Tuesday, July 8, 2014

How do I keep my kids learning over summer break?

I often have parents ask what they can do to ensure their children are still learning over summer vacation. It's true that students sometimes experience minor losses over summer break, at least as far as testing is concerned. However, summer shouldn't be about drilling new skills or introducing concepts children aren't ready for. Summer is a great time to use your children's natural curiosity and thirst for knowledge to help keep them on their toes for the coming school year. Here are a few things you can do with your children to make the summer as useful as possible.

1. Have a routine.
First and foremost, have some kind of set schedule that you can at least vaguely stick to. It doesn't have to be super structured like a school day, but knowing Monday is Park Day, Tuesday is Library Day, and so on can help kids immensely. It keeps them feeling secure because they know what to expect. It gets you out of the house for at least a little while so you don't have to yell "STOP TATTLING ON YOUR SISTER!" for four hours straight from your living room. Hopefully it wears them out and they sleep better, too.

2. Hit up the library!
It's free, y'all. Go there. Enjoy storytime. Check out books about whatever they want. Grab a book for yourself. The library is one of the best things a child can experience. Get them their own card and let them experience the joy of checking out their own books. Clear off a shelf on your bookshelf or buy a dollar store crate and keep your library books in them so you don't have to hunt all over the house for them. And if you go once a week for your routine, you won't have to worry about forgetting a due date since you'll be back there next week anyway.

3. Make them write.
Remember when the beginning of school would roll around and your hand would cramp up the first day because you weren't used to writing in so long? Help your kids avoid that ride on the struggle bus. For older kids, have them keep a journal and write in it daily. They can write what they did. They can write what they like. They can write "I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO WRITE!" enough times to fill a page, just have them putting pencil to paper at least once a day. For the younger crowd who aren't as adept with writing yet, try having them write individual words or sentences. They can help you write the grocery list (I know it will take longer, but it will be worth it), write down their favorite animal they saw at the zoo, anything to keep their writing skills growing.

4. Have some type of group activity.
It could be camp, the aforementioned storytime at the library, an organized playdate, sports, anything. Just make up some excuse for your kids to interact with other kids. Kids are not naturally polite. Social manners are a skill just like reading and writing. They need practice waiting their turn, not interrupting, sharing, and everything else that's vital to a group learning environment.

5. Give in to their random curiosity.
You want to learn about lemurs? Let's find a book at the library! You want to know how car engines work? Let's watch a YouTube video together! You want to read all the Chronicles of Narnia? Knock yourself out! Summer is a great time to let kids run wild with their imaginations and interests. Try not to force a given curriculum on them over summer break. Instead let them learn something because they want to. They'll have plenty of time to fit into assigned curriculum. Summer is a time when they can pick anything they want to learn about. They can develop a love of learning, the actual skill of learning, that will last them their whole life.

Above all, try not to stress out. They might forget a few letter sounds or their pencil grip might slip a little, but most of the first two weeks of school is geared toward fixing those minor skill losses. And if you have to sideline the routine because of a doctor appointment or you never quite set that playdate, don't sweat it. The fact that you're taking initiative at all is a huge advantage for your child.

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