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Commentary: Keep kids’ brains active during these dog days of summer

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Rhonda Bennett

Summer provides a wonderful opportunity for children and families to relax, restore energy and refresh connections with friends and family. 

The break from school, however, can disrupt academic momentum after students have spent months mastering new skills. With a few more weeks of summer vacation looming ahead, parents may be wondering what to do to help them hit the ground running when school resumes.  

As a teacher, I like to think of this as a time to employ Steven Covey’s seventh habit: sharpen the saw. The following suggestions may keep your child’s academic skills sharpened over the summer and ready for new learning when school starts. 

Reading

To foster a lifelong love of reading, it should be part of a broader context for families who value learning new things. According to University of Virginia psychology professor Daniel Willingham, author of “Raising Kids Who Read: What Parents and Teachers Can Do,” reading has less to do with school and more to do with a well-lived life. These strategies may foster your child’s enthusiasm for reading.

• Read to your child. Choose books of interest above your child’s independent reading level to introduce them to more sophisticated sentence structure and vocabulary. Your child will benefit from hearing fluent reading as well as from the enjoyment of sharing a good book with you.

• Read with your child. Sit with your child as he/she reads a good fit book. Reinforce sight words, fluency and comprehension. Questions such as “What do you think will happen next?” and “Why do you think the character felt this way?” will lead to deep reflection of texts and enhanced comprehension.

• Explore. Summer is a great time to discover a new author, series or genre. Consider magazines, fiction, nonfiction, poetry, etc. 

Writing

An authentic purpose and audience can motivate even a reluctant writer. Encourage your child to keep a journal or adventure log detailing summer excursions. The objective is to develop stamina through good fluent writing and to express organized ideas on paper. Refrain from too much editing. 

Ideas for authentic writing:

• Letters to family

• Postcards from vacation

• Grocery lists, packing lists

• Illustrated summer adventure journal

Math

Children should see math in everyday life rather than in a workbook. This summer, seek opportunities to integrate math into daily activities. 

• Allow your child to purchase something at the store with cash and count the change. 

• Plan you summer vacation, from point A to point B, with your child. How far is it? How long should it take? What is the best route?

• Cook with your child. Allow your child to follow the recipe and measure ingredients.

• Offer opportunities for your child to think flexibly about numbers. Friends are coming for dinner. How many more plates will we need?

• Games are a great way to reinforce math skills with strategy, patterns, etc. 

• Build with Legos. 

Curiosity/growth mindset

In addition to academic skills, there are underlying competencies that have a significant effect on a child’s success. This orientation to learning includes curiosity, growth mindset and autonomy.

• Summer offers a wonderful opportunity for children to explore their curiosities. This investigation builds the notion that learning is a lifelong endeavor and that we can direct our learning toward our interests. Encourage your child to learn more about things that interest him/her.

• Growth mindset is a belief that intelligence can be developed with good effort, resilience, varied strategies, and outside help when needed. Conversely, a fixed mindset is a belief that intelligence is a trait fixed at birth. Why does it matter? A child’s confidence about him/herself as a learner has a lasting impact on his/her approach to learning and response to challenges. Encourage dedicated effort, perseverance and different approaches to solve a problem. Introduce the power of “yet” when your child becomes discouraged. “You don’t know how to ride your bike without training wheels — yet.” 

• Autonomy fosters confidence as children become more independent, problem solve and understand how their actions affect outcomes. Nurture autonomy by allowing your child to take part in household responsibilities, such as setting the table, taking the trash, sorting laundry and keeping his/her room clean. 

It will be back-to-school time before you know it! During these final weeks of vacation, help your child sharpen those skills in preparation for the start of school.

Rhonda Bennett is the head of the lower school at Battle Ground Academy.

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