Summer Learning

by Penny on June 28, 2010 · 0 comments

It’s summer time, and for most of us, we hope that the ‘livin’ will be easy. The long summer vacation in Canada is a tradition that goes back to the time when farms were central to life, and it is a tradition none of us really want to give up. My memories of childhood summers are clearer and sharper than any others. Long lazy days spent playing outside with friends; excitedly planning bike trips around the neighbourhood, poring over maps, packing picnics; evenings pitching tents in the back yard, playing board games and card games with my brother and sister, and on rainy days, losing myself in a book or baking with my friend Sarah. Summer seemed endless, and life was good – but was it really that idyllic?

When I talk to friends, they also have memories of long, languorous summer filled with adventure. Some of them worry that their children are missing out on what has always seemed like a rite of childhood, that kids are so scheduled these days that they don’t have the freedom to enjoy summer as we did. I even had a friend express to me that she thought the concept of ‘summer learning loss’ was just a marketing concept designed to trick parents into putting their kids into summer classes. I have to admit I laughed at this!

As a former classroom teacher, I know that ‘summer learning loss’ is real. Even if there wasn’t a huge body of research on the issue, I know that when faced with 25 to 30 new faces every September, I routinely had to spend the first six to eight weeks of the new school year reviewing and re-teaching skills and concepts that had been taught in the previous school year. Part of this review was simply a means of re-engaging kids in the process of thinking and learning. Part of it was solidifying skills that had been introduced towards the end of the school year. A large part, however, was re-teaching basic foundational skills that the kids seemed to have simply ‘lost’.

So it surprises me when parents suggest that summer should be a learning free zone. That ‘kids should be kids’ and that they should be indulged in summers free of routines and schedules. In fact I think this argument is baloney, particularly given the screen age in which we live – when given leisure time kids spend more time playing video games, texting, watching TV, and plugged into computers than at any time in history.

Kids thrive on routine, and whilst summer may be a time for different schedules and routines, a time to move away from the formality of the school routine, summer is a time for slowing down; it isn’t a time for all out stopping. So here are a few “to do” suggestions to help keep your child’s brain in shape through the summer that are compatible with a summer of memory-making fun:

  • The truth is that many kids could benefit from a couple of hours a week reviewing basic skills in math reading or writing. As with any set of skills, once you stop practicing them, you start losing them. Just as they become better piano players if they practice, or better soccer players if they drill skills, so too will their academic skills improve if they invest time and effort to practice them. And for many kids this can lead to a positive start to the school year and a gain in self confidence and self esteem.
  • Encourage play outdoors: it’s good for their health and for your sanity. Outdoor play can also lead to creative play and the need to solve problems. Give your kids a ‘starter pack’ – a map, compass and binoculars or a bug viewer, butterfly net and nature book, or even basic building materials such as scrap wood a hammer and some nails- and see where it leads!
  • On rainy days, shelve the video games and computers, and play card games and board games, most of which require strategic thinking and using numbers.
  • Take a cooking class – not only can they learn to cook healthily – a skill all children should learn – but they will have to work with weights and measures and use their number skills. Have them price the ingredients to make a recipe at home.
  • Learn a new skill: playing guitar, swimming, cartooning. Learning new skills stimulates the brain and often requires accessing prior knowledge.
  • Take up a new hobby: painting, beading, photography are all calming, creative activities which are absorbing and which develop both hand-eye co-ordination and fine motor skills.
  • Get involved in a local sports program. Sports provide lots of opportunity for social growth, development of problem solving skills and discipline.
  • Join a day camp or club that offers a taster of different types of activities as you never know where it could lead. My step-son joined air cadets one summer and now, many years later, he is an airline pilot!
  • Help them with an interest-based or school inspired research project. If they need help finding information, take them to the library. Talk to a librarian – they know books and are information experts.
  • Read as a family: you read a page, he reads a page, you read a page, she reads a page. It is a fun way to revisit “old friends” from your own childhood, and see them through your children’s eyes
  • Give e-mail and face book a rest: write real letters to grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, politicians, and pop stars ….
  • Take day trips to places of historical, artistic or scientific interest. Have them research opening hours, travel schedules, entrance fees, directions, special offers; current exhibits … Let them plan the day.

 None of this will detract from summer fun, especially if it is done with an absence of pressure and lots of quality time spent with family and friends. Developing new skills helps engender a sense of accomplishment, confidence, happy memories and a can-do attitude that will more than make up for the lost screen time, or a couple of hours a week hitting the books – and will help all of our kids start back to school in September with a skip in their step and a smile on their face.

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