In addition to the usual subjects, Texas students also took a crash course in distance learning this spring. Some parents are already concerned about how well their kids learned online from March onward, and now it’s summertime, when a little brain drain is typical. Here are some experts’ tips for keeping children’s minds sharp.
“Some parents may worry that the summer slide in learning is even more pronounced this year. I know, as a mom of kids in preschool through college, I’m concerned. Am I doing enough?” said Dr. Carrie Cutler, clinical assistant professor at the University of Houston College of Education.
Here is her advice.
- Read every day. Spending 20 minutes snuggling at bedtime or sitting across the kitchen table contributes to kids’ vocabulary development, complex thought and reasoning, and overall ability to take in auditory information. Encourage older kids to read on their own, too, by joining your local library’s summer reading program. Model for your kids that you value reading by having Family Reading Time where everyone, including the adults in the house, sets aside electronics and reads for pleasure.
- Do some real-world math. For young kids, this might mean sorting the cans of food in the cupboard by the type of food. Elementary kids could order the cans by their weight, from lightest to heaviest. Middle school-age kids can plan healthy meals using the ingredients they find. High schoolers can do the cooking, measuring the ingredients and calculating the caloric and nutrition value per serving. Making math fun isn’t cheating kids out of learning; it’s showing them that math is richer than memorizing formulas or filling in worksheets.
- Write with a purpose. Whether it’s a letter to friend, a grocery list, a “stay healthy” card to a grandparent, or a summer journal, picking up the pen (or the keyboard) sharpens kids’ writing skills. Consider asking your child to write a family newsletter to send to family and friends. Several online programs such as Smore.com and Adobe Spark offer simple drop-and-drag formats even elementary-age kids can use. Plus, published work is always more motivating for budding writers.
- Talk to your kids. Even if you think you can’t hear one more argument for “Mandalorian” over “Clone Wars,” talk to and listen to your kids. Kids who engage in meaningful conversations (or even tedious conversations) with caring adults have a higher self-image and learn vital social skills.
For this Reform Austin story, The Texas Public Charter Schools Association reached out to a few teachers, including members of its Teacher Advocate Leadership Institute, to get their advice on easy, fun, and effective ways for families to help kids keep learning over the summer.
Meagan Holmes, a science teacher at Ki Charter Academy in San Marcos, suggests “becoming a naturalist for a day” and recommends the website inaturalist.
“One of my favorite things to do is take a journal and go on a walk,” she said. “Keep a lookout for any animal species you may come across, such as beetles or birds. Draw or take photos, and research and identify unknown animals and plant species. This is a great way for your child to learn about the local animals and plants in your ecosystem.”
Holmes also suggests taking a virtual museum tour online — such as those by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, or the NASA Glenn Research Center — and challenging your child to write about four interesting facts they didn’t previously know.
Tanya Reyes, a middle school English Language Acquisition teacher at Harmony Science Academy in Pflugerville, Texas, is working as a co-counselor in a virtual summer camp for incoming seventh graders. Her program includes arts and crafts projects with basic materials such as origami fish and tissue-paper vases, as well as games and puzzles meant to challenge the brain.
Amanda Griffin, who teaches at Meridian World School in Round Rock, suggests scavenger hunts that incorporate students’ emotions.
“For example, find two things that make you happy, find one thing that makes you hopeful, find one thing that makes you sad or angry. This simple activity can open up so many avenues for conversation between parents and their kids, especially if parents participate in finding and sharing items as well!”
Griffin notes that items can be gathered physically or with a camera or camera phone — even simple items in nature work well, such as shrubs and types of soil — and said the best part of the activity is sharing what you’ve found afterward, especially if you split up during the activity and end with a surprise reveal.
Colombia Ospina, an English Learner Coordinator and Reading Interventionist at Montessori for All, advises parents to keep up their children’s reading habits over the summer — but she stresses that it shouldn’t be a chore or punishment for kids, who should be encouraged to choose titles that interest them.
“It is very important to have our children engaged in summer reading activities, but it’s also important to find ways to keep it fun,” she said.
Ospina recommends listening to audiobooks — sometimes together, like while driving — which are widely available online. She suggests platforms such as Audible, Reading A-Z, and Raz Kids. Additional Spanish-language options are accessible on El Estudiante Digital, Mundo Primaria, and Yaconic.
She also suggested creating reading-based activities, such as the “adventures” listed by Reading Rockets, which incorporate texts you might not think of — recipes, phone books, and maps, for example.
“Have fun with your kids this summer!” Cutler said. “They need your positivity and encouragement in these difficult times. Don’t stress too much. Enjoy them being home with you.”