Slow the slide! Keeping kids summer smart
Written by Linda Morgan
We get it. You’ve been supervising study sessions, reminding your 10-year-old to finish his history report and helping your 8-year-old create dazzling science projects.
Now summer is coming and hey, you need a break. Isn’t it time for swimming, baseball, biking, picnics and backyard barbecues? For you and the kids? Can’t we all just have some fun?
Well, sure. As long as you don’t let your youngsters take that infamous slippery summer slide backward and spend the first few months of the next school year reviewing, repeating and recapping. That would be today’s version of the three R’s.
According to the National Summer Learning Association, we need to pay attention to summertime learning loss because:
• Students score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests given a few months earlier.
• Most students lose about two months of grade-level equivalency in skills over the summer months.
• Low-income students also lose more than two months in reading achievement, despite the fact that their middle-class peers make slight gains.
The truth is, keeping your kids up to academic speed over the summer months isn’t that difficult. All it takes is some diligent planning, innovative thinking and great tips from experts who know how to pull it off.
“Although summer may seem like a distraction from learning, it’s really a wonderful opportunity, especially for nontraditional learners,” says Candace Lindemann, an educational author and consultant (check out her website at naturallyeducational.com).
Kids should identify their interests, then figure out ways they can learn from them, she says. “Parents can point out opportunities for their kids to use their academic skills.”
Swimmers, for example, might study the science of how a pool stays clean — or research the benefits of saline vs. chlorine pool systems, Lindemann suggests. Runners could learn about muscle biology or use math skills to calculate their target heart rate. “All athletes can read biographies of their role models and learn more about the history of sports,” she says.
Educator Lara Drew suggests parents immerse their kids in ordinary, everyday activities that will help them learn. “Involve them in household chores, cooking, shopping, neighborhood walks and visits to the zoo,” says Drew, director of the elementary education program for the Edmonds School District.
Make sure you follow these experiences up with discussions about what they’ve observed, she says, then “listen to their responses.”
Wean the screen
These days, chances are it’s not the picnics and the team sports competing for kids’ summer learning time. It’s that ubiquitous screen. Now coming to us in multiple sizes, shapes and dimensions, electronic entertainment and social networking swallow up impressive blocks of time — theirs and yours.
Sure, you can cart the kids to KidsQuest Children’s Museum in Factoria for an afternoon of hands-on art, science and technology. But if you’re interacting with Facebook instead of your 8-year-old, don’t be surprised if she opts for “Angry Birds” over the museum’s “Bird Houses.”
“When parents are out with their kids, they should ask the kids questions: ‘What do you see?’ ‘What do you think is happening?’” says Dana Marsden, curriculum coordinator for the Edmonds School District. “There should be active engagement.”
No one is suggesting that parents “just say no” to technology altogether. But we can be intentional about what we — and our children — are watching, says Diane Holt, principal at Issaquah Valley Elementary. “There are great educational TV programs. Parents should watch these with their kids and use the mute button for commercials. That’s when you can really talk about what you’re viewing,” she says.
Holt says parents should restrict their children’s screen time to two hours a day. “Most kids are getting way more than that, which has really impacted the amount of dialogue and discussions we have with them,” she says. “We are losing the family and losing childhood.”
Some educators feel we’re also losing math. “Parents tend to keep their kids reading in the summer,” says Dan Phelan, director of accelerated programs for the Lake Washington School District, “but not all of them hit the math piece.”
According to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Summer Learning, students fall an average of almost 2.6 months behind in math skills during the summer.
Richard E. Bavaria, Ph.D., senior vice president of education outreach for Sylvan Learning, feels parents can help reinforce math learning by encouraging their children to engage in easily accessible activities such as “grocery-store math,” “menu math” and “kitchen math.” Ask your kids simple questions such as, “What’s the most expensive meal on the menu?” or “How many forks do we need for dinner?” That’s one way parents and kids can keep summer learning alive.
Linda Morgan is ParentMap’s managing editor and author of the book Beyond Smart: Boosting Your Child’s Social, Emotional, and Academic Potential.
14 tips for keeping kids summer smart
1. Encourage your children to learn from the world around them. Provide varied activities and experiences that will help them gain knowledge.
2. Involve them in household chores, cooking, shopping, neighborhood walks and visits to the zoo or the museum. These will give them important experiences and background knowledge.
3. Talk to your children about their experiences and listen to their responses. Taking the time to discuss their experiences and answer their seemingly endless questions will pay off as you help build their knowledge and model ways of using oral language.
4. Give them writing and coloring materials, paper, picture books, magazines and a comfortable place to read, write and draw.
5. Read aloud to them on a regular basis. Reading to preschool children is especially important, but reading with older kids on a regular basis will help them as well.
6. Talk with them about the things you read, whether it’s a newspaper, book, magazine, recipe or the directions for assembling their new bike.
7. Tell them stories and have them relate their stories to you. Encourage them to use art materials as well as the household computer to illustrate or write stories that capture their interest.
8. When children ask questions, help them find answers by using a variety of sources. Help them relate the issue to their knowledge and experience. Encourage them to use references such as books, the Internet or knowledgeable people. Show them how to demonstrate or test possible answers.
9. Help them look up definitions of interesting words in the dictionary or other reference books, and also online.
10. Take your children to the library regularly and help them choose books they like.
11. Carefully monitor their TV habits. Watch educational programs together and discuss them afterward.
12. Set aside regular times for individual and family reading, such as before bedtime or on weekends. Discuss what you and your children have read.
13. When your children read aloud, give them time to correct their mistakes. Discuss strategies they can use if they get “stuck.”
14. Encourage them to read informational nonfiction books on various topics, as well as fictional stories.
Source: Lara Drew, elementary education program director for the Edmonds School District.