!”

Also be sure you understand the overall time commitment. The classes at Communication Academy are usually held once a week for 8, 10, or 12 weeks, while camps run Monday through Friday in two 3-hour sessions (one a.m. and one p.m.), with kids being able to opt for one or the other or to stay for both. At EDNova Academy, kids spend 3 hours per week with their after school instructor (divided into two sessions).

The best way to learn about the curriculum — per day or per session — is to go over it with the instructor. Will your child be able to raise their standardized test scores by a certain number of points after 10 weeks? Does the school expect your child to attend on a long-term basis, as they would if they were, say, taking voice lessons? Will the instructor also be doing breakout sessions in unrelated areas (such as a volleyball break during coding camp)? You and your family need to find the best fit for your time frame and end goals.

Will there be homework?

Some programs require about 30 minutes of homework per week, just to reinforce principles. Others may require some prep work, as in practicing a speech to deliver for the next class. Still others require no homework at all. For instance, kids attend Dr. Wong’s program for an hour-and-a-half twice a week, so she only gives them extra work if they request it.

Either way, Dr. Wong recommends talking to your kids about what they are learning and letting them teach you. Kids love to share what insights they have gained and surprising facts they learned, especially if these are things that their parents don’t already know! Plus, teaching will help your kids reinforce what they learned – but that can be our little secret.

What qualifications do your instructors have?

Meet with your child’s intended instructor before signing up for a course, class, workshop, or camp. Dr. Wong advises seeking a program whose owner, founder, and/or director is passionate about what they do and has significant experience in the subject matter. “I do math and science and engineering and technology because I’m a domain expert in these,” she says. “I don’t teach subjects that I don’t know.”

It’s also helpful to sit in on a class and listen to the teacher’s method of instruction. A person may have a master’s degree in a subject but not be great at conveying what they know to others – particularly young people.

Also, try to assess the person’s actual degree of expertise. “Just because someone took a few classes doesn’t mean they’re an expert,” adds Hunt. “Some people want a certified teacher. But I also think grad students are really good.”

Another tip from Hunt: “If possible, get a background check. Most tutors elect to have them, and any of our students can ask any of our tutors to get one.”

Does your program offer any other perks?

Will kids make connections in their field of interest, for example, or will they be able to compete in, say, a debate? Just as some martial arts schools go to competitions, so do some academies for math, debate, or writing, to name a few. Because of Dr. Wong’s university connections, some of her students have been able to visit expos and workshops at University of California, Berkeley. Consider which extras would be most beneficial and appealing to your child when looking for an academic program for them. But don’t get sidetracked by this. Remember your primary goals are just that: primary.

Can I attend an open house?

Once you’ve narrowed the field to a few potential candidates, the best way to choose an academic program is to pay a visit in person. Many academic programs invite families to tour their facilities, sit in on a class, meet the instructors, and gain other insights into the program. Some even hold formal “open houses” each year. This can help parents and kids get an idea of whether their child might fit well with the program and other students. (It’s also great practice for attending college open houses in the future.) If you do get to attend such an event, talk with parents and current students, as well as the staff. Find out why other families like the location, and ask which instructors they favor and why. (But keep in mind that your child’s experience may be different, even with the same educator.) If there’s not an upcoming open house at a program you’re considering, ask the director if they can set up a similar visit for you and your kids.

How can I help enhance what my child is learning?

Always remember that you are and will always be a key player in your child’s education. Trust your gut about what’s right for your child when choosing a program— and when choosing to opt out of one and try another. And above all: Be your child’s biggest proponent and cheerleader.

“I recommend not always explaining what kids did wrong,” says Dela Cruz. Schools are notorious for sending home papers marked up with what is incorrect. So children hear enough of that already. “The kids worked hard on this, they see those red marks, and they feel they have failed,” he says. What can parents do? “Look at what your child did right and tell them that first,” he advises. Then look at what they need to improve on, and treat it as that: the next logical step toward their next success.

See a list of academic classes near you > >

Find a tutor > >


End the Homework Wars: Secrets From an After School Expert

Ready to stop fighting about homework? Here, an expert in the field of, yes, homework, offers her best tips for getting it done.

By Katie Femia

Happy boy doing homework
When you sit down at the table with your kid, the dogs hide … and the mood turns cloudy with a chance of tears. Why? Everyone knows it’s homework time.

