I see you in Walmart or Borders buying that summer workbook for your kids, and I know that you have the best intentions. I have had the same thoughts myself. Nothing is more infuriating than coming home from a long day of work to see teenagers sitting on the couch in a messy house doing nothing or asking your kid a question they should know only to realize that they have forgotten how to add, subtract, or count change.
We all have had it drilled into our heads at this point that kids lose up to two months or more of skills over the summer if they don’t practice them. So we buy the workbook that will sit on the shelf collecting dust until we drag it out and force our kids to complete problems while they whine and complain. But summer learning should not be torture. In fact, it should be just the opposite, a time to try something new. Here are five ideas to try with your kids over the summer that will teach them valuable skills and help them to start the school year more prepared:
- Build Background Knowledge
Background knowledge is the life experience, sometimes called prior knowledge, that a student brings to the classroom. We understand the world based on what we have experienced. As a result, our background knowledge affects how we make sense of and store new information and ideas. The National Research Council states definitively that all learning involves a transfer from past experiences and prior knowledge. Thus, any new information that we learn is connected to old information that we already know.
Students without adequate background knowledge on a topic often experience a “disconnect” where it appears that they are paying attention and reading fluently – they may even be able to answer some questions – but they do not comprehend, and the full meaning of new information eludes them. Knowledge only becomes usable when we understand its relevance and can connect it to things that we already understand. For this reason, students with a wide variety of experiences and background knowledge are often more capable of going beyond the information that is given to engage in critical thinking skills.
Summer is a great time to have the experiences that build background knowledge. So, visit a state park or battlefield and go on a hike. Tour a science, history, or art museum. Go on a road trip. Visit historic landmarks. Not only will this be great family fun, it will lead to deeper learning during the school year.
- Explore Interests
Often your child will have an interest that can not adequately be explored within the school day. For example, they may really enjoy art or music but only get one hour of these classes per week. Or maybe they would enjoy acting, but no drama class is offered at their school. Summer is a great time to explore interests and connect academics to real world skills. Kids who enjoy the arts can try an art, theater, creative writing or music camp. A child who likes math, science, and building things can connect and extend these skills through an engineering camp or workshop. A child who wants to participate in sports can enroll in a camp that focuses on a particular sport or spending time outdoors. This will help to build background knowledge, tie what is being learned in the classroom to real world skills, and make learning relevant.
- Free Unstructured Time
As adults, most of our fondest memories of childhood come from unstructured free time. We remember long summer days filled with riding bikes around the neighborhood with friends, playing school or dress-up, building forts, or playing in the sprinkler. But playtime is in short supply for kids these days and a lack of free play can have serious consequences according to Dr. Peter Gray, Professor of Psychology at Boston College. Having unstructured time is important to children’s emotional development and regulation and their ability to make decisions and solve problems. Unstructured play can also help children to develop the skills that allow them to get along with others and make friends. But probably most importantly, free play is a source of happiness and a way for children to explore their own interests. So, make sure to balance out planned activities with plenty of opportunities for free time.
- Differentiate and Extend Learning
Many children are not able to get what they need during the school year, especially those children that have special and unique learning needs. Parents can seek out more challenging programs and learning experiences for gifted students or find remedial or corrective programs for struggling learners. It is also a great time to think about preparing for the future. Often high school students must find time outside of school to prepare for the SAT or ACT and complete college applications or essays, and summer is a great time to get started on this.
In addition, studies prove that all students lose about two and a half months of math skills every summer. So, all kids should practice math, but don’t think that this means math worksheets. Assigning worksheets without monitoring or guidance has been proven to be largely ineffective. Instead math should be integrated into games, stories, and everyday activities.
- Acquire Work Experience and Learn Practical Skills
For older students, summer is a great time to acquire real-world skills through work experience or obtaining an internship in an area of interest. Work teaches students responsibility, time-management skills, and can help teens and young adults apply what they are learning in school. Having a job can also present the opportunity to teach related life skills like opening a bank account, managing money, writing a check, and prioritizing time.
In fact, summer is a great time for children of all ages to learn and practice practical life skills. Have kids help with chores around the house, let children who are old enough assist with meal preparation, and involve kids with errands like trips to the grocery store or farmer’s market. Studies have linked professional success to having chores as a child. And it might just make your life a lot easier to have a little help around the house!
Summer learning does not have to be a huge hassle for parents, and it shouldn’t be something that kids dread. Many everyday activities provide the opportunity to practice and extend what is learned in school. This summer, embrace the freedom that summer offers to learn in ways that are not available to kids during the rigid structure of the school year.
-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.
Owner | Parrish Learning Zone, LLC
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