Wednesday, July 11, 2012

School’s Out but Learning is Still In

I have been writing articles for parenting and family magazines throughout the U.S.  This article appeared in Northeast Pennsylvania Family in their June 2012 issue.  Here's the link:

School’s out for the summer and the cheers of children can be heard far and wide. Summer is a time to relax and enjoy the endless days of sunshine and play. It is also a time to reinforce all the skills learned during the previous school year.

According to the National Summer Learning Association, all young people experience losses in learning when they do not participate in stimulating educational activities during the summer. Research spanning 100 years shows that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer.

Maybe parents are somewhat resistant to the idea of summer learning, too, for different reasons. Some parents do not quite know how to reinforce the skills, while others simply do not understand the benefit. “Let kids be kids and enjoy their summer vacation,” some parents might say remembering their own youthful summers full of play. However, according to a study by Dr. Harris Cooper, professor of psychology at the University of Missouri-Columbia, when students return to school after a long summer vacation, they've lost one to three months worth of learning.

“Academic regression is real,” says Dr. Richard Tomko, Superintendent of Schools in a K-12 public school district in NJ and partner of Tomko, Tomko and Associates, an educational consulting firm. “Parents who do not foster plans to extend their children's learning into the summer are usually parents of children who struggle at the beginning of the school year.”

Summer is a time for fun and relaxation, and keeping learning in summer can be just that, too. “It is important for every parent to realize that it is the summer, and summer must be fun!” Tomko says. “Children have worked hard all year and now they feel the payoff is the fun-filled days of summer vacation. The learning component must be incorporated in summer fun activities and cannot be hours in length. Quick learning interventions will help reiterate topics and stall regression.”

Start thinking creatively and allow your child to learn naturally in real-life settings. When you think about the various topics your child learns about in school, you will be pleasantly surprised at how easy and fun it can be to incorporate “lessons” into everyday summer life.

Ready, Set, Read!
Get the whole family involved and start a Family Book Club. Depending on the age of the children, assign 10, 20, or 30 minutes per day (or most days of the week) to read together as a family. “Parents must emulate the learning activities with their children,” Tomko says. “Independent reading is the best source for children to maintain a level of literacy. Parents should make sure that they are also familiar with their child’s book so they can discuss themes, characters, likes and dislikes about the book with their child.”

Elementary school teacher Juliann Meletta agrees that reading is the best way to reinforce skills during the summer. “My number one priority for students in the summer is to read, read, read. There is no other product or procedure that packs more for its punch than getting kids to read independently.” As for her own two children, Meletta says, “I do everything I can to get books in the hands of my kids. We visit the local library and devour as many books as we can before taking a pile home.” In addition, many libraries offer summer reading programs with various incentives for completed reading.

The Write Stuff
There are many creative ways to keep children writing throughout the summer without asking them to write a book report or an essay about the Civil War. Kids can write emails to grandparents about their summer plans and activities. Parents can work with their children on a summer scrapbook and have the child write the captions for the pictures. Even something as simple as having a child write the grocery list will help engage children, especially younger ones, in forming letters and sounding out words.

Math Matters
Flash cards might be fun, but don’t forget about everyday activities to engage children in math. Preparing a recipe helps children use measurement. “Asking a child to make his favorite recipe will strengthen his ability to process, create, and complete an important project,” Tomko adds. Encourage your child to do a few chores if he hasn’t started already and to save money for something special. This will help teach math skills as well as necessary life skills in budgeting and financial responsibility.  

Technology Tie-In
Kids love all things techy – computers, iPods, and smart phones are all great ways to keep children interested in learning throughout the summer. There are many websites like and as well as apps available to facilitate learning in all academic areas and for various ages. Kids can practice the alphabet and sounds, review multiplication facts through games, and watch videos about their favorite jungle animals. Simply search academic games according to age or grade level on the internet and get started.

Magical Materials
The most basic skills can be reviewed in creative ways when different kinds of materials are used like sidewalk chalk, fingerpaints and window markers. On a sunny day, sit on the driveway with sidewalk chalk and write a story. “My 4 year-old draws a different picture on each sidewalk block, and then I tell the story based on what I see,” Meletta says. “The best part is that he often disagrees with my story, and he'll say, ‘Mommy, that's not what I mean!’ and then he's using his own vocabulary to narrate his story. For my 7 year-old son, I do the same, but sometimes I change it up with a spelling test, math problems or true and false quizzes. They love these!”

When summer days are gray, camp out by a window and use window markers to write rainy day stories, solve word problems, or play a game of Hangman using rainy day words like “thunder,” “lightening,” and “raincoat.” Even a simple review of addition facts becomes much more fun when kids are writing on the windows!

We all know that a plain cardboard box can lead to hours of creativity. Add construction paper, markers and paints and children have all the necessities to create sets for plays and puppet shows. “Creating summer plays helps younger children enhance diction and interact with dialogue,” Tomko says. “This type of activity can incorporate friends, costumes (as an art component), music, and other learning tools to help maintain and even advance literary skills. One can even use historical characters and stories with this as well.”

The newspaper is a powerful resource for cross-curricular, everyday learning. Where else can you find reading, math, science, history, geography and the arts all in one place?
Children can report on the weather in their town as well as in a city in another state or country, depending on the newspaper. Sports fanatics can look up their favorite baseball team’s most recent batting statistics and keep a record for the summer. The newspaper includes tables and graphs as well as information about cultures not only in their region but around the world.  

With some creativity and a little planning, summer can be fun and relaxing while keeping children’s minds active and enjoying lessons learned in everyday summer settings. With mom or dad as the teacher, summer days can go from hazy and lazy to getting kids yearning for learning!

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