You want your kids to have fun after school, and you don’t want to battle with them to get their homework done. One solution to both dilemmas: Consider enrolling your child in an after school program that offers both homework help and a fun activity, such as after school tae kwon do or art classes. (If you’re sold, read no further and start seeking some of these options in your local area!)

Also a great option: Use the following tips and tricks from a former teacher I interviewed who used to run this sort of program. She knows just how to help kids focus … and when it’s time to take a break and have some good old-fashioned fun. Here, her best tips.

1. Create — and Post — an Agenda

Getting the child to understand the process of settling into their homework is key at many after school centers. Posting a clear agenda (times for play, snack, and homework) for children to see and consult upon arrival can help them anticipate the afternoon and understand what needs to be accomplished. Some children may even benefit from having a checklist to use each day, so they can best stay on track and have a successful session. You can use the same approach at home: creating a schedule, agenda, and/or checklist and posting it on the fridge or where kids typically do their homework.

2. Schedule a Pre-Homework Break

After a long day at school, kids need to unwind, refuel, and refocus. The trick is allowing them just enough time to do so without becoming so wrapped up in the activity that they have trouble sitting back down. In most cases, 30 minutes is sufficient for a bathroom break, a healthy snack (like turkey and crackers or apple slices and peanut butter), and about 20 minutes for physical activity or play (like climbing on on a jungle gym, jumping rope or playing basketball with friends). Prior to beginning any of these activities, set the expectation that homework time will begin in 30 minutes so the child knows what to expect and anticipate. Also give a 5-minute warning when recreation time is almost up, so the child prepare to transition between activities.

Find after school programs that help kids with homework > >

3. Do a Supply Run

Many after school centers have designated homework stations that are equipped with everything the child may need to complete their work. At home, gather together any supplies your child may need at homework-time, such as pens, pencils, markers, crayons, rulers, scissors, and a calculator. Ask your child what else might come in handy to have in his or her workspace! Having all of these supplies within easy reach helps the child avoid wasting time going and searching for, say, an eraser, and then becoming sidetracked. Be sure to allow your child to organize the bins of supplies. When the child arrives at the station he or she can then simply sit down and get to work.

If you would like, you can designate a bin for completed work and a bin for extra “fun” work. When a child completes an assignment they can place it in the completed bin for the adult to check. While waiting, they can get a piece of extra “fun” work (such as a crossword puzzle, word search, or word scramble) to enjoy while their work is being checked. This way, the child isn’t given the opportunity to get distracted or bored while waiting.

girl sits at desk doing homework

4. Create a Homework Station

At after school centers, homework stations are often located in an area that is quiet and away from distractions such as TVs, kids playing, or windows (a surefire draw for daydreamers). If you wish to create your own homework station at home, you certainly can! The trick is to enlist your child’s help in designing and creating it. This means they’ll be more apt to like the space — and use it regularly and without fuss.

Choose an area of the home that gets little foot traffic and that is quiet and free from distraction. It should have a comfortable chair and sturdy table, then add the supplies you and your child have gathered.

If you still find distractions to be an issue, many tutoring and homework centers use “blinders” to help create more privacy. You can make your own blinders by taking a piece of poster board and tri-folding it so it stands freely on the tabletop creating a privacy wall in the front of the child as well as on the sides of the child. While it might feel like you are secluding the child, many children actually prefer the privacy and comfort of a smaller, more controlled space.

5. Maximize Kids’ Motivation

Most children respond well to incentives and positive reinforcement. While homework is expected out of them as students, they may work harder and be more motivated if a reward is in place. A reward chart is an excellent way for the child to track their own progress and daily accomplishments, with a reward being available to them at the completion of a week. Rewards can be extra recreation time, a special snack, stickers, a ribbon, or whatever you feel is an appropriate motivator and reward. In after school programs, instructors need to get to know each child to understand what motivates them. Even parents aren’t always tuned in to this, so asking your child for some suggestions — reasonable ones! — might be a good idea.

Remember, a reward chart shouldn’t be used to track “perfect” or “error-free” work. A reward chart can track all sorts of variables, such as the child’s effort, time spent, motivation, preparedness, attitude, and then the mastery of the skill. All of these items play an important part of the homework process and should be praised when they are evident. And while individual efforts are noted, it is also important to praise kids when they work as a team. If you see them helping each other out, encouraging each other, or using teamwork to solve a problem, celebrate it! Even having a group song, cheer, or chant you sing can be a lot of fun for children and help them feel success.

