I’ve been an educator for 30 years, and I’m a parent, so you’d think I’d be a pro at what to do with my kids over the summer when they were younger (they’re now in their 20s). I wish I could say that was the case, but the truth is, finding that perfect balance between a carefree, relaxing summer and making sure my children were invested in summer learning and prepared for the upcoming school year was always a challenge.
If your kids are like mine were, they’re not excited about keeping their skills up over the summer. In fact, they couldn’t care less if research shows that the summer learning slide is real and that students can lose 2 ½ months of academic gains during the break.
It’s completely normal for kids to want nothing more than to hang out with friends, play video games, and go to fun camps. And many high schoolers are busy enough with their summer jobs, social plans, and college visits.
When I used to try to encourage the love of reading over the summer, I’d often hear, “Yeah Mom, I’ll read later, after I’m finished watching this show.” If I insisted they do math practice problems before leaving for the day, they would generally comply, but so often their effort was minimal.
The problem was— I am my boys’ mother, not their teacher. And to be honest, I found that adhering to my role as their mother preserved our relationship. So what’s the solution? In our house, I found that a couple of things really work well.
Develop a summer plan to keep skills sharp
Create a summer schedule and put it in writing. This is perhaps the most important thing you can do BEFORE summer starts. Sit down with your child and agree upon a daily time dedicated to practicing skills (don’t call it homework!).
For most kids, the morning is best. Twenty to thirty minutes each day or three days per week is all you need. If you wait until late July or August to think about summer learning, your child will likely resist your attempts. When children know what to expect early on, they are more likely to comply.
Another idea is to reach out to your child’s teacher(s) before the school year ends for suggestions on books and activities for summer learning. If your child is weak in a particular subject, summer is a great time to fill in the learning gaps and boost confidence.
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A tutor can influence kids in ways Mom and Dad can’t
When my younger son was in school, he always worked with a subject tutor over the summer on writing and math. My older son usually focused solely on math with his tutor until the summer before his junior year when he started working with a test prep tutor to get a jump-start on ACT prep.
I liked having tutors involved, and here’s why: the tutor helped them with the subject matter and assigned them follow-up practice which they did on their own time before the next session. And quite frankly, they were far more willing to do it because the request came from someone other than their parents.
By the end of each summer, both of my boys had reviewed the important concepts from the past year and previewed what was coming up in the first quarter. They were confident and ready for the fall. And best of all, it was achieved in a stress-free way.
The importance of carving out time for reading
As a teacher, I could always tell which of my students engaged in learning activities over the summer when they returned in the fall. Those that did nothing were rusty and needed time to catch up. Those that had read throughout the summer were ready to learn. Research shows that when students read four books over the summer, learning loss is negated.
Here’s what worked in our house. Everyone picked a book to read each June, not just kids but parents as well. After dinner, we shut off all electronics for just 30 or 45 minutes. We all sat in the kitchen or family room and read for pleasure. This worked because everyone was involved.
Sometimes I think reading can be seen as punitive by kids. When we say, “Go up to your room and read”, it can almost feel like a punishment to our children. Furthermore, reluctant readers will do very little reading on their own, so the key is doing it together either by reading independently at the same time or by sharing a book.
For young children, the approach “I read a page, you read a page,” is often very successful. Teenagers who aren’t keen on reading can find a great list of books through the American Library Association. There you will find high-interest titles for girls and boys.
For your tween or teen, consider an e-book. Teens love electronics and are much more likely to read if they just need to flip the switch on their tablet or Kindle. Moreover, once they finish with one book, the next book is at the tip of their fingers in their online storefront.
Unless a particular book is required by the school, don’t force your child to read “quality literature” that may not be of interest. Reading a comic book or graphic novel is reading! Allow your child to read magazines, books on topics of interest, or books based on movies they’ve seen or want to see. Audiobooks are great, too, because they help with reading comprehension.
Find ways to make math fun
There are plenty of practical ways to incorporate math skills over the summer without making it seem like a chore.
Math can be meaningful and engaging over the summer when it’s related to real-life uses. I like to challenge kids to do mental math while cooking (fractions), going out to eat (tip percentages), and shopping (budgeting and adding).
There are also a number of great apps and websites that aim to shore up skills in different areas of math, no matter your child’s age. I find a lot of value in the personalized learning options on IXL. This site is helpful for a general review of grade-level concepts.
Get your summer plans in place now
The key to making summer learning productive is to have a plan in writing early on and to incorporate engaging activities. Students do like to feel prepared for the upcoming year and hopefully, these pieces of advice will help you to get your student to realize the importance of keeping up their academics and preventing the summer learning slide. By helping them to keep their skills fresh, you will help to make the new school year a successful one!
If you want to bring in back up this summer and have an expert challenge your child and keep them on track, we’re here for you! It’s easy to get started. Just click here to schedule a time to chat with one of our educational experts about your child’s needs and summer learning goals.