If you have school-aged children, this time of year is one you know well. Your kids are excited to not have school for the next three months, and you’ve had to figure out child care arrangements. You may have planned a fun local trip or a larger vacation. You’re hoping your kids have fun, clean up after themselves, and make memories.
Summer vacation presents challenges and opportunities, but we often let opportunities slide away from us. I’m talking about learning opportunities. Few parents I know require their children to keep up basic skill practice over the summer. Math, reading, and writing are skills. Like any skills, when they lie dormant, they atrophy. Summer loss is a real problem that is completely preventable.
From the time my kids were small, we required that they read, write, and practice math over the summer. When they were little, math workbooks were easy enough to find at the store, as were free worksheets online. One of my kids struggled with adding and subtracting fractions. We found practice sheets online, helped her learn the concept, and she practiced them. Now she’s in advanced math. My other daughter took an even greater interest in math, and she’s three years ahead in math. (No, we did NOT push her. If anything, we held her back. When they wanted to put her in Algebra in 5th grade, we compromised on 6th grade advanced.) I attribute this to our dedication to making sure they practiced their skills over the summer.
Reading is another skill that’s easy to keep current. Require your kids to read for a minimum of twenty minutes every day. Make it a routine. Many kids report that reading before bed allows them to fall asleep faster. (The light from screens actually makes your brain take about 30 minutes longer to fall asleep.) This will improve their comprehension, stamina, and speed—all critical factors that hold kids back when reading difficulty increased at around the 4th grade. Make this fun for them—visit a library together to select books, have a time when the whole family reads together, and talk to each other about what you’re reading. Keep track of pages read and celebrate milestones.
Visit www.lexile.com to find a list of age-appropriate reading suggestions. You may not know your child’s Lexile range (unless you ask the school—some standardized test like the NWEA/MAP report a Lexile as part of their score, though the school may not report it to the parents), but you can ballpark it based on books they are reading in school. The best way to ballpark a reading level is to have your child read the first page or two of a book they may like. If they encounter more than five words they don’t know and can’t figure out using context clues, then it’s too hard. Conversely, if they breeze through it quickly, then it’s too easy. You want kids to choose a combination of “challenge” and “fun” books to grow their skills without frying their brains.
Writing is perhaps the most difficult skill to keep current. Most parents have no idea what to expect, and that makes them reticent to require their kids to write. Don’t make this into a big deal. Yeah, I assigned my kids a research project last summer, but it was to figure out which National Parks they wanted to visit on vacation. They looked up specific places they wanted to visit, created a presentation in Google Slides, and we ended up visiting most of their choices. This grew organically out of a family discussion. You don’t have to be that elaborate (unless your kids are driving that train—then let them run with it.)
You can have them write their thoughts, opinions, or ideas in a journal. You can email them a question and have them respond with at least a paragraph. Grow the dialogue from there. If they have an opinion about something, have them find evidence and reasons to support it. Make them cite their sources. If they send you short responses, ask questions to help them draw out their thoughts. The more you do this, the easier it’ll get. Can’t think of topics? Let your fingers do the walking. I searched “writing topics for middle school/elementary students/high school” and came up with hundreds of hits. Here are two of them: http://www.dailyteachingtools.com/journal-writing-prompts.html and http://journalbuddies.com/journal_prompts__journal_topics/fun-writing-prompts-for-middle-school/
Once you have a starting point, have them set a goal for what they want to improve. Perhaps they want to have better description, use dialogue or similes, explain their reasoning better—whatever it is, keep it simple and be supportive. You’ll likely find 50 things wrong with their writing, but only work on improving 1-2 at a time. Anything more is too much, too fast. If you’re struggling to look for goals, check out this website: http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/
Select “Writing” and choose the grade level you want. The standards are pretty straightforward, but note that examples and resources aren’t provided.
This sounds like a lot, but if you set an expectation for your child to read every day, and practice writing and math twice each week, when the new school year begins, your child will hit the ground running.