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Should Summertime = Studytime?

SuperKids asked the experts.

by Jan Russo, parents editor

School's out, summertime is here! Barbecues, camp, Little League, swim lessons, and just hangin' out -- the joys of youth. But does it really make sense to totally drop all formal education efforts? SuperKids asked a panel of teachers for their thoughts, and uncovered some ideas we think will be useful to parents looking for things to do for the next three months.

Our experts included:

  • Catherine (Kate) Parrish from Yakima, Washington. Kate has had seven years teaching experience in preschool, kindergarten, ESL middle school, Reading enrichment/middle school, and 7th grade Language Arts and Social Studies.

  • Avery Walker, from the Ohlone School, in Palo Alto, California. Avery has had eight years teaching experience in a multi-age setting, and is currently is teaching a 2nd and 3rd grade combination class. Avery enjoys participating in the development of educationally software and has written several thematic units in both math and science.

  • Suzanne Herbst teaches at St. Nicholas School, in Los Altos, California. Suzanne has experience in school administration as well as teaching. She currently teaches 6th grade.

Should parents require a certain amount of study time each week over the summer? Do children lose momentum if they spend the entire summer with no formal study?

Avery: It is important for children to have quiet time to focus on activities that require them to use their developing skills. It is crucial for children to put their skills to use in order to maintain their momentum. Rather than having young children participate in "formal study sessions," they can reap the same benefits through rich learning experiences and projects. It is important for young children to read and be read to daily.

Kate: Parents should provide opportunities for learning during the summer, but it doesn't have to be formal. However, if their child is not working at grade level, it would be very helpful to provide formal learning opportunities as well. It doesn't have to be drudgery.

Suzanne: Reading regularly should be a must during the summer. This reading should include reading the newspaper each day if possible. Family discussion on issues reinforces understanding of content. Further research on special issues can keep reference skills and research skills keen. While traveling, children should read as much information as possible about the area in which they are traveling. Formal study is fine, but enrichment can be as effective. Basic skills can be reinforced easily with fun enrichment activities.

Is it worthwhile for a child to prepare in advance for coursework they will be undertaking in the fall? Can they get a "head start"?

Avery: Children should be encouraged to work at a pace that suits their individual needs. It's not important to push a child to tackle next year's curriculum unless he/she is ready for the concepts addressed. Exposure to new ideas and new ways of thinking along with ongoing practice is enough to maintain momentum and have a child feel prepared for the fall.

Kate: I would never discourage anyone from advance preparation. Theoretically, the teacher should accommodate a student's advanced level when they arrive in the classroom. Advance preparation might help students who tend to be slower learners.

Suzanne: Yes, in many ways having met vocabulary terms and at least knowing the overview for the next year makes the subject more comfortable. No formal teaching of the subject matter is necessary, and it may conflict with the teacher's style in the classroom. But, in science for instance, a future 7th grader may like to read about oceans, bacteria, and cells. There are many great web sites for these subjects that the children can explore.

What is the best way for a parent to find a tutor for his/her child?

Avery: Most schools have access to a list of tutors that are available to work with children during the summer. I suggest that a parent talk with a teacher to find a tutor who can address the specific needs of the child. It is important to work with a tutor for whom you have received some kind of recommendation. Many local summer schools, learning institutions, or bookstores hear of individuals willing to work with children during the summer.

Kate: Word of mouth and/or contact the school.

Suzanne: The classroom teacher or school learning specialist is the best place to begin. From there, many summer programs are designed especially for different needs and subject areas. These areas range from reading remedial help to math enrichment. Most schools have brochures available for local programs.

Do you have any special ideas for making study during the summer months fun?

Avery: Children will be enthusiastic if they take the initiative and find activities that have a purpose and a real-life application. Parents can support this by asking questions that encourage children to want to find out information and by helping children formulate questions of their own. Much learning comes from day trips, making library visits, or participating in camp experiences. These types of activities can be documented and extended through keeping a journal, making artistic representations, or writing problems based on experiences. Creating individual projects that require reading, math, writing, science, art, or problem-solving are fun ways for children to continue using and developing their skills.

Kate: In general, anything which encourages active curiosity and thinking, reading writing and fine arts!!!

Suzanne: Enrichment designed around summer plans is the best. For instance, if the family is taking a trip, all aspects of the trip can be researched by the child: mileage, budget, historical sites, geological aspects, etc. A travel journal requires writing each day in a diary. Keeping track of mileage, food costs, comparisons of costs, requires math and conversion skills. Reading and studying about each area is great. Reading local newspapers and analyzing local issues and events ties in social studies skills. Learning through daily applications is the most long lasting.

At what ages is it most critical that children continue with their studies over the summer?

Avery: Children of all ages will benefit from doing some kind of work over the summer. It is critical that emerging readers spend time reading a being read to. Given the varying needs of children, it makes sense to have children that need work in math spend some time applying their math skills to help solve a problem and those that would benefit from work with writing find creative ways (and useful ways) to practice their written expression.

Kate: I'm not sure about this from a developmental point of view. I would say that it is always important to keep learning throughout the year!

Suzanne: All ages. Practical application of learned skills is the most appropriate reinforcement.

There you have it - the sage advice of three experienced teachers. Give it some thought...

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