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Sunday, June 9, 2013

Summer Learning

Summer is learning time!
A. Mokelke

As we head into summer vacation, good educators are crying the age-old lament of learning lost over the long break. Research says they are right to be worried, especially with students who are below grade level or struggling in school. However, learning takes on many forms beyond the classroom and school house walls. Summer can be filled with hands-on, fun and rich learning experiences with a little effort, time and ingenuity.

Our long summer break may not be ideal for traditional education, but it is a magical tradition in a child's life. Much educational research has been done showing that play is important, perhaps even critical, in the development of a happy, balanced child. We explore the world, build social skills, and express our imaginations and creativity through fun, exploration and adventure. Let's not take this away from children, and remember that summer is their open canvass after a winter of structure, rules and routines.

If your child has a reading or math deficit, absolutely, address it this summer. These are core areas where we cannot let our children fall behind. However, resist the urge or advice to sentence them to a summer of structured homework or drill and practice. Winston Churchill said "I am always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught." Instead, spend summer doing fun projects and activities. Language and math skills can be developed and enjoyed through hands-on summer experiences.

Tree house math trumps textbook learning hands down! What kids doesn't want an awesome tree house, fort or playhouse this summer? Math skills expand with hands-on projects, bringing real-world application to numbers, measurement, distance, geometry, and directions. When building, involving children in each step. Show them how to use a tape measure and fractions come to life! Soon they will be calculating angles and area, and maybe even trying out the Pythagorean Theorem.  Not that handy? Bake and cook with kids, again incorporating measurement and numeration. Discuss the value of estimation as a real-world math skill, and share benchmarks you use for measurement estimates. Other projects could include setting up the classic lemonade stand, bringing money into the lessons involved in both of the previous examples.  For teens, babysitting and mowing laws are classic examples of one of the greatest skills we can teach our kids: entrepreneurship. Running a small business involves important life skills such as trial an error, communication, customer service, hard work and dedication. It also brings in critical math and language skills in a wide variety of ways. A summer business is the opportunity for a child to experience rich, hands-on, real world learning.

Although forcing a book on a child is rarely a good idea, summer is a chance to introduce your childhood favorites to them. What book really sparked your love of reading? My earliest memories include my stepfather reading Old Yeller and Where the Red Fern Grows out loud to me. That set the stage for a life-long love of literature. Reading out loud, no matter how old your child, is an incredible way to engage them in a story while modeling reading fluency, voice and expression. If you begin a book by reading it out loud, they will soon pick it up to see what happens next. Another vastly underrated resource is the comic book. While adults sometimes view comics as frivolous, they are a great way to engage kids in reading. Comics are packed with high-level vocabulary words, and illustrations showing what those words mean. Further, comics encourage visualization of the story, a critical skill in high-functioning readers (do you see a 'movie' in your head when you read? Poor readers don't, but comics can foster this). Promise to take them to a big summer movie- if they read the book first! That's how I got my son and daughter to read books like The Hunger Games and The Hobbit.

Family activities abound over the summer, and offer outstanding learning opportunities. Family trips like camping and hiking are opportunities to explore geography, science and history, as well as fun math exercises involving distance, rate, time, even budgeting, money and percentages. Participating in subsistence endeavors, from farming to fishing, connect kids with the land and their elders and continue family traditions. There is so much learning, and built-in reward, in growing vegetables, picking berries, and putting away fish. Build a healthy love of fitness with walking, hiking, biking, swimming or summer sports. With all of these activities, language and computation skills can grow rapidly. With a journal children can record their experiences through writing. Incorporate sketching, drawing, and scrap-booking to make the journal lively and fun. The family trip or activity is prime time to sneak learning in the back door.

This summer, real learning can happen. Let's make it a fun, hands-on, adventure for our kids! Tap into their natural curiosity and creativity.  Get out and explore, build something, discover the value of a dollar earned, and play! After all, "we don't stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing." -George Bernard Shaw.

Of course, I do have to leave you with a couple of TED talks to supplement this piece:

More on summer projects with kids:


On teaching kids to be entrepreneurs:
Lilly at the Color Run- Summer fun!