Summer is fast approaching and many parents have already planned activities and camps for their children. We know that summer is the ultimate freedom, the time for exploration and play, the time to finally unwind from the busy school year. So how do you maintain your child’s academic skills while enjoying the freedom and playfulness of summer vacation? A critical part of summer planning relates to academics and keeping students’ skills not only intact, but also progressing. Each year, we observe that some of our own students slide back several weeks or months when summer vacation does not include any academic practice. While many students can recover fairly quickly during the fall, this summer slide is an unnecessary setback that can negatively impact a student’s confidence and make going back to school more difficult.
When you stop and think about it, the contrast between the structure of the school year and the liberation of summer is profound. During the school year, students are asked to sustain attention for long periods of time, to read critically, to write reflectively, to problem solve, and to synthesize information. The summer is typically the yin to this school year yang.
But a balance can be achieved to keep those learning muscles strong while still allowing for some rest and recovery. We view learning as a marathon, not a sprint, and the current school year schedule makes that tricky. With proper planning and collaboration, parents can help their children to maintain a successful position without creating a household battle.
So how do you do it? Each situation, each learner’s response to instruction, and each teacher is unique. For summer success, we encourage parents to develop a strategic plan in partnership with their school, child, and, possibly, private tutor. From camp to interactive museum tours to kitchen-lab science, there are tremendous enrichment and experiential learning opportunities.
Students also need to practice sustaining attention, synthesizing information, and problem solving in more structured ways to avoid atrophy and allow for a fairly seamless transition back to school. Here are 5 tips for planning summer learning. The most important thing is to set yourself up for success. Choose from the suggestions below, commit to a schedule and hold strong. Follow your child’s lead, but insist on a minimum of 15 minutes for each activity to maintain stamina. But most importantly, have fun!
1) Talk to your child’s teacher by early June. Prepare a friendly email or request a brief conference asking for recommendations of skills or concepts to work on during the summer. You might refer back to report card comments to confirm if certain skills were mastered. Also, confirm if there is any required schoolwork for the summer. Many schools ask students to read a certain number of books, to write book reports, or to complete math practice work over the summer. Book lists or summer packets may be available.
2) Talk with your kids about their learning goals. Once you’ve gathered more information from the school, share it with your children and talk with them about their summer interests. Review your family calendar and share the options for summer activities. Make your kids part of the process.
3) Read daily. It takes discipline, but all students need to read daily for a minimum of 20 minutes. Students also need to be engaged in conversations about the text. It is incredibly complex to develop proficiency with summarizing, identifying the main idea, determining an author’s message, or explaining the theme. Students need tremendous practice and modeling. For independent reading, should have “just right” books at an appropriate reading level. Many families have the most success when this reading time is scheduled first thing in the morning or as an afternoon “siesta” period.
4) Practice writing and typing (even drawing helps). There are lots of ways to practice writing over the summer that are meaningful and fun. Our students often like to keep journals for writing friendly letters to their parents or tutors about their reading, and they love getting a written response in return. Students also like to write stories and publish their own books. A great site to use is www.blurb.com, and summer journaling with a tutor can be managed locally or from a distance via online collaborative tools. Typing is also a real-life skill that every student should master at an early age. Software is available to help students develop proficient typing skills.
5) Practice math. Set aside at least 3-4 times a week for math practice. Math practice should include problem solving, mastering basic facts, and building number sense. Workbooks, games, and websites are readily available in addition to customized private programs and math camps. IXL.com has practice activities for every grade level aligned with state standards.
We wish everyone a wonderful and well-deserved summer vacation and a smooth transition back to school in the fall.