Iona Hewitt is an experienced teacher who has created phonics and maths workshops to provide parents and carers with knowledge and confidence to support their children. She is a mother of two sons, consults for schools and runs teacher training. Find out more about Iona’s workshops at or email

With the arrival of the summer holidays children deserve a break from formal learning. When we think back to our childhood summers they are filled with buckets, spades and ice cream – not text books and pencils. So to keep our children ticking over during this break any activities they take part in must be fun, engaging and disguised as games!

Below I have listed some ideas that will keep little brains ticking over during the long break. These are aimed at 3 to 5 year olds but can be adapted for other ages.

On the Beach

  • Letter formation: This is the perfect opportunity to practise drawing letters or numbers in the sand. If you are not near a beach then sand/flour/glitter can be put into a tray at home and then drawn into. This is a great way to practise as with a quick wipe or shake the letter is gone.
  • Counting objects: The important thing about this is how you, as the adult, present the idea – it could be a race to find more than 10 shells, writing the numbers in the sand and taking it in turns to find the right amount of stones or shells to put next to them or counting waves that you jump over.
  • Order things you have found: Go on a scavenger hunt and find as many different beach objects as you can – then order them from the shortest to the longest. Or can you gauge which is the heaviest? Which bucket holds the most water – how many little buckets filled with water do I need to fill a big bucket – these type of questions will help enquiring minds start to think about capacity and volume.

On a Plane

Before setting off on a plane it is a perfect chance to look at a globe or map and discuss where you are off to.

  • Card games are perfect as they take up very little space.

Snap: an old classic that is helpful for number recognition.

Adding the amounts: turn the cards over using the same principles as snap, add the 2 numbers together and whoever whispers the correct amount first wins the cards. This can be repeated with subtraction and eventually multiplication for older children.

Higher or Lower: Lay 5 cards out, face down, and then take it in turns to predict if the next card will be higher or lower than the previous one. If you guess all 5 right in a row then you can keep the cards in your pile.

  • Dot to dot or maze books: these assist children’s fine motor skills (just make sure that they are using the correct pencil grip) and dot-to-dot pictures help reinforce number order and recognition.

Long Car Journeys

  • Eye Spy: An oldie but so effective in practising those initial sounds. Once they have this cracked this try doing it with the final sound e.g., “I spy with my little eye something that ends with ‘t’!”
  • iPads: After a few hours in a hot car these can seem like a lifesaver. ‘Hip Hop Hen’ (for practising sounds) is a brilliant app and the ‘Busy things’ website has loads of interactive games.

For Dads

This is the perfect time for a little bit of healthy competition!

  • Throw the bean bag: This can be used to support reading or maths. Simply chalk different sounds or words on the tarmac, see which you can land your bean bag on and then read it. Alternatively for some adding practise draw numbers on the ground, throw 2 beanbags and then mentally add them together.
  • Board games: Snakes and ladders, dominoes, sudoku, are all great for number recognition. Scrabble and hangman are fantastic for phonics and spelling.
  • Throwing competitions: Who can throw the furthest (there would obviously need to be handicaps!) and then measure the distances.

Summer Days at Home

  • A trip to the library: Children rarely have the chance to spend time browsing between books. This is a wonderful opportunity to look through titles and choose books to read and be read to them. Boys will often jump at the chance to find some non-fiction titles – especially ones on ferocious crocodiles or sharks…
  • A sound hunt: Set off around your house (with a detective’s magnifying glass clasped in hand!) and see how many different things you can spot starting with a certain letter. For example a ‘C’ hunt might help you to locate a cucumber, carrot, clock, plastic cow from a farmyard, ‘crocs’, colouring crayons, toy cars and many more treasures!
  • A shape hunt: This is similar to the sound hunt above but instead you are searching for certain shapes: they could be 2d or 3d, for example cylinders could be baked bean tins.
  • Have an ongoing project that you could pull out throughout the holiday: A holiday diary can be such a treasured memory. It doesn’t have to be written by the child – they could find something special: from a special flower in the park, to a ticket from a fun bus ride. You could then write a sentence for them each night about why that day was special. If your child wanted to they could draw pictures for it and try to write some of the happy memories themselves.
  • Set a question: Children love a challenge, so set them something to investigate – for example can they find 5 things that float and 5 things that sink from the garden, then explain to you why they think this might happen.

My two last suggestions are the most important ones. Firstly, children should have at least one story read to them each day to foster their love of books. Finally, let them have fun and play outside! Children work very hard at nursery and in school during the term time so the holidays are a vital time to relax, make up imaginary games and enjoy themselves so that they are ready and excited about the challenges the Autumn Term will bring.