There are many schools of thought on summertime learning activities for kids. What should be required, expected, or hoped for when it comes to academic learning? This all varies depending on your child’s age, level of performance relative to their grade level, desire for advancement, and I believe a very important consideration – level of stress and burn out from the school year.
Is summer learning necessary?
Most people would agree that there are certain skills that, especially when they are newly acquired or still being developed, need to be continued on a regular basis so that they are mastered – firmly placed into long-term memory. For example, a student that learned their times tables during the year will want to practice them to some degree during the summer months so they are not forgotten. Of course, with the heavy use of calculators I think all people need occasional brushing up on their math facts! Or what if your child is truly behind grade level? Here I would first request that the teacher be involved in helping you set a reasonable expectation for advancement. You don’t want to add pressure to “catch up” beyond what is realistic since the added stress will likely REDUCE the amount of learning that actually will take place.
If you are going to require your child do summer learning, I would suggest that you ask the teacher to provide you with resources and guidance so that the learning goal is S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-Bound). Then you can decide if outside tutoring or support is necessary.
Getting your child’s “buy in”
While children are still in the early years of grade school, it is a lot easier to choose and direct what they will spend their time doing. However, as children reach the tween and teen years they are much more cognizant of what their peers are doing and the work that is “required” by school verses parents. If you are going to require that your child do summertime learning activities it is very important that they feel good about doing the work. Creating motivation is of course crucial if you want this to be a positive experience. As I have mentioned previously (Motivation – How Can We Help Kids Find it?), motivation requires Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.
Regardless of your child’s age or grade, make sure they understand why they are doing the activities, what choice if any they have in crafting when and how the work will be done, and what benefit they will derive from having done the work. A solid discussion with your child where you are allow them to express their concerns, questions, and desires will go a long way if done well in advance of the actual starting date. I am not opposed to offering a small reward or treat for them to participate in added summer learning as this may take the sting away!
Great summer learning opportunities
First and foremost, if your child is NOT very proficient in his/her keyboarding skills (QWERTY ten-finger typing) summer is a great time to learn this vital skill. Many students with ADHD have poor handwriting skills, making it challenging for them to write legibly at a quick pace. Also, many benefit by being able to use a word processor to organize their thoughts and manage their written work. Most children are developmentally capable of learning to type by 2nd or 3rd grade. There are many programs that only require a few minutes a day and the skills can be mastered within a two-month time period.
Learn a graphic organizing program
For many children with ADHD and Executive Function deficits, the writing process could be quite daunting. A good graphic organizing program can help students by giving them the structure and format to outline their work that is very easy to use. Programs like Inspiration (www.Inspiration.com offers a free 30 day trial) allow students to get their thoughts down on paper and then worry about organizing spelling and grammar afterwards. Once they learn how to use this program it is also excellent to use for annotating during reading and taking notes during class.
Even though during the summer your child may not have many tasks or assignments to manage, this is a good time to introduce an overall approach to improve their skills for when they need them. One of the best techniques I’ve ever found to help people manage their time is the Pomodoro technique. Business executives and students use this technique to make sure that they not only plan our their work more efficiently, but also deepen their focus and concentration while they are doing the work. Read What I Learned About Time Management from Running and a Tomato for a basic explanation of this method. You might start using it yourself to get through some of your tasks as well!
Whether your child is currently learning his math facts or still struggling to remember 7 x 6, summer is a great time to nail these facts down. A great tool I like is Times Tales. This lesson booklet contains a creative, innovative mnemonic-based program that makes it fun and easy to memorize the upper multiplication facts. Each