6. Know the Signs of Burnout

Many times children simply don’t “feel” like doing their homework. They’re suffering from burnout or simply are having trouble getting in gear. But other times, they might actually be struggling with the subject, and that’s why they’re avoiding getting started. So how can you tell what the issue is? Many times, starting a communication with the child is key. As the adult you can say, “I understand you are tired, but it is important that I know you understand these math facts. Can you show me that you understand?” In most cases the child will then complete the task. If a child is struggling with the subject, you may notice the child exhibiting additional signs of frustration, such as shutting down, becoming emotional, acting nervous or anxious, or making repeated errors. In this case, it is important to take a step back. Allow the child to feel some success by showing off a skill that you’re sure they do know. This can help them regain their confidence. Then let them know you’re there to help, and begin to break down the “frustrating” skill into smaller pieces so the child can slowly master it.

after school teacher helps child with homework

7. Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Homework Help

As new teaching techniques are introduced and testing standards change, homework is going to change too. Many parents are finding that their child is bringing work home that they aren’t familiar with and can’t assist with. Parents shouldn’t feel embarrassed or helpless if this happens. You aren’t, after all, trained to be a teacher! Even in after school programs, sometimes different instructors help with different subjects, because each person has different strengths.

If you feel “in over your head,” it might be time to ask your child’s school or your after school activity provider if they offer homework assistance. These programs are designed to explain current educational concepts in a way that helps the child can learn best. Also consider this a “teachable moment” for your kids: If you feel good about asking for help when you need it, you’re showing your children that they should do the same. This may encourage them to ask for help in other places, too, such as the classroom.

Have you ever heard the saying that children behave worse for their parents than for strangers? The same might be true for homework time. Children may perform better for a homework buddy or tutor than they would at home, which can make the time they spend more effective and productive. It may also take that burden (of homework buddy) off of your to-do list, leaving you free to enjoy your time with your child when their work is completed.

If you are ready for the nightly homework arguments to end, try implementing these ideas that many after school homework programs are using. Or look for such a program in your area.

Find after school programs that help kids with homework > >

Computers Digital Media Gaming Overnight/Travel Programming Tutoring

Smart Sites That Boost Kids’ Brainpower

Worried about the time your children spend online? Steer them toward these websites, which can help them explore new interests and expand their knowledge.

By Anita Sharma

Kids today are spending more and more time on their computers, TVs, tablets, and smartphones. That’s not exactly news to parents, who have spent years agonizing over how much screen time is okay. What is news? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently changed their policy on screen time. Though they once deemed two hours to be the recommended upper limit for older kids (and zero hours as ideal for children age 2 or younger), their approach today is more “nuanced.” According to a recent article by Jordan Shapiro, the AAP’s new message, at least in part, is that quality is more important than quantity. One of their new guidelines, in fact, reads: “Prioritize how your child spends his time rather than just setting a timer.” You can almost hear parents everywhere giving a collective sigh of relief.

Of course, this doesn’t give us carte blanche to sit glued to a screen all day (read Shapiro’s complete article for more detailed recommendations). What it does mean? We can feel better about the time our kids do spend on this new media if we’re more selective about what they view. To that end, ActivityHero offers this peek at some quality websites that children can use to expand their world, explore potential career paths, and elevate their education.

Find after school classes & camps near you >>

Sites That Help Kids Excel in School

There are so many websites that can help children with their education. Whether your child wants to get ahead, review previous subject matter, or solidify concepts they’re learning in school, Khan Academy is a great place to start — and it’s completely free. Information is conveyed through videos, which are developed and written by experienced educators. These videos — many of which are still made by the company’s founder Sal Khan — are generally 3 to 15 minutes long and break down each topic into smaller lessons, which helps students understand one concept at a time without feeling overwhelmed. Khan Academy also provides other visual aides such as pictures, maps, and diagrams to help boost students’ understanding. This site focuses mainly on math for students in kindergarten through 8th grade. However, it also offers some content in other popular subjects such as computer science, history, music, and science.

Sites for One-on-One Help

When school class sizes are usually 20 or more kids per teacher, individualized instruction from a private tutor might give your child the extra help they need. Wyzant helps families find a tutor for math, English, or any other subject. Tutors are local or can meet online. The tutors set their own price, and Wyzant says the first session is free if you don’t like it.

