I’ve been an educator for over 20 years, and a parent for 16, so you’d think I’d be a pro at what to do with my kids over the summer. I wish I could say that’s the case, but the truth is, finding that perfect balance between a carefree, relaxing summer and making sure my children are invested in summer learning and prepared for the upcoming school year.
If your kids are like mine, they’re not excited about keeping their skills up over the summer. In fact, they couldn’t care less if research shows that students can lose 2 ½ months of academic gains over the summer months. My 12-year old son’s focus is hanging out with his friends, playing video games, and going to sports camps, where as my 16-year old is busy with his summer job, breaking in his driver’s license, and visiting a few colleges along the way.
When I try to encourage the love of reading I hear, “Yeah Mom, I’ll read later, after I’m finished watching this show.” If I insist they do math practice problems before leaving for the day, they generally comply, but so often their effort is minimal. In the past, I found that not a lot gets done until August and by then the books that need to be read and the math packets that must be turned in by early September have piled up.
The problem is that I am my boys’ mother, not their teacher. And to be honest I found that adhering to my role as their mother preserves 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 practice skills (don’t call it homework!). For most kids, 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.
A Tutor Can Influence Kids in Ways Mom and Dad Can’t
For the last few years I’ve had a tutor come one to two times per week to work with my seventh grader on writing and math and with my rising eleventh grader solely on math. This year, I’m changing things up for my oldest because college entrance exams are coming up. He took a practice SAT and ACT. After our test prep manager, Erin Ebert, compared both scores, we found that Will did far better on the ACT. So, this summer, he’s getting a jump-start on ACT prep with Jason King.
I like having tutors involved, and here’s why: the tutor helps them with the subject matter and assigns them follow-up practice which they do on their own time before the next session. And quite frankly, they are far more willing to do it because the request comes from someone other than their parents. By the end of the summer, both boys have reviewed the important concepts from the past year and previewed what’s coming up in the first quarter. They are confident and ready for the fall and best of all, it’s been achieved in a stress-free way.
The Importance of Carving out a 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 really 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 works in our house in June. Everyone picks a book to read, not just kids but parents as well. After dinner, we shut off all electronics for just 30 or 45 minutes. We all sit in the kitchen or family room and read for pleasure. This works because everyone is 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 at www.ala.org. There you will find high-interest titles for girls and boys.
For your tween or teen, consider an e-reader. Teens love electronics and are much more likely to read if they just need to flip the switch on their e-book. Moreover, once they finish with one book, the next book is at the tip of their fingers in their e-reader storefront. Unless a particular books 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.
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 over the summer. By helping them to keep their skills fresh, you will help to make the new school year a successful one!
What ideas do you have about keeping kids engaged in the summer? Post a comment! I always love to hear new ideas.