Our Head of Elementary School Renee Miller outlines some ideas on how to keep kids from backsliding during summer vacation.
One topic on many parents’ minds as their children end another school year is, “How am I going to help my kid hold their progress over the summer?” It’s true that students lose academic ground during the summer months, and even the strongest students can make a small summer backslide. For students in the early grades or for students whose learning is fragile, maintaining ground is even more important. In this post, I will share some ideas about how to help your child stay connected to learning during the months when their teachers aren’t providing daily academic nourishment.
Before I do that, I’d like to balance these ideas with reminder that summer free-play is vitally important to the growth, development and long-term happiness of our kids. Research abundantly supports the understanding that the more time children spend in adult-selected, adult-guided activities, the worse their ability to work towards self-directed goals becomes. Unscheduled, unsupervised playtime is one of the most valuable educational opportunities we can give to our children. It is during these unstructured times that children strengthen their friendships and social bonds, build emotional resilience, and develop flexible and divergent thinking skills.
A study out of the University of Colorado looked at the effects of unstructured play on students’ ability to organize and plan (two key skills of academic success) independently. You can read about that study here. They found that children who spent more time in less-structured activities displayed better self-directed control. As we inch closer to summer, I hope we can support each other in finding ways to let them play, to avoid the temptation to overschedule and overplan, and to find ways to make some summer learning self-directed and open-ended.
Here are some thoughts on ways you can support academic progress over the summer, and ways that you might do that within a balanced context:
- Read with your child every single day. This can mean different things for different families and ages. For our youngest kids, hearing you read to them helps them develop language and understanding of the written word. For our older kids, you can help them understand complex ideas and points in history by reading a difficult book together. For fiercely independent readers, you can read side-by-side, each with your own materials. Some of my favorite sites for booklists and reading recommendations are: Bank Street College of Education, American Library Association, Kids Recommend at C-T-L, NYTimes Notables.
- Play math games. Keeping sharp with math facts over the summer can be achieved with games like 4-Way Count Down, Yahtzee, Math Dice, and 24 Game. For those students who are fact fluent, you can play strategy or set games like Sumoku, Chess, Equate, Set, or Prime Climb. Some other great math games: Sequence Numbers, ColorKu, KenKen, Sudoko, Othello, Pentago, Quarto, Quoridor, Tic-Tac-Toe Times 10. For those kids and families who enjoy more rote practice, pick up a simple math practice book and do a few pages each day. These Daily Practice books are straightforward, and give kids small bits of practice each day. If you want more open-ended, problem solving experiences you can look at the Beast Academy Books, Math Bafflers, and Math Circle Materials. If you’d like basic drill-like practice, you can use a free site like this to download quick practice sheets. (If you’re going to go in that direction, I encourage you to balance it with joyful math opportunities.) Cool Math 4 Kids and CoolMath-Games have the worst names, but have some good stuff on their sites. They have basic fact practice games but they also have some “Brain Teasers” that are interesting problems to dig into. I really like some of the strategy and logic games on CoolMath-Games. Bloxorz is a favorite of mine.
- Don’t forget to infuse writing into their everyday activities. Kids can write to grandma, or find an organization that supports pen-pal relationships. If you’re traveling, ask them to keep a daily journal of their adventures. You can have them write postcards to the school too! I will be making a bulletin board to display all of the postcards (written in Chinese) that we get over the summer. Send as many as you’d like! Sites like Edublogs and Kidblog offer families free blog space and appropriate security for writing in English. Chinese Writer is an app for character and stroke order, and sight word practice. Art of Chinese Characters is an app better for older children with more Chinese language knowledge.
- Continue to have students read in Mandarin each day. We are in ongoing conversations with iChineseReader about ways they can improve their tool and it seems to be getting better everyday. They have offered to extend our families’ current memberships through the end of September so that you each will continue to have access to Chinese reading material through the summer. Additionally, there are other Chinese reader apps like, WaWaYaYa JoyReader that families and teachers have reported enjoying.
- Continue listening in Mandarin. Pipa Magazine is published specifically for students learning Mandarin as a second language. They have a section on their website that offers stories free to listen to in Mandarin. Additionally, iChineseReader has purchased the rights to offer all of their print magazines to read via its app, and the iChineseReader app allows for listening of the books it offers. Zhishi.funland E-Magazine is an app and print-based magazine for kids that families can subscribe to. This is a leveled system that can reach a range of learners.
- Make going to the library a weekly family adventure. Look for books that are pure joy, whimsy or fantasy, and easy to burn through. Summer reading doesn’t need to heady to be deeply meaningful to kids. Check out some graphic novels or find a series that they can make their way through. Read about themes, or the places you’re traveling to. Don’t be afraid to let them check out the same thing over and over again. I still remember the summer that I read The Guinness Book of World Records, 18 times. I loved it. The ALSC offers a booklist of recommended graphic novels. These Graphic Novel Reading Lists are available for students Kindergarten to 2nd grade, and 3rd to 5th grade.
- Make it a point to “play school” each week. Keep it simple and fun and let the kids have some choice over what subjects to “study.” You can let them teach too. It’s powerful to see what kids know when we let them teach us. Finding a set of simple workbooks will allow for skill practice in this playful setting. Don’t go full throttle on worksheets, timed tests and flashcards. You’ll lose their interest and it’ll lead to frustration. Some kids love these in small doses.
- Maintain tutor time over the summer. If your child sees an ed-therapist or tutor, it would be wise to find ways to maintain the connection over the summer. It takes time to establish a relationship with people we work with only once or twice a week, and it’ll help keep up the forward movement. Consider asking the tutors to mix it up and to find ways to infuse play into their lessons over the summer.
- Find ways to read about the world and nonfiction. Newsela builds nonfiction literacy and awareness of world events by providing access to hundreds of fresh news articles written for the young. Other good sources of quality nonfiction include Time for Kids online and other magazines offered by Cricket Media, Scholastic, and National Geographic. Pairing nonfiction and fiction titles on the same subject can help older readers draw connections and inspire critical thinking, as well as build vocabulary and reinforce ideas. The Mismatched Pairs: Paired Nonfiction and Fiction for Tweens booklist offers books pairs centered around the same topic. Chinasprout offers a section of books for purchase around Chinese culture. So, even if you can’t read in Chinese to your child, you can pick up a few books about China or Chinese culture. You can also find titles here and look for them at the library.
- Connect with each other for ideas. I know we don’t have time to all scour the internet and check out classes and camps each day. When you find an idea, a book, a class, a resource, share it with the rest of us!! I am always so grateful when parents in my child’s class offer ideas for books and experiences. If you know of something that I should add to this list, or if something seems glaringly missing, let me know!
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