5 Tips to Help Parents Keep the Learning Going Over the Summer

Summertime...and the learnin’ is easy. Or, at least, it can be. Yet many parents are anxious about those weeks off from school. A May 2014 survey by Sylvan Learning found that 51 percent of parents of fourth through eighth graders are “concerned” about summer learning loss, and they often look to teachers to ease their anxiety.

Here are some ideas you can share with parents to help them keep the learning going over summer break.

1. Leverage Students’ Interests

“Consider taking a child's preferred interest to the next level,” suggests Catherine Whitcher, a special education advocate and consultant in the Chicago area. “Does your child love to read? Find a book club at your local library or bookstore, which may introduce new genres and critical thinking discussions. Does your child love to build and construct? Find Lego clubs and competitions to take their designs to the next level and learn from others. Does your child love video games? Minecraft social events are popping up everywhere.”

If transportation is an issue, or if your child simply likes to be on a tablet or laptop, consider online classes to prep for coursework in the coming year, or explore subjects not necessarily offered in school. “One of the benefits of this is that the kids could easily find a new passion that could lead to a career down the road,” says Jordyn Lee of SkilledUp, an online course curator. “We've talked with a lot of parents of young kids who started learning about computer science and Web development in their spare time because they were interested in math and science. Many started taking free classes on sites like Codecademy and Khan Academy and became really good and interested in coding — something they would never have found out in the middle school classroom.”

2. Encourage Their Curiosity

“Let kids be curious,” says Ashley Hurley, a professional development specialist for secondary literacy at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina. Summer is a great time to explore at home or at museums, historic sites, planetariums and science centers. The key is hands-on activities. “Let kids be makers. Let them take things apart, tinker, cook, explore. If curiosity is ignited, that passion can spill into school and take learning to new heights.”

Parents can also fuel curiosity through the small screen. “For example, the newly produced Cosmos series makes the mysteries of the world around us accessible to both children and adults, offering a great opportunity to watch a show together and also build background knowledge and vocabulary,” says Kelly Ford, director of curriculum and instruction at Lady Liberty Academy Charter School in Harrison, NJ. Engage the smaller screens, like laptops, tablets and smartphones, too. “If a child asks an ‘I wonder’ question, parents can look up the information together with their child. Coming up with questions together gets the brain ready to learn and retain the answers.”

3. Create Opportunities for Reading and Writing

The Sylvan study found reading volume declines as kids get older. Sixty-six percent of 9- and 10-year-olds read more than five books over the summer, while only 44 percent of 13- and 14-year-olds did. If your school assigns summer reading, you probably have a study guide to share with parents. But even if there’s no formal program, encourage parents to get kids reading over the break.

As a teacher, you know you don’t have to read the same books your students do in order to facilitate an effective book talk. Help parents learn to do this, too. “For example, parents could say, ‘When I get home from work, I really want to hear about the main character in this book and what happened in chapter one,’” Ford says.

Parents also can encourage their kids to share their reading more broadly. “Encourage them to talk to other kids and to blog and/or journal about the reading,” Hurley adds. Writing book reviews (not reports) or back-of-the-book blurbs give kids a chance to use evaluative thinking and writing skills.

4. Integrate Learning into Vacations and Outings

“Build background knowledge and vocabulary by taking trips — local or otherwise,” Ford suggests. Parents and their kids can plan the route and explore historical or cultural facts about destinations. Blogging about their vacation destination or summer camp experience is another way to keep students’ writing muscles toned.

He continues: “Children perk up when their parents are interested in doing things with them. It’s a chance to share and talk to their children about the world around them. Watching a parent learn something is almost guaranteed to get a child interested in learning the same thing.”

5. Don’t Over-Schedule

One of the biggest mistakes parents make, whether it’s during the school year or during summer break, is scheduling every minute of their adolescent’s day. “Kids need time to rest and simply be,” Hurley insists.

Or just goofing around being a kid. “Downtime allows the body and brain an opportunity to rest, replenish and reflect,” says Michel Brown, owner of Tutor Doctor of Northern Colorado in Fort Collins, CO.

For most kids, summer is a welcome respite from the challenges of the school year. So why not take advantage of this less challenging time to encourage some serious (or not so serious) learning?

Steve Peha is the founder of Teaching That Makes Sense, Inc., a North Carolina–based consultancy specializing in innovative approaches to educational change. In addition to working in hundreds of schools and teaching in thousands of classrooms, he is also an award-winning writer and educational software developer. Follow Steve on Google+.

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