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Here Comes Summer! -Make the summer fun and educational for your child

June, 2009
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summer 3 Summer is just around the corner and now is the time to get organized so that your child does not lose what they gained over the school year, and can become prepared for the fall term. The nine month school calendar is a hangover from earlier agrarian economies when children and teachers were needed home on the farms over the summer. While the working world has gone on flexi-time, work-from-home and four 10-hour days the school calendar has not evolved. Expensive facilities sit idle for a quarter of the year and children’s learning cycles are out of sync with parents’ work schedules. This is in spite of overwhelming research that shows students’ summer learning loss is equivalent, on average, to at least one month of instruction. This loss is more pronounced for mathematics-related subjects than for reading or language arts—most likely because many students continue reading over the summer, but few of them practice their math skills.

  In addition, research indicates that the first four to six weeks of the new term are spent re-teaching the material most students have forgotten over the summer. Presuming that the school calendar will not change significantly this year, what can you as a parent do to help your child bridge the learning gap between June and September? The key is to think like a mentor as well as a manager. Managers want to get things done in the most efficient way. Mentors know learning is a process in which making mistakes is a tool and not a failure. Learning opportunities are everywhere in and out of the home. Your role is to seize the occasion and support your child while s/he learns.

  In order to create a learning bridge over the summer you need to first contact your children’s teachers so that you know what content and skills your child will have accumulated by the end of this school year and will be learning in the coming term. Ask for copies of next semester’s course syllabuses, examples of math problems and of advice on appropriate reading material. Many schools lend out books over the summer. For primary students, find out what your child’s graded reader level is and stock up on a mix of his/her present level and some that are more challenging. For middle and upper level students there are a number of authors who base their novels on historical fact. If your students will be studying Asian history they will love Tai Pan or Shogun by James Clavell. James Michener has romanticized historical events from around the world in epic fashion. These hefty tomes will keep older adolescent readers interested for weeks, increasing literacy, geographic knowledge and historical understanding. An excellent source of titles for all ages can be found at http://www.education-world.com/summer_reading/. While reading is great, nothing beats the first-hand experience of travel. If you are planning a family vacation, maybe it can dovetail with something your child will be studying next term? Get the maps out and involve your child in the planning of the trip. Have them keep a daily journal of places, activities, what they learned and the family traveling budget. This will knock the socks off their teachers when the inevitable question comes up of “What did you do during the summer?” Take them down the Silk Road, into mosques, churches and synagogues. Try kebabs and yogurt from Xinjiang, sausages from Germany, kimchi, sushi, curries and croissants. Enlarging your home menus enlarges your children’s experiences.

  Make your house a center of learning. Keep magazines in convenient places around the house. The covers on National Geographic are irresistible to pick up and the stories will hook those who dare leaf through. There is also a National Geographic specifically for kids (http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/). Don’t forget about problem solving and small motor skill development opportunities in the home. Ask your child to help you repair and build things in the house. Yes, it will take longer than if you did it yourself or called someone in to do it but it is a learning and sharing opportunity for both parent and child. Teach your child how to use household appliances, make their beds, do the dishes, change a light bulb, pump up their basketballs and maintain their bicycles. These are all small science and mechanical engineering projects involving hypotheses and help to develop spatial perception, hand-eye coordination and independence. Provide a well-stocked box of safe tools and supplies for exploratory projects. The internet is a library of fun and rewarding projects from archeology to zoology. The Parents’ Choice Foundation website (http://www.parents-choice.org/) offers many suggestions on educational activities for children and rates child-appropriate websites. summer 4

  If you are serious about your child learning another language and want to expose your family to people from other cultures you may consider bringing in an au pair for the summer, especially if both parents are working.

  The privileged time of summer provides the opportunity for young people to explore new experiences and get involved in activities that they don’t have time for during the school year. There are thousands of specialized summer camps offering exciting programs focusing on sailing, art, music, space exploration, dance and sports and also more traditional scout camps for boys and girls. If your child has a foundation in a language you might consider sending them to a scout camp in a foreign country where their language learning will be supported by hands-on activities in a familiar context of scouting. If you are going to North America for the summer, don’t forget the proximity of French culture and language in Quebec and other places in Canada. Louisiana also has summer camps in French. Opportunities for exposure to Spanish culture are everywhere. .

  Don’t forget to spend some time with the family back home. Many expat children lose their sense of belonging to a larger family unit and their national identities. Have them prepare and record an interview with their grandparents or aunts and uncles, draw a picture of the family house, take pictures and make videos of “back home”. These will be precious treasures for the family and could probably be used as a project for Humanities or Language Arts.

  Local parks and recreation departments also provide a variety of affordable, safe, fun and educational activities. These offer an opportunity for your child to meet peers from different socio-cultural backgrounds, make friends and develop an understanding of the wider world.

  For older children, help them find a part time job at the library or an internship at your company. This will open their eyes to the importance of an education and the value of work and money.summer 2

  During the summer months gently remind your child that while “all work and no play makes Johnny a dull, dull boy”, Ahmed from Turkey, Lakshmi from India and Xiao Chen from China, who they will meet in the job market later, are adding value to themselves every day. This shouldn’t be a hard sell as research shows that 56 percent of students want to prepare for the coming semester during the summer. They know entertainment is the easy path but has a low ratio of value for time spent while enhancement requires discipline, can be fun and will be rewarding. Children look forward to summer but after the first couple of days they hit the wall of not having every minute of their lives planned by teachers and coaches. They quickly get bored. Summer is a good time for them to set goals, plan and learn time management. If they can learn these life skills are responsible for their own development, it certainly will have been a summer well spent.


By Sebastian Alexander

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