Other tutoring websites specialize in only one subject. An example of this is PandaTree, which offers personalized tutoring in foreign languages via video chat sessions. The tutors, many of whom are foreign language instructors or professional educators, personalize each session to make sure that students have fun while they learn. Parents can choose the session duration (25 or 50 minutes), as well as which tutor they believe is best for their child. Students may change tutors at any time; in fact, it’s encouraged. According to the website, “Getting comfortable having conversations with lots of different people is great preparation for real life.” Each session costs $25 to $45, but PandaTree also offers package deals, which allow parents to purchase 3 to 40 sessions at once.

Sites That Teach Kids to Code

According to Business Insider, more people on our planet have a mobile phone than electricity, safe drinking water, and bank accounts. Learning to code can give your kids an edge in this high-tech world, since coders are in demand everywhere and will continue to be in the future.

To help them get started, the website Tynker offers introductory computer science courses for students who are 7 to 14 years of age. Here, students learn how to code through video games that they play on the site. (One scavenger hunt features characters from the Monster High series.) Gamers select blocks with actions on them such as “walk” or “mind control” to dictate what a character should do during each round. In order to complete a level, gamers have to use the correct amount of each block in the correct order. The Parent Dashboard gives you a window into what your child has learned, as well as the projects they have completed, and kids have lifelong access to each course that’s purchased. Tynker offers several pay plans: the Yearly Plan, the Quarterly Plan, and a Family Plan for households with two or more kids. Costs range from $6 to $9 per month.

Another great coding website is Youth Digital, which offers online courses in video game and app design, as well as some unique subjects, such as 3D animation and fashion design. Students can online-chat with instructors to ask questions and make sure they understand the material. All of the instructors have teaching experience and are passionate about working with students. Kids can proceed at their own pace since they are given a full year to complete their chosen course. These courses are designed for children 8 to 14 years of age and range from $74 to $250 each.

kid and grandpa checking out websites

Sites That Help Kids Explore the World

Plenty of websites today help self-motivated children follow their passions and explore more of the world around them. One example is Jam, which offers courses in careers that kids might want to pursue. Subjects reach beyond traditional school curriculum to include subjects such as cooking, singing, illustrating, inventing, and animating. Students learn from professionals who are up-and-coming in their field, and they can interact with other kids online, complementing (and learning from) each other. A mentor team ensures that students are on track and provides regular feedback on their work. A year of access to 20 “quests” costs $99.

Our global economy also means that fluency in more than one language can open doors to more career opportunities for your child. Conjuguemos is a website that offers free instruction in French, German, Italian, Korean, Latin, Portuguese, and Spanish. Created by textbook publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, this site offers printable worksheets on verbs, vocabulary, and grammar, as well as games and graded practice sessions to evaluate their progress. Users can test listening comprehension by playing videos and writing out the words that they hear. Their efforts are graded right away, providing the student with instant feedback on what they need to review. Students can also track their overall progress by making an account on the site.

Another site that can prepare kids for life beyond their own borders is Kids World Travel Guide, which provides information about other locations and cultures and can help families prepare for upcoming trips. This site goes beyond listing facts and figures, helping kids explore other countries’ cultures through descriptions and photos of local wildlife, food, holidays, and more. The team that created this site includes young writers and travelers, and it’s headed up by travel-savvy adults who have lived on multiple continents. Kids World Travel Guide is based in Cape Town/South Africa, but their menu of 15 countries includes familiar locations like Germany and Spain, as well as some surprises like Qatar and Mauritius. You’ll also find tabs for trivia and quizzes, fun facts, travel tips, and games, including ones to play when traveling in a car.

Last, everyone in your family (you, too!) should take a few minutes to peruse the offerings on Masterclass, a website where people of any age can learn from celebrities who are tops in their field. For example, students can take a singing class from Christina Aguilera or a writing class from James Patterson. Each $90 course includes video content from the celebrity instructor, along with a workbook, interactive assignments, and community activities. Enrollment provides students with lifetime access to the course materials, so students can proceed at their own pace; however, the workbook does provide a recommended pace for completion, which can help students motivated and on track.

Editor’s note: All prices and information are accurate as of August 2016. Please check the actual websites for current pricing and details.

Take Kids’ Interests to the Next (Local) Level!

The web is a great place to start when trying to find some new hobbies, interests, and activities for your kids. Once they’ve hooked into a new subject matter or discovered a hidden talent, it’s time to search ActivityHero for in-person instruction provided by talented educators and program directors who live and work right in your own “backyard.”

