First it was red jello. Then it was sugary juice. Now summer is the enemy! And it’s getting a bad rap. Summer Slide. Brain Drain. Whatever you call it, what was once the most carefree and welcome season of the year is being vilified as a threat to our kids’ learning. Even a recent Rand Corporation study points to the ways in which children fall behind in their learning during the beloved months of summer.
Wait a second! Time out! This doesn’t have to be the case. The problem is the definition of learning. And it is so much more than the three r’s and all that is associated with classroom activities. Learning is about thinking, exploring, questioning, expanding your horizons, having new experiences, and using and growing the skills you have cultivated all year long.
Learning , and learning in the summer in particular, wears so many different faces, that it doesn’t always fall into the category of “learning” (hear the groan?) as kids come to know it. Learning in summer offers much that the school year doesn’t. Summer brings time that is unstructured, schedules that are less encumbered, environments that are untraditional and ripe for discovery, and opportunities to create and follow your own interests and lesson plans. It is a time of year that is ripe with real learning opportunities for kids of all ages, learning that is not limited to the three r’s and drill and kill. Summer gives us the chance to stretch and expand thinking. So, let’s reframe and put a whole new spin on that word “learning.”
Wherever you are, learning opportunities abound. As parents we can keep our kids’ brains active and sparking, new synapses forming all summer long. Some of this happens with our help, and some happens if we leave our kids alone (and unplug the enemy screens.) Remember, kids need time to play, with and without friends. In those unstructured, unscripted, unplanned times, they are growing ideas! Isn’t that learning?
In the summer, the parent becomes teacher of a different sort, the one who sees opportunities and potential in everyday activities and adventures. Whether you are in your own home, running errands, taking a family field trip, there are learning opportunities aplenty. With a little creativity and a dash of resourcefulness, parents can help children to see that learning is fun and active, happens outside of the school walls, and is not limited to work books and forced reading.
The car is a learning environment. Instead of relying on the car DVD and other tech devices, turn your child’s brain and senses on! Old fashioned car games, giving points for answers found, involve the whole family.
- Play “I’m Going on a Trip” and practice memory and alphabet skills. (Each person adds an item, going A to Z, and each turn repeats the whole list. Person #3 says I am going on a trip, and I am taking an Apple, a Basketball, and a Caterpillar. And then onto the the next person. I amgoing on a trip, and I am taking a…
- Play “I spy” using shapes in the world that is passing you by (Who can find a triangle shape?).
- Play “Out of State License” spotting.
- Play spotting games of all kinds: Who can find a license that has a G in it? Who can find a license plate whose numbers add up to more than 10?
- Play structure spotting games: How many gas stations can you spot? Houses with cars in their driveway? Houses with more than one chimney?
- Play math word games: Daddy can eat 3 pickles in 5 minutes. How man pickles can he eat in an hour.
You can spice up the “learning” in your everyday errands:
- At the grocery store:
- Enlist your child’s help in writing the grocery list. Ask your child to write down the kitchen need as it arises.
- Give your child her own child a list to fulfill at the store.
- Involved your child in guessing the weight of produce, the total cost at checkout.
- Ask the manager if he would show you and your child the meat refrigerator or the cold storage area where vegetables are kept.
- At the bank
- Enlist your child’s help in filling out the deposit (withdrawal) form.
- Talk with the bank clerk about the different ways that people use the bank.
- Ask the manager to give your child a tour of your bank and chat about where the money goes…and where it comes from!
- At the cleaner, ask for a tour of the cleaning and iron machines.
- At the gas station:
- Estimate how much gas your car will take, and watch the pump numbers soar.
- Guess how much it will cost to fill up the tank. (Yikes!)
- Show your child under the hood of your car, where the oil goes, for example.
- Ask the attendant to show your child how to change a tire.
- At the post office, ask to see where the letters get sorted.
And the learning continues with your discussion around the dinner table, as your child shares what he has seen.
Turn visits to museums, to parks, and to recreation areas in” hunts” of all kinds. Give your children a list of things they need to find:
- (At the art museum) Find an artist whose first and last names start with a P and who painted faces with the eyes in funny places. Find a painting that has only three colors.
- (At the Natural History Museum) How many animals can you find which are smaller that you are? Larger? Who has toes? Claws? Whose eyes are on the sides of their heads? Whose are in the front? Who has fur? Hair? Feathers?
- (On a nature hike) Find something that an animal might eat. Find something that is crunchy, something grows on a tree. Find evidence that an animal lives there. Play games using a blindfold, asking Guess what it is of the person who can’t see. Be very quiet and pay attention to what a noisy place it is, naming the sounds you hear.
Summer is perfect for a long range project….because you have the time. Be only the consultant, not the director, in these pursuits.
- Put on a production. Your child writes the script, recruits the players, and puts on the show. She makes the lists and invites the audiences (homemade invitations), arranges the theater seating, even bakes the reception goodies.
- Hold an art show. Your child is the artist, hangs her work in the home “gallery.” She creates and distributes the invitations; she cooks the reception goodies.
- Hold a recital. Your child can perform his talent—a drum show, piano recital, karate demonstration. He makes his guest lists, invitations, program, and reception treats. He arranges the room and the audience seats.
- Hold a creative writing/poetry reading. Your child creates invitations and arrange the reading room and prepares the reception.
- Build something– a skate board ramp, a doll bed, a mouse house. Anything that requires thought, planning, directions, supplies, and elbow grease will keep your child’s wheels turning.
- Start any kind of a collection—rocks, shells, coins, stamps, baseball cards. The organization and categorization (and stoage) require plenty of skill.
- Have a garage sale–at this one he’ll sell his toys, clothes, and stuff. He gets to make the signs, put prices on items, organize the items, run the bank…and count his money made!
And the business of everyday life at home, offers plenty of learning opportunities:
- Pay your bills with your child, letting him see what things cost and how pay for them.
- Invite your child to cook with you—measuring is a math skill.
- Ask your child to make place cards for the dinner table.
- Ask your child to help you clean out or organize almost anything! Sorting, alphabetizing, categorizing take thought and effort.
Starting with reframing your ideas about learning, whether it’s a project, a field trip, or just the business of daily life, summer is ripe with opportunity for reinforncing skills learned and adding new ones. Who says the days of summer are lazy?! They are just filled with expanding your child’s thinking and growing a his mind!