Newswise — In an increasingly competitive world, parents often do everything they can to give their children a leg up, including pushing them to do schoolwork during the summer. While this may seem like a great way to keep kids from falling behind over the long break, one expert advises against this practice.

Greta Pennell, associate professor of education at the University of Indianapolis, says that children learn through many different activities, and "all book-learning all the time" is not always the best route to take. "Kids need playtime and downtime," she says. "While it's important for them not to lose ground over the summer, they shouldn't be drilled and killed either. Anything academic needs to be moderated with true free time that can include enrichment and fun things that kids normally wouldn't do in school."

Pennell advocates experiential learning over the summer months, rather than academic drills. "There's a lot of pressure now that everything has to be about academics and book-learning, but a lot of what kids learn is hands on," she says. "And, kids will probably remember more learning experientially rather than just reading it in a book."

Pennell recommends parents look for activities that can include a "teaching moment" " a time where they can teach the child something new or spark conversation. She suggests a number of activities that do this:"¢ Visiting a state park. In addition to outdoor activities, state parks are great places to learn about history and science."¢ Taking swimming lessons. While it may not seem academically oriented, children will learn through the programs and they are still getting instruction, so when they get back in school, they are still in the mindset of having to listen and follow directions."¢ Attending festivals and fairs. Summers abound with music and cultural festivals and county fairs, all of which are great opportunities for kids to explore many topics, such as history, culture, music and science."¢ Shopping at a farmers market. The market provides a new environment in which to have conversations. Inquisitive children may ask where things come from, and sellers are often happy to answer questions about their goods.

Another way to encourage learning over the summer break is to include children in everyday chores and activities. "There's been a lot of discussion recently about our culture and how people don't have the basic knowledge that they used to " like how to change the oil or make minor household repairs," Pennell explains. "So having kids help with those things is great for them."

For example, letting children help in the garden (or with a potted plant) exposes them to a great deal of science. In addition, studies have shown that if a child helps plant a vegetable and watch it grow, he or she is more likely to eat it, which can lead to a lesson in nutrition.

Kids can also help with cooking or household projects. "There's a lot of math in doubling a recipe or measuring to build a bird house," Pennell says. "Plus, those projects contain many skills that will transfer, like attention to detail."

While Pennell is not a proponent of pressuring kids to study all summer long, she does advocate summer reading. "Reading is such a vital skill to be successful in school," Pennell explains. "Having kids read is a good thing to do, but it doesn't have to be War and Peace. It can be something they like because that way they are sill developing their reading skills and expanding their vocabularies."

Pennell notes that schools may have summer reading lists and most libraries have some type of summer reading programs that include other educational activities.

Pennell says the main thing is to let kids have time to be kids. "Allow kids some space so they can find out what really interests them," she explains. "Give them unstructured times where they have to plan what they are going to do " it takes a lot of thinking skills to plan a day." She also encourages parents to be actively involved with their children. "When you make time to do something with your children, follow through with it," she says. "And don't multitask when spending time with your kids " that will really go a long way."