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Mindfulness Yoga

Tired of Yelling at Your Kids? Mindfulness Tips for Families

Our kids sure can push our buttons! Here, a mom and mindfulness expert offers a 5-step strategy to break the cycle of scolding and find family peace.

By Laura Quaglio

“Mindfulness isn’t really for times when everyone’s happy. It’s a tool for dealing with breakdown,” says Michelle Wing, founder of the San Francisco studio It’s Yoga, Kids, located in the Presidio. “It allows us to push the pause button.” When something stressful happens, Michelle offers these steps: Stop! Breathe. Think. Choose love. Act.

Maybe your child just whacked her little brother because he had her toy. Or perhaps the kids are wrangling over the last cookie or control of the remote. When you feel that tension building up in your body, put Michelle’s steps into practice using the guidelines below. This process is just as useful kids as it is for adults, so teach it to your children, too!

1. Stop!

Ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now?” Pay attention to how stress is affecting you physically. Is it making your shoulders hunch and tighten? Your brow furrow? Your heart “squeeze”? Awareness is the first step in dealing with a tough situation in a mindful way, rather than falling victim to responding with a knee-jerk reaction.

2. Breathe.

Take deep breaths, focusing on exhaling forcefully. “I mean really, really big, exaggerated breaths. It takes three breaths — a full 15 minutes – for cortisol [a stress hormone] to settle down in the body,” says Michelle. Fun fact: This is why the British make tea when they’re facing a tense situation, says Michelle. Preparing tea “properly” takes 15 minutes, she explains, which gives everyone time to calm down.

3. Think.

“Accept the current situation without judgment,” says Michelle. It’s like being a reporter. You might say, “You hit your little brother because he had your toy and you feel angry.” If you did yell, you might add, “And I yelled at you, and that didn’t feel good, did it?” We need to state the facts about what just happened so we don’t let our brains trick us into thinking that “didn’t just happen,” she says. “We want to tell ourselves, ‘Oh, she didn’t really hit her brother on purpose.’ But she did, and now we have to deal with it and figure out why.”

4. Choose love.

Michelle says that this is not the time to admonish. “Every outburst and every stressful moment is deeply rooted in fear,” she asserts. “If you choose love, it will make your next actions more beneficial.” When our kids do something “wrong,” we often know why. More likely than not, it’s because one child feels like they’re not getting enough attention. Or they’re competing for resources like food or a toy. Think about the times that we, as adults, do something that’s not particularly nice, such as when we snap at our spouse. It’s not because we’re bad people, and neither are our kids. We’re just not getting something that we need, and it’s making us scared and upset.

5. Act.

Keeping step 4 in mind, decide what to do next. If a child did something wrong, reinforce the rule. We don’t hit. Hitting is not okay. Then ask: What is it you need? Or: Do you need a hug? Remind your child that if they need a hug or they want their toy back, they can just ask for it. Also try to handle future situations differently. Maybe you will tell your older child that you’ll always be sure to hug her before you pick up the baby. Or maybe you will ask your older child to help you give the baby a big hug. The more loved a child feels, the more secure they will be and the less they will act out in the future.

What if you’re the one who needs a little forgiving? Treat yourself with love, too, and try to figure out what it is that your inner, fearful child needs. Then ask for it. The more you feel loved, the happier you will be too.

Find “Mindful” Activities for Your Kids

Yoga classes offer plenty of additional benefits to mind, body, and soul. To find local after school yoga instruction for your children, visit ActivityHero.

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It's Yoga, Kids
photo credit – ActivityHero provider: It’s Yoga, Kids

Creative Writing

How to Inspire a Love of Creative Writing in Your Child

A professional writer shares inspiring secrets and 9 games to help inspire your kids to find the fun in putting words on a page. (Smash book, anyone?)

By Reesa Lewandowski

As a blogger, I know that staring at a blank page can be daunting. I also know how good it feels once it’s filled with words that (I hope!) can help other people. By inspiring your children to love writing (especially if they now say they hate to write), you’ll be giving them a gift that lasts a lifetime. Strong writing skills are important everywhere — on a school exam, in a college course, and at the workplace. Here are a few of the things that bolstered my love of writing — and how they can give your reluctant writer the boost he or she needs.

Do Some “Creative Reading” with Your Child

One of the best ways to get kids to love to write is through reading to them. Ask your child to point out phrases and words that he finds fun or interesting. Encourage him to predict what might happen in the next chapter. Almost every child loves to share their opinion.

