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Beyond Camps: Summer Learning for Everyone

May, 2012
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When I was growing up in the Midwestern United States in the 80s, the highlight of summer for many kids was getting to spend a few weeks away from home, usually at a remote lakeside location participating in some form of educational camp, the most popular of which were band and sports camps.

Fast forward 30 years to Shanghai, 2012. Summer camps are plentiful; in fact, they are in abundance, and they are indeed a great place to extend your child’s learning over the coming holidays. The good news is there are a wealth of summer learning alternatives for parents who prefer spending time with their kids, who are on a budget creatively minded, or unsure about the urban summer camping experience.

Deanna Lee, a Shanghai-based expatriate mother of four who has home-schooled her kids for the last two years, believes that spending time with her kids in the summer can extend their academic learning as well as developing them socially and emotionally. Lee advocates baking cookies and talking with the kids about ingredients and ratios. “Get the kids to help plan the family dinners,” she says, “and discuss what they want to eat and how much you’ll need to buy.” This is a great way to facilitate extra math and vocabulary learning, she claims. Lee also proposes combining this with “teaching [them] how to wash the dishes, do the laundry and put away their own clothes” which will entrench essential “life skills that’ll benefit them long-term.”

Lee gets the kids outside in the summer and away from the deadening influence of TV as much as possible, going for hikes, horse back riding and to the beach. “Let them get dirty and feel the world as it’s supposed to be,” provokes Lee.  Taking a family holiday this summer? Alicia Lewis, curriculum coordinator at Shanghai American School, who often spends vacations with her nieces is a proponent of inventing “a progressive story while traveling somewhere” to pass the time. She says this gives her “a chance to model and extract an introductory paragraph, metaphors, or other figurative language.”

Do you and the kids like to shop? “Going into a toy store with [my] nieces and telling them they can choose whatever they like and as much as they like –within a budget –gets the eldest explaining subtraction, needs versus wants, return on investment and other concepts to her younger sibling as they march up and down the aisles,” notes Lewis. 

Liqun Hu, an American educated Shanghainese counselor and psychologist, underscores the importance of simple reading over the holidays.“Keep lots of books and magazines around the house and let children choose books that suit their interests,” says Hu. Deanna Lee agrees. She has started a family book club, and to chip away at the potential for summer losses in math skills, the Lees play board games together that focus on strategy.

“Another option is taking the kids out to a sporting event, letting them to track game strategies and plays as they unfold,” says my father, Thomas Eaton. “I used to calculate batting the averages of my favorite players as a kid,” he explained. “It’s amazing how addictive this can be for children.” He used to take my family to live baseballs games every summer in Detroit. I remember him sharing the tradition of Tiger stadium with us, recalling great moments, and inspiring us to love and appreciate history as well. 

Summer is also one of the best times to get out and enjoy the night sky, visit a zoo, or, when the heat kicks in, an air-conditioned museum. If you have the space at home, your kids can start their own vegetable gardens, or learn to refinish an old piece of furniture.

Seemingly menial tasks and simple day-to-day routines can all become learning opportunities that shape your child’s mind now and in the future, with or without summer camps.


By Richard Eaton


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