Ahh, summer. You want your kids to soak up everything summer has to offer — swimming, ice cream, catching fireflies — but not at the expense of losing academic ground.
It’s a quandary for many parents — the desire to give children an easy breezy summer but making sure your child returns to school ready and prepared for the next grade level.
And while many parents want to avoid a “summer slide,” a term to describe the tendency for students, especially those from low-income families, to lose some of the achievement gains they made during the previous school year, many experts say it’s important to keep in mind that summers don’t have to be packed with worksheets and math camps for kids to keep their brains active and learning.
Summer is always a good time to kick back and crack open a book. But research suggests that simply reading — without parental guidance or involvement — offers limited help in reading skills.
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James Kim, professor of education at Harvard University, found children do best when parents are involved to guide reading skills and understanding. He suggests that parents help children select books that are challenging but not frustrating, and that they ask questions about what their children are reading, read some passages out loud together and reread difficult passages.
Meanwhile, math skills fall sharply over the summer because while many children read during the summer, Americans are less intentional about doing math problems. We have story time, but how many parents sit down with their children and solve math problems before bedtime — or any other time of the day? Consider math-themed websites — such as TenMarks.com and XtraMath.org — and seek out real-life opportunities to teach math.
Sarah Hamaker, a parenting coach and mother of four who lives in Fairfax, Va., suggests using everyday moments like trips to the grocery store to practice math (How much will we save with these coupons? What is the lowest price on dried beans?), conducting fun experiments outside (Can you really fry an egg on the sidewalk when the temperature is in the upper 90s?), and taking trips to museums to study art, science and history.
Also, Hamaker, who blogs about parenting on her site www.parentcoachnova.com, said summer can be a good time to have your kids hone life skills, such as cooking, cleaning, yardwork, car maintenance, budgets (like for the family vacation).
She also likes to provide structure as well so kids won’t waste their summers glued to devices or vegging on the couch. She gives her kids a list of things they should do each day (chores, practice piano, read, exercise and spend time on hobbies) as well as specific hours when electronics will be available to them, such as from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 8 p.m.
Avoid having the kids too busy, she said. Build in plenty of “downtime” for kids to let their imaginations wander and dream. Studies have shown that letting kids have nothing to do for long stretches of time — nothing formal, that is, like organized sports, camps — can reinvigorate children’s brains and give them time to grow and stretch, she said.
The National Summer Learning Association offers these nine fun ideas to help keep kids engaged in learning and avoid the summer slide:
Go to the library: A free resource with summer reading programs and enrichment activities during the summer months. Many public libraries offer extra incentives to read, including stickers and pencils, and drawings for free tickets to local destinations such as Zoo Atlanta and the Georgia Aquarium.
Write it down: Encourage your child to write about the books they are reading and keep a journal about their favorite summer activities.
Visit local destinations: Engage in educational day trips to parks, museums, zoos and nature centers.
Explore and learn: If you are taking a day trip by car, choose a place with an educational theme. Camping is a low-cost way to learn about nature.
Give math meaning: Track daily temperatures. Add and subtract at the grocery store. Learn about fractions while cooking. Map out a trip. At the pool, have your older children count the number of strokes to swim across the pool.
Do a community service project: Cleaning up a park or collecting supplies for an animal shelter can be very mentally stimulating while researching and doing the project — not to mention the good feeling you get from helping others.
Keep a schedule and set limits: Continue daily routines during the summer and put restrictions on screen time.
Read with your child: Even though third-, fourth- or fifth-graders can read on their own, they still enjoy taking turns reading with their parents.
Let the kids write books: Let your child write their own book. Have your child design a cover with scraps of wallpaper or anything decorative.