See a list of writing classes near you > >

Create a Sacred Writing Space

Let them be in charge of what inspires them! Create a bulletin board where they can pin pictures, words, and other clippings that jump out at them as inspiration. Think a Pinterest board for kids! Let your kids choose where their writing space will be. Let it be a place they really love.

Plain white paper doesn’t excite anyone. Take your child to a bookstore or office supply store and let her pick out a journal that resonates with her. Or for a different twist, purchase marble notebooks and allow your child to Mod Podge the covers. (Simply gather a few old magazines and tell him to clip out words and pictures that inspire or describe your child, then attach them, following the Mod Podge instructions.)

Next your child needs some distinctive writing utensils like pencils, colored pencils, and fun erasers.

Last, something you may not think about is a dictionary. In today’s tech-forward world, we often rely on autocorrect and spelling checkers to think for us. It is still vital for your child to learn how to spell and to know synonyms and antonyms of words. (Think SAT and ACT tests!) It also can be fun to flip through a thesaurus and read random entries.

Get Creative with Everyday Writing

Boy_writing_1Now that your kids have their writing supplies in hand, it’s time to get those creative juices flowing. Here, 9 totally fun assignments to get kids thinking about writing in new ways:

  • Make a smash book. This is essentially a completely unplanned scrapbook. Have your kids paste in photos, brochures, stickers, or anything else…and let them then do a little “caption writing” on the page they created.
  • Invent a bedtime tale. Print off the first sentence of a few of your child’s favorite books and put them into a jar. Or write your own story starters. Aim for a variety of topics: outlandish or suspenseful, sci-fi or realistic, etc. Have your child pull out a random prompt and write what happens next.
  • Create a picture book. Art is a big part of the writing process. Have your child draw an image to go with what he or she wrote.
  • Do some local reporting. Writing doesn’t have to be fiction. Have kids write letters or cards to family members or friends. Encourage them to create a family newspaper or newsletter.
  • Include writing in playtime. Is your child playing restaurant? Have him write a menu, including meal descriptions. Are your kids replaying a scene from a trip or vacation? Ask them to make up a brochure about their experiences.
  • Keep a daily journal. This can be a great outlet for a child who has trouble talking about feelings.
  • Make a Mad-Libs book. Then have fun filling in the blanks!
  • Create a family recipe book,  favorite dishes. Also include any “secret” family recipes, and make copies to hand out as gifts.
  • Be a pen pal. Write letters back and forth to your child in a notebook or journal.

Remember to keep your kids’ writing environment stress free and unrushed. Let them take as much time as they need to get their thoughts out. And be sure to let them carry around their writing journal with them: you never know when inspiration will strike!

Find the “write” workshop or class for your young wordsmith. If one of your children shows a real love of writing — or would like a little extra support and guidance in making use of the written word — find writing classes or camps in your area.

See a list of writing classes near you > >

Do you have an aspiring writer in your family? What does your child like to write about? Let us know in the comments!


5 Surprising Ways to Get Your Math-Hating Kid to Embrace Numbers

Have a child whose homework mantra is “I hate math”? This mom’s been there — and formulated some smart solutions that you can use to put the “fun” in the fundamentals of math.

By Rachel Stamper

If your child’s daily after school mantra is “I hate math” or “I just don’t get it,” you may be facing an uphill battle. When kids are struggling in a particular subject, they may close down and it can be tough to convince them that they can succeed. We had this experience with our older son and the subject of math. When he was in elementary school, he was routinely brought to tears by his math homework. We tried to help him, but soon realized it wasn’t enough. We had to change up our approach to math in general.

After some research and experimentation, we found that incorporating math into our everyday activities was the best method to reinforce skills and get our son excited about math. Over the course of a few weeks, we found opportunities to practice math in real-world ways — in playing games, making recipes, and participating in other fun activities. This built our son’s confidence while honing his math skills and, within a few weeks, there were no more tears and much better grades. By the time our son hit the more complex course work of middle school and, later, high school, he was more open to math in general.. Here are some of our best ideas to try at your home.

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1. Add Math into Family Game Night

Family game night is a fun and subtle way to reinforce math skills while spending quality time with your child. Some of the best math games are those that your child will not realize are math games. Here are three of our favorites, which are available online and in retail stores.

Set. This card game for ages 6 and up can be played on a small surface and teaches pattern recognition and logic that are core to mastering math skills. Players make sets of cards with patterns and colors. On the surface it won’t seem like a math game, which is why it’s perfect to reinforce skills. When you can no longer make sets, you can ask your children to explain why there are no more sets to make. This is more of a math thinking game than a math computation game.

