The hot weather is signaling to us that summer is on the horizon. School – with all of its structured routines, homework, testing, and projects — will soon be over. Summer – with its outdoor play, excursions to the parks and beaches, and vacations — will replace the frenetic daily school schedules. Both kids and parents are likely to be more relaxed!
But did you know that when students return to school after summer vacation, they’ve often lost one to three months of learning?
Research indicates that math skills are most in jeopardy. Elementary students at all socio-economic levels typically lose math skills, while middle class students often make slight gains in reading. But the weak economy has taken its toll on families across the board. Fewer parents will be able to afford camps, tutors, and the plethora of other summer programs that can enrich learning during the summer. And school budget cuts have also reduced free summer educational programs that existed in the recent past.
So what’s a parent to do? Here are 10 tips for maintaining your child’s skills and learning levels during the summer.
- Foster the expectation that summer is a time for learning. Ask your child what he/she would like to learn over the summer. It’s also helpful if you are a role model for learning. Discuss with your children what you plan on learning this summer.
- Encourage reading by providing your children with plenty of books that interest them. Use school summer reading lists and library grade-level reading suggestions. Visit the library often and check out special summer events. Read with your children, and discuss the books they are reading with them. If you are really ambitious, organize a book club with a few of your child’s friends.
- Understand that any topic of interest to your child can be a source of learning. For example, if your child is interested in baseball, surround him or her with baseball books and magazines. Watching a baseball game and keeping score or cataloguing baseball cards can be a lesson in statistics, i.e., RBI, ERA.
- Car trips can evolve into math or geography lessons. Instead of the perennial kid question: “Are we there yet,” ask your children to estimate and calculate the travel time to a destination. Encourage your kids to recognize different state license plates, and talk about those states with them, fostering their geography skills.
- For social studies learning, make day trips to local historical sites, such as Teddy Roosevelt’s home at Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay, or FDR’s home in Hyde Park, NY. Overnight trips to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Gettysburg, and Boston, offer a wealth of information about our nation’s history. And for science skills, don’t overlook children’s science museums and zoos, as well as outdoor natural wonders to explore, such as caves, beaches, and parks.
- Let your child calculate what the change should be at stores, restaurants, and activities that require admission fees. If your children are old enough, ask them to calculate tips in restaurants.
- Try word games, including board games, such as Scrabble, and crossword puzzles and Sudoku to build vocabulary. Encourage your child to learn a certain number of new words during the summer.
- Sharpen your child’s math skills by playing games with him or her that require computation, such as Monopoly or dominoes. Let your child be the scorekeeper or “banker.” You can also use flash cards to help review addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Go online for worksheets that match your child’s learning needs and skill level. Many of these can be printed or downloaded for free.
- Don’t overlook the kitchen as a wonderful learning lab. Involve your children in cooking and preparing meals, and they will exercise their reading, math and science skills. For example, have them read recipes, measure ingredients, and observe how the combination of different ingredients leads to the creation of something amazing. For advanced learning, ask questions, such as how many pints are in a quart, or what made the dough rise?
- Inspire your children to write about their summer learning experiences. Remember to keep learning fun. You want your children to return to school in September with improved skills and a renewed love of learning!
PTO Today recently published 34 Success Tips for Middle School parent organization leaders. All of the suggestions acknowledge, “middle school is different from elementary school, and not just for the kids.” The piece offers some great ideas about how to involve middle school parents in their children’s PTAs and PTOs, while recognizing that parents have a short commitment to the middle school. Communication – with other parents, school personnel, and students – is key.
But what if you’re not a PTA leader? You’re just an average parent – stretched in numerous directions. You are amazed at the changes in your child, and wonder how you can get involved in his or her new school. Children leave the cocoon of the elementary school just at the time their bodies are changing and they are more interested in listening to their peers than their parents.
So how can parents empower themselves to help their children succeed now that they are in middle school? What is the best way to communicate with teachers and other middle school personnel? How can you nurture your child’s emerging independence at the same time that you keep a watchful eye on his/her activities?
Earlier this year, I wrote about this topic on tweenparent.com. Here are some of my tips:
- Don’t drop out of sight when your children reach middle school. This is a big mistake. Unlike elementary schools, there is usually not a need for class mothers and volunteers in the classrooms. But you should still remain actively involved. Go to PTA meetings, join committees, or volunteer to chaperone school dances and other activities. When parents are invited to events, such as meetings, concerts, plays, open houses, conferences and special programs, make it your business to attend.
- Know the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of all your children’s teachers, principal, other middle school administrators, counselors, and school nurse. By all means, contact them if you have questions or concerns.
- Know your school and school district websites, and check them frequently for calendar changes, meeting announcements and minutes, news, policies and procedures, and other information.
- Find out how your school communicates important information to parents and then be alert to those messages. Is it by automated phone message, e-mail blasts, electronically through systems such as Parent Portal, newsletters, snail-mail, or in your kids’ backpacks?
- Keep the school calendar in an accessible area and check it frequently.
- Help your child with organizational skills, including managing homework. Find out what method the school uses for contacting parents and helping students stay on top of homework, such as agendas or Internet sites.
- Get to know all of your child’s teachers. Ask about their expectations, as well as homework and testing.
- As much as your child may act like he/she is not interested in talking to you, try to engage him/her in conversation on a regular basis. Be a good listener. Show a genuine interest in his/her studies, activities and friends. Show sincere attention even if your child acts like he/she does not want to be in your company. If you keep up the communication, she/he will know you will be there when advice is needed.
- Since the middle school years are the period when young people are forging their identity, it is the ideal time for them to explore their interests. Encourage them to become involved in extra-curricular activities, such as music, sports, social action, etc., so they can hone their talents and skills.
- Peer pressure becomes paramount at this age. Pay attention to who your child’s friends are. Know where your child is at all times. Be alert to signs that others are unduly influencing your child.
- Pick your issues carefully. Is it more important to take a stand on fashion or values, messy room or drugs? Try to decide ahead of time where you will take your stand.
- Insist on good attendance. If your child misses school for a legitimate reason, make it clear he/she needs to keep up with schoolwork. Contact the school to make arrangements.
Middle school can be a bewildering time, for parents as well as children. Your child is becoming more autonomous, but still needs your support, engagement, encouragement, and understanding. Stay involved in your child’s school. Research indicates that the more involved parents are, the more successful their own children will be.