Keeping kids' minds sharp during the summer
A stack of kids' reading material at my house. (Sarah Kelber / March 1, 2010)
Summer vacation is a time when kids create memories for the future, memories that will last a lifetime. Unfortunately, it’s also a time they forget important skills they have acquired from months of schooling. The result of this loss may stay with them for a lifetime.
Research shows children usually score lower on standardized tests at the end of the summer than they do at the beginning. In fact, most students lose two months’ worth of math skills each summer. Low-income kids lose another two to three months in reading skills, a loss that puts them far behind their better-off peers.
With the growing pressures on today’s educational resources, a two-month loss of learning is just as serious a drain on society as it is on the skills students need to succeed in school—and in life.
So what do we do about it?
The answer is: Do what summer is made for—have fun. And have fun by learning.
From the time they are born, children are hard-wired for learning. They always are looking to be engaged. And the fact is, during summer the pressure is off—it’s actually the perfect time for learning. But it still falls to adults to provide kids with learning opportunities that are fun, different and compelling, and that will help them preserve those important math and reading skills.
And there are more opportunities than you might think. Here are a few.
Get on your marks and read. Ever heard of DEAR time? It stands for Drop Everything And Read. You can use the same approach that teachers use to make reading fun in the classroom to make reading fun and spontaneous in your home. Get every family member to drop everything, grab a book or Kindle or a tablet, and head out to the porch, or off to a local coffee shop to spend a half hour reading whatever they want. Afterward, everyone takes a few minutes to discuss their reading choice.
Read the book, then watch the movie. Let your child discover the art of storytelling by comparing and contrasting a movie to the book it’s based upon. Have them tell you about the differences, discuss why changes were made, and decide which version they preferred.
Keep statistics. Summertime means soccer, baseball, and other competitive sports. Whether it’s live sports, TV or online, family members can choose teams, keep stats and discuss and compare results. Decide which statistics are the most and least meaningful.
Start an argument. What child doesn’t want something? Build his persuasive skills by asking him to create a poster or even a PowerPoint presentation to sell you on the idea. Have him present at least three good reasons that support their argument. Will it save money? Make him demonstrate how. You might even be entertained by what he comes up with.
Turn your kids into journalists. Your kids already use social media, posting their every activity and reaction for friends to see. Harness that energy and encourage them to create a family newsletter or web page where they can report and write up the family’s summer exploits and stay in touch with distant relatives.
Do online research. Have them solve a problem or answer a question in detail using online resources. Perhaps give each family member an exotic location to research. Where is it? How many people live there? What language do they speak? Reward the best answers.
Be an example. Throughout it all, no matter which techniques you use to encourage summer learning, make sure you kids see you learning, too. Let them observe you reading, using math, and solving problems by using both sets of skills.
Try several of these ideas above. When that first report card of the new school year rolls in, you’ll be glad you did.
Gary Huggins is the Chief Executive Officer of the National Summer Learning Association. Richard E. Bavaria, Ph.D, is Sylvan Learning's Senior Vice President and author of the Dr. Rick Blog, providing learning success tips for parents and students all year.
Here are some online resources to continue learning in the summer months.
For tips and ideas visit - summerlearning.org/sldparents
For reading suggestions visit – BookAdventure.com
For math resources, visit – Fit4Algebra.com