Summer learning: Make it part of your family’s summer routine

June 8, 2016 | Posted in: Elementary, High School, Middle Years

“Sometimes I wonder what I’m a-gonna do
But there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues.”  -Eddie Cochran

From the time my kids were little, our family took part in a special tradition and implemented it faithfully each May, until the children got to the age when they were working or simply too busy. I would hang a large blank piece of paper on the kitchen wall and ask them to write down the things they most wanted to do that summer. The sky was the limit! This was their dream list of the perfect summer break, and suggestions involved both little things like going out for ice cream, and big events, like visiting their grandparents in Florida. Their ideas served as the basis for their summer plans.

When my kids were little, they wanted to go to the zoo, play mini golf or sell lemonade at their own lemonade stand. When they were older, concerts, New York Yankees games and vacation destinations made their lists. We knew we would never fit it all in, but it was fun have a snapshot of their interests at that particular stage of their lives.

The key to these plans, whether the kids were 5 or 15, was creating learning experiences for them. We looked for ways to reinforce their classroom lessons in everything we did as a family during those summer months.

For example, when my middle daughter Becca was 8, she decided to run a summer camp for my younger daughter, then 4, and all of her friends. Camp Shooting Star was born! For four consecutive weeks, children participated in outside activities, arts and crafts, drama, and even field trips, coordinated by Becca (and her camp counselors/friends), with oversight by me. The “campers” were engaged and excited each day, and parents were thrilled because their kids were active, social and happy.

The little ways family members can encourage learning may include activities that are linked to every day events. For example, my friend Cris and her family spend the entire summer in the pool. They love to swim. Cris has come up with great ways of reinforcing learning, all the while having fun! She creates pool games with math facts. For example, when one of her kids guesses the right answer to a math problem, they get first dibs on jumping in the pool. Or her kids go underwater to think and then jump up and scream the answer. She also spends time reading books to her kids while they are poolside. The little things can truly make a difference.

Jen Sullivan, a special education teacher at Arlington Central School District in Lagrangeville, NY, and mother of three small children, spends the summer months taking trips to the zoo, park, and aquarium, and has her kids keep a journal about their experiences. She also takes her children on weekly trips to the library. Most public libraries offer reading programs, usually sponsored on a statewide level, which give kids incentives and rewards for reaching reading goals. Libraries often offer parties and celebrations as a culmination of the program.

Some teachers often send reinforcement work home with students ahead of the summer months.

“For my students, I send home a “packet” for the summer at each child’s level. I also copy books from Reading A-Z so the students can practice reading over the summer. For both my own children and my students, we use Starfall (as an app or on the computer) and other programs like Kids A-Z to reinforce literacy skills,” said Mrs. Sullivan.

In addition to exercising the brain, kids should be on the move as well.

Physical activity primes the body and the mind

According to Joseph Pesce, physical education teacher at the Monroe-Woodbury Central School District and co-owner of Hydra Strength Training, keeping your child physically active is just as important as keeping their mind active and learning.

“Through physical movement, an individual can improve physical appearance, increase self-esteem and shake away the ‘doldrums’ one feels from inactivity,” Pesce said.

Pesce suggests parents investigate camps, sports teams and local fitness centers, all of which offer weekly, monthly and seasonal activities. Other options may include entertainment facilities that have climbing walls, trampoline activities and adventure parks, though these activities typically require a fee or a try out.

Most importantly, says Pesce, children should be exercising 20-30 minutes a day, a good habit for both parents and children. Parents can make exercise fun by participating alongside their child and encouraging good eating habits, all of which will make a lasting impression on children.

“If activities are too expensive or it’s too late to sign up for an activity/team, then make a personal routine of learning and physical activity. You and your child will reap the benefits of accomplishing something together,” said Pesce.

Carole Spendley is the mother of four children, ages 21, 18, 16 and 14. She cherishes memories of sharing fun-filled summer activities with her kids, whether reading a book under the shade of a tree or attending an outdoor concert.

Copyright ©2016 by Parent Today and Capital Region BOCES; Used with permission

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