Summer Leaps: Using the Summer to Help your Kids Get Ahead

A survey by the Academy for Educational Development found that nearly half of American parents (43 percent) just want their kids to have fun and relax during the summer. Second and third priorities for their children are learning new things (24 percent) and preparing for school (22 percent). As parents, we may still hold on to the idea from our childhoods of a carefree, happy summer when “kids can just be kids.” Research spanning 100 years demonstrates that students score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of summer. All young people experience learning loss when they do not engage in educational activities.

  • Most students lose about two months of grade-level equivalency in math computation over the summer months.
  • Low-income students lose more than two months in reading achievement, while their middle-class counterparts make slight gains.
  • All children are at risk of losing more than academic knowledge over the summer. Children can lose their health. Most children gain weight two to three times more quickly on summer break.

This data begs the question: How do we not only help our children prevent summer learning loss but actually make gains and enrich their summer learning? While there are many academic camps for children to combat learning loss and even get ahead, summer budgets may be stretched already. Once you have taken the day trips to the local museum, park or zoo and had some positive, educational conversations with your children, you may be asking, “Now what?”

The Parent Institute, the U.S. Department of Education and the nonprofit Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) have ideas for creating a learning-rich environment. They have been combined together for this simple, do-it-at-home summer learning list to advance your child’s literacy and mathematic acuity. 

The key to summer learning is FUN! So make summer learning fun and natural.

1. Want your children to be good readers? Let them see you read. Share their love of books and reading. Parents may say to children, “This was my favorite book when I was your age,” or “I can’t wait to start my new book.”

2. Try relaxing your family’s bedtime rules once a week on the weekends. Let your children know that they can stay up as late as they want, as long as they are reading in bed.

3. Cook with your children. Have them use measuring spoons, cups and tools for a hands on lesson in volume and science vocabulary, like liquids and solids.

4. Try holding D-E-A-R times at your house. “DEAR” stands for “Drop Everything and Read.” During DEAR time, everyone in the family sits down for some uninterrupted reading time.
5. With young children, try reading to them during bath time. Careful with the splashing.

6. Have children make a “book” about themselves, with their own illustrations and wording. “A Book About Me” is a great way to help your child see him or herself as “somebody.”

13. Help your child discover his or her roots by talking with family members over the summer. Then ask your child to write that family member a thank-you letter and share all he learned that he didn’t previously know.

14. Let kids overhear you praising them to others, particularly about how impressed you are with how they are learning. Always praise their reading efforts.

15. Encourage children to read biographies about successful people. As children learn about the traits that make others successful, they are often motivated to adopt those same success patterns in their own lives.

16. Motivate your children in math by challenging them to figure out how much change you should get back from a purchase. If they get the amount right, they get to keep the change.

17. Encourage kids to collect things. Whether they collect rocks, shells, leaves, or bugs is not important. By collecting, children are learning new ways to make sense of their world.

18. Estimating is an important math skill. We estimate how much our groceries will cost. We estimate how much time we’ll need to complete a project at work. You can help your child learn to estimate at home. Here’s one idea: As you’re driving, estimate the distance to your destination. Then estimate how much time it will take to get there. Use the odometer or a map to check your work.

19. Talk about geography in terms children can understand: go through your house and talk about where things came from. A calculator may have come from Taiwan. A box of cereal may have a Battle Creek, Michigan or White Plains, New York address. Talk about where the wheat for your bread came from. Where was the cotton for your blue jeans grown? Tell your children where your ancestors came from. Find the places on a map.

20. Show your child that writing is useful. Have them help you write a letter ordering something, asking a question, etc. Then show them the results of your letter.

Summer Learning Means Getting Physical and Healthy Too!

Given our society’s sedentary lifestyle, part of creating a rich summer learning environment is modeling physical activity to kids as an essential part of keeping the mind sharp and ready to learn. The key to modeling healthy summer lifestyles is similar to modeling reading: kids need to see parents move! Remember to make it fun.

  • After D-E-A-R time (#4 from the list above), hold a mini dance-a-thon. See who can dance the longest.
  • After computer time, get outside and climb a tree, take the dog for a walk or ride bikes.
  • Drink plenty of fresh water while writing letters. The brain works better when well- hydrated.
  • Establish new rules for computer game time. Game time must be earned through sweat equity. For every physical activity one computer game session is earned.
  • Limit snacks to the ones kids prepare with healthy ingredients.
  • Grow a garden! Research summer vegetables and plant. Kids love to eat what they grow.

Your kids also may have ideas of their own. Encourage them to be creative about learning opportunities. Co-creating a healthy summer learning environment takes a little planning and effort, but the rewards can ripple ahead for years to come.

Reading Is Fundamental Suggestions

  • Establish a regular time and place for daily read-aloud sessions, such as before bed or during bath time.
  • Keep on hand a variety of reading materials: picture books, chapter books, atlases, dictionaries, magazines, and newspapers. Get library cards for everyone and use them often. Encourage your child to swap books with friends. Give books as gifts.
  • Have plenty of paper and writing tools.
  • Store books and writing materials in places children can reach.
  • Have frequent conversations with each child, as well as with the family as a whole. Parents should encourage everyone to express their ideas, opinions, and feelings.
  • Reinforce language and literacy skills by doing puzzles and playing games that reinforce literacy, such as Lotto, Candy Land, Old Maid, Concentration, Scrabble, and Trivial Pursuit.

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