Sumoku. This tabletop game is perfect for kids in elementary school through middle school, and it’s played with numbered tiles that come in a totally portable cone-shaped vinyl bag. This fun and fast game reinforces both addition and multiplication. You can choose from five levels of game play, from easier to more challenging.

Monopoly. The classic game of real estate property ownership — for kids 8 years and up — is a perennial favorite in most homes and, if you play the original version, you can help your child reinforce a number of math skills, specifically those related to money. The more recent version that comes with a credit card is not helpful since it does the math for your kids — not good!. Have your child act as banker or let your kids take turns if you have more than one child. (There’s also a Junior version for kids as young as 5.)

It’s important to make math fun!

2. Download Some Appealing Math Games and Apps to Get Kids to Like Math

Let’s face it, our kids are all about their devices, whether it’s a smartphone, laptop, or tablet. So it’s natural to use your child’s favorite tech to get them crunching numbers. Here are some free and low-cost resources that we’ve used with success: This website serves as a treasure trove of free, interesting games that your kids will love to play for hours at a time. Alongside it consider, a site with fun and easy-to-grasp tips and tricks for addition, multiplication, fractions, and more, as well as, which includes pre-algebra, algebra, and pre-calculus options.

Math vs Zombies. The lite version of this fun app is free and the full product costs just a few dollars. The plot: You are a scientist who uses math to save the world from zombies … while building addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division skills. Your kids will know they’re doing math, but they won’t want to stop for a moment.

DreamBox. This high-quality product is used in schools across the country but is also available affordably for use at home. It auto-adjusts in difficulty as your child grasps concepts. It is pricier — and comes with a monthly fee — but it’s well-reviewed and proven to work. Plus, there’s a 14-day free trial, so there’s no risk.

Origami crafts help build geometry skills

3. Try Hands-On Math Crafts and Activities

Your child treasures face time with you, so find a time to engage in math activities without actively teaching or instructing. Some examples include cooking together to review measurements and fractions. Work on craft projects like counted cross-stitch, which requires counting threads and grids. Sewing projects can include measuring fabric and considering proportions. Building with Lego blocks can reinforce spatial concepts. Origami teaches geometry and proportions. The ideas are endless, and most any hands-on activity can use some sort of math.

4. Take Math on the Road

To help reinforce how math helps everyday life, demonstrate rather than lecture. Take your kids along to the grocery store and have them keep a running tally of purchases — then let them figure out how much your coupons will save. Set a budget for holiday shopping or a birthday party and have your child check flyers for sales. If you have a coupon for a percentage off, let your child calculate how it impacts cost. When planning family road trips, put your kids to work to calculate mileage between locations. For bonus points, show them how to estimate gas consumption and cost … then compare actual fuel consumed to their projections.

5. Inject Math into Their Interests

Math can make the most sense when it relates to your child’s hobbies. Is your child into model rockets? Watch October Sky to see how rocketry and math are interrelated. Is your child all about Minecraft? Ask them to how big the fortress they built in the game would be in real life. Is your son or daughter all about sports? Watch a ball game and calculate statistics, yardage, etc. Again, the possibilities are endless.

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Math is everywhere in our lives every day. If you can demonstrate (rather than instruct) how people use and need numbers, you can help establish a life-long love and acceptance of math. This adds up to tear-free homework in the short-run… and expanded academic and career opportunities in the long-run.

Multiply the Fun with Math-Based After School Classes and Activities

Trained instructors who love and use math are particularly adept at teaching kids and teens why numbers should be a source of wonder — not fear and loathing. You can find math and STEM classes that overtly help kids build skills, or look for a class in another subject that uses math, such as art, science, and kids’ engineering courses.


Summer Business Ideas for Kids

“I’m bored, there’s nothing to do.”
“Can you buy me this new scooter? It’s on sale right now!”
“Mom, I need some money to go to the movies with my friends tonight.”
“Dad, can I have $50? Johnny wants me to go to a concert with him this weekend.”

Summer is prime time for being told just how boring it is to not be in school all day long, while being bombarded with requests for money at the same time. This is a perfect opportunity to entertain the kids while teaching them some real-life skills.

Benefits of Having A Business

Money is an obvious benefit to starting a business, probably the one the kids look forward to most. You can help them identify a savings goal, whether it’s $29 for a new Lego set or $199 for a new gaming system, that they want to buy. The kids will be more motivated to work, even when it’s not fun, if they keep thinking of the item that they’ll buy once they have enough money.


