Summer is here at last! Remember the excitement of the first day of summer vacation with all the freedom and adventures ahead? Though summer vacation offers children (and teachers) a much-needed break, it has its challenges for parents. Think daycare expenses, the cost of groceries, trying to come up with ways to keep kids occupied.
Another challenge of summer is how to continue the learning experience while the children are not in school. Studies show that when children return to school in the fall, they have lost one month’s worth of knowledge learned the previous year.
This means students will lose about 12 months of learning over their academic careers. Test scores show that this “summer slide” especially affects those of lower income, special education students, and students who do not speak English at home.
So why does summer break exist? Surprisingly, decisions having to do with the school calendar are more related to weather than academic achievement. During the mid-nineteenth century, schools were halted for periods of time in agrarian areas during spring and fall while the children helped at planting or harvesting crops.
With the absence of air conditioning, schools in the cities started to close during the summer to allow people to head for cooler climates. In the late nineteenth century, school reforms standardized the calendar, making a compromise between rural and urban communities, and summer vacation was born.
The summer months do not have to be a knowledge eraser. Instead, summer can be an extremely enriching time when children have the freedom to explore without the structure of the classroom. With your help, these carefree explorations can turn into valuable lessons. Following are some activities to promote learning during the summer:
- Cook or bake with your child. Spending time following recipes, measuring, mixing and slicing will refresh math, science and reading skills while helping you in the kitchen. Explain the concepts as you go, or have them explain them to you. Then bon appetite!
- Read anything! Make weekly trips to the library where they not only have free books but offer many other learning activities for youth. Also, look for the little free libraries that are popping up around neighborhoods. If your child hates to read books, challenge them to read comics, the video game box, Lego instructions, even street signs — anything to practice!
- Nature is the greatest teacher of all. Exploring the many parks, trails, lakes, creeks and rivers around the Twin Cities rivals sitting inside a science classroom. Point out and identify flowers, bugs, birds and trees. Collect rocks and look for fossils. Even a walk around the block can produce a wealth of butterflies, rabbits, squirrel nests, ant holes and other fascinating specimens.
- Do not underestimate the value of playing games. We’re talking old-school games. You might feel like you have had your share of Candyland, but games teach important math and reading skills. They also give you a chance to help your child learn invaluable social skills such as taking turns, being a team player, managing frustration, handling loss, and winning with grace. Every game you play teaches your child something, whether board games, card games, Twister or hide and seek.
- Let them experience art. Whether you listen to music on the radio, create a sculpture out of Play-Doh, paint a picture, or visit a museum, you are contributing to a child’s sense of self-expression and creativity. Display their creations in your house to create a gallery. Self-esteem may not show up on standardized tests, but who would argue against its contribution to a child’s success as a student and human being? It is worth the mess!
- Use technology. It is impossible to get your children to unplug totally, so use technology to your advantage. Guide your child toward games that promote problem-solving, goal-setting, and healthy competition.
It is important that the goals of the game are clear and that the level of difficulty meets your child’s ability. Integrate the theme of the game into other areas of the child’s life for added learning value. For example, if your child likes to play basketball, NBA 2K16 might reinforce physical and social skills needed to be a better player.
Also, nothing keeps a child happier than playing on the phone, whether in line at the grocery store or on a long road trip. Just Google “best educational apps for kids, 2016” and a list of free, age-appropriate suggestions appear. You can download the entire Webster’s Dictionary as well as the on-line encyclopedia Wikipedia for absolutely nothing. There are apps that teach sign language, math, ABCs, geography, and even piano. The sky is the limit, but just remember to use electronic media moderately.
These are just a few out of an infinite number of ideas to keep your child busy and learning. You can search the Internet or library for more. Educationworld.com and familyeducation.com are good resources to start your search.
So, take part in helping your child be more successful when they return to school in the fall. Enjoy the summer months while they last, and do fun activities with your children. Just don’t let on that they are actually learning at the same time.
Anne Buchwald, LMFT is a psychiatric social worker at NorthPoint Health and Wellness.
If you are interested in learning more about the mental health services at NorthPoint Health and Wellness, call Dr. D.A. Golden at NorthPoint Health and Wellness Clinic, 612-543-2705.