Local educators offer advice to keep students sharp during summer months
Reading, writing and ‘rithmetic are valuable concepts learned by kids across the Midlands each school year. But many children likely aren’t practicing them this summer.
To ensure students return to the classroom with their minds sharp, local educators shared their tips and advice that can be implemented by families of all sizes, ages and schedules.
Multiple studies have shown that students who do not exercise their brains during the three months of summer vacation can lose growth they achieved during the school term. Duke University professor Harris Cooper performed a study during his time on a Missouri school board when cuts to federal funding for summer programs were being discussed.
His research showed that most “students showed little or no academic growth over summer,” according to the National Summer Learning Association. In fact, students can lose one to three months of learning.
Cooper’s study also showed that summer loss was greater in math than reading and had the biggest downward trend in math computation and spelling.
But the news isn’t all bad, even for those families who feel their summer schedule is full enough without adding academic work.
According to “Growth in reading and how children spend their time outside of school”, an academic article by nationally known educators Richard Anderson, Paul Wilson, and Linda Fielding, minutes a day can make a big difference.
Academic achievement was ranked in the 90th percentile for students who read 40 minutes a day. In addition, students who read 12 minutes a day score in the 50th percentile.
“My No. 1 suggestion is reading widely and frequently,” said Mary Gaskins, coordinator of professional learning for Lexington School District One. “The more access to reading material, the better.”
Educators also advise parents to take the extra step to ask their children questions about what they’re reading and even pick up the title themselves.
“Ideally, parents should read the same books as their children so they can engage in authentic, meaningful discussions about the books,” said Will Moody, assistant principal at Round Top Elementary School. “Parents can foster reading comprehension by asking children to predict what might happen next (and) asking questions about characters’ motives and feelings.”
Educators agreed that nonfiction texts should be a significant part of any kid’s library and that older students especially can be kept interested in literacy if they find a subject they enjoy.
“Children of all ages should be encouraged to read different genres to broaden their exposure to various types of literature,” said Christina Melton, chief instructional officer for Lexington-Richland School District Five. “A mix of fiction and non-fiction books will expand your child’s learning experiences and may create new interests.”
O’Tasha Morgan, school counseling director at E.L. Wright Middle School, said graphic novels are a good option for struggling readers.
“Parents should also set aside certain times during the day when a child must turn off everything and read,” she said.
For those students who require writing practice, Morgan said providing a notebook for him or her to journal in can be a brain-stretching activity that’s fun.
“Examples could include writing about a favorite vacation activity, describing a place they would like to visit, or even creating a vacation agenda for an upcoming trip,” she said.
Local educators also shared suggestions of ways to incorporate math, reading and writing into a family’s everyday schedule. Below are a few of their favorites.
- Calculating sale prices for items they want in the store
- Asking a student to prepare a budget for a family trip, research online for ticket prices or mileage
- Non-electronic board games like Monopoly and chess that encourage math and reasoning
- Cooking together and calculating how to double or divide a recipe
- Scoring calculations while playing video games
- Counting/subtracting mile markers on a trip
- Taking scrap material from around the house and inventing something
- Asking “why?” during short or long trips about nature or weather (such as “why does a rainbow follow a rain shower?”)
Gaskins said spur-of-the-moment discussions between parent and child easily can boost critical thinking skills.
“Just talking to kids about the world around them is great,” she said.
Younger children who aren’t yet up to discussing science or reading long novels still can keep their brains active. Moody encouraged parents to not overbook kids’ schedules and instead to allow time for free play.
Toys like blocks, Legos, art supplies and dolls provide the right kind of stimulus to a child.
“Most of us remember playing with an empty cardboard box that we turned into a ‘house’ or a ‘spaceship’ as a child. Those kinds of activities are amazingly brain-challenging because of the high levels of imagination and creativity that are involved,” he said.
Researchers also have learned that active kids are more likely to retain a concept. Gaskins said many local classroom teachers often incorporate hand gestures and whole-body movements when teaching a new item. She encouraged parents to review simple math and science concepts while splashing in the pool, taking a walk or playing at the park.
While online games can be a distraction, there are many websites geared towards educational ones. If parents aren’t sure where to find resources for older students, Moody suggested a simple Google search such as “skill review for sixth grade math.”
Morgan also advised parents to”empty the backpacks” to see if their student’s teacher sent home materials to help families review concepts.
And educators suggest as many spare moments as possible should be used for literacy.
“Reading during down time can really add up,” Morgan said.
People also can visit their local library branch in Richland and Lexington counties to find free events or can use community calendars to learn about educational offerings at places like Historic Columbia.
The links below offer more information on educational resources. School libraries also offer summer hours.