They also learn how work really works. Maybe they are gardening and have to spend 40 hours out in the sun, weeding and watering before they earn their first $30. Or they collect money every two weeks from their lawn care clients, but blow the whole $100 in a day at the amusement park and will be penniless until the next collection day. Real life doesn’t work out as neatly as their weekly allowance, and this is a good low-risk opportunity to let them experience real life situations.

Another life lesson they’ll learn about is borrowing money, since most new businesses require at least a little start up capital. Let’s say you lend your daughter $50 to buy supplies for her sugar-free candy business. She needs to keep records of the money she borrowed, what she’s spent and her sales, so that she can repay you before she reinvests the profits to make another batch. You don’t need to go crazy and have her create a detailed profit and loss statement, but keeping some records are good so that she can see the numbers on paper.

This is also a great time to introduce the tax system. When word gets out that she’s got the best strawberry jam and sales take off, Uncle Sam is going to expect his share of the profits. Any earnings over $400 should be reported to the IRS. While it might seem awful to have to pay taxes, you can take advantage of the fact that your child is a taxpayer and open a Roth IRA for them. Imagine if they earned just $500 for five years in their teens. If they invested it in mutual funds that have an average return of 8%, 50 years later they’ll have $101,122.73! And that’s only if they never put in another cent. While it’s not enough for them to retire on, it’s a great way to get them thinking about smart money skills and motivate them to save for the future.

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Business Ideas For Kids and Teens

Here are just a few ideas of businesses that young people can start to earn some spending money over the summer, and possibly beyond:

Gardener– Young green thumbs can get some reward for all the time they invest in growing tomatoes, onions, peppers and potatoes by selling the produce.

Pet Sitter– Budding veterinarians or animal lovers that can’t have a pet at home will love going to other homes and taking dogs for a short walk, playing with the cats or taking care of whatever other creatures their clients have.


House Cleaner– Kids as young as first grade can do simple tasks like washing dishes, mopping, folding clothes and taking out the trash.

Social Media Consultant– A lot of small business owners could learn a thing or two from today’s social media savvy teens. Possibilities include teaching business owners how to effectively get involved in social media or managing their accounts on their behalf.

Tutor– Teaching kids one-on-one to improve their skills before the start of the new school year is a great way for older kids to explore a potential career path while getting paid.

Lawn Caretaker– A few basic tools–a lawn mower, rake and shovel–are all they need to maintain the lawns of their neighbors as they start out building a lawn care business.


eBay Seller– Start small by selling unwanted toys and clothes that the kids have at home, and once they’ve got the hang of it, branch out and search thrift stores for high-quality new and like new items that they can resell for a profit.

Garage Sale Organizer– Kids who have a knack for organizing and managing can use their skills to help busy parents get their garage sale ready in exchange for a share of the profits.

Mother’s Helper– This is a great way for a child to get some practical child care skills while a parent is still at home. They can market their services to work-at-home moms and even stay-at-home moms who want to make progress on their never ending to-do list.

Activity Night Organizer– This is a fun way that a group of friends or siblings could make some cash; host weekly activity nights where kids come to their house and take part in activities, games and sports for a few hours.

Birthday Party Planner– Make the party a mostly hands-off event for parents by handling the invitations, RSVPs, food ordering, set-up and clean-up for them.

House Sitter– Lots of people take vacations during the summer and need a trustworthy person to collect the mail and care for pets and plants.

Party Performer– Piano players, vocalists, dancers, magician are all people that get invited to perform at parties. Since summer is full of parties, the kids can make their skills known and watch their calendars fill up.

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Marketing Tips

Some low-cost ways that kids can promote their businesses:

  • Offer to work for free for a few people to get some word-of-mouth advertising going on. For example, ask the parents to hand out business cards to ten friends in exchange for a free babysitting session.
  • Have a discount card for people who use their service repeatedly. Give a free grass cutting for every five paid ones.
  • Print fliers and take them to all the neighbors and explain how their new business can help the neighbors.
  • Ask happy customers to refer you to their friends by giving them some business cards, offer a discount for referrals.

What kind of summer businesses have your kids started in the past? Share with us in the comments.

If your child has the entrepreneur spirit, be sure to check out the following camps!

Startup Wonder in Bay Area, CA

Camp BizSmart in San Jose, CA

Innova Fellows in Bellevue, WA