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  • Summer Learning: The brain does not cease to learn just because school is out

    As a classroom teacher, I know that learning takes many forms, so the learning continues even after the last bells ring for summer break. As a parent and teacher, I am an advocate of ‘Homework’ over the summer as research highlights students do lose knowledge and skills when school is not in session over the long summer break. Here are 7 ways to engage your learner at home:

    Get kids writing. Grab an old notebook or staple a few pieces of paper together and get them writing. Have them journal 2-3 times per week highlighting activities and experiences they are participating in. Depending on the grade the entries can be a few sentences to lengthier paragraphs. No need to concentrate on spelling and small grammar mistakes; have them enjoy the process of writing and encourage them to read your thoughts.

    Stimulate creativity through impromptu art. Get out the crayons, colored pencils, old magazines, computer-generated pictures, glue, and whatever else you may have that is kid-friendly and can be repurposed. Start by setting up a ‘creative work area’ with all supplies, and with few directions, let children create original artwork. The idea of this being a less structured activity gives children the ability to create what they want. After completion, have older children explain their creative process by asking questions like, “Why did you choose to use colored pencils instead of paint?” or “How did you come up with the idea to create this particular art piece?” Of course, your questions will be tailored to your child’s finished project.

    Experience a second language together. Learning to communicate in a second language is a valuable skill, and studies indicate that exposure to different languages is beneficial in cognitive development. Keep it simple, have a word of the day in a second language that you and your child/children incorporate into daily conversations. The list grows throughout the week. Give positive reinforcement each opportunity the word is used appropriately. While the intention is not to have your child become a polyglot over the summer, perhaps exposure to new words will assist with an affinity for a particular language later on.

    Ask your children OPEN ended questions and listen to their answers. Parents can ask open-ended questions (example: What did you see? What would you do? List the steps of this activity for me? How would you change it if you could? Where do you think the best place to do this activity would be and why? When would be the best time to do this activity? What do you think might happen next?) Engaging your child in thought-provoking questioning encourages them to think on a subject, find descriptive language to convey their thoughts, and piece the information together. Encourage children to ‘elaborate’ by asking them to provide details to their descriptions, context, and characters. Get them to explore vocabulary by engaging in thought-providing questions and pay attention by really listening to their answers.

    Create stories together. This is a great activity to do in the car with one or more children. Provide a verbal prompt and go back & forth adding details to your original fictional story. For example (PERSON 1 begins the story): “I went to the store to buy some turnips because I wanted to make some soup. Once I left the store I went home” (PERSON 2) “After I left the store I drove home because I forgot my shopping list, so once I got it I went back to the store? (PERSON 1) I went to the store to buy some ______.” This exchange of ideas enlisted many skills to include listening skills, collaboration, and linking ideas coherently. If at first, the story is fragmented, with practices the ideas become more closely linked and the story ends up being quite elaborate.

    Mixed media. Let your child record themselves, on a tape recorder or on video, responding to a question (either self-generated or posed by you). Listen to the tape or watch the video together & provide positive feedback on what you both liked. Schools are increasingly having students use mixed media in presentations, so some children may already know how to record themselves independently.

    Read together. Reading with your child is a tried and true strategy to increase comprehension. Some children need a bit of encouragement, especially reluctant readers who may have difficulty engaging in text material. First, pick a book appropriate to your child’s correct Lexil level ( I also suggest reading books with pictures (even for secondary school students).

    Enjoy spending time with your children over the summer in unstructured learning activities like the few I’ve highlighted above. Your child’s brain is still growing and learning does not stop just because school is not in session. Have a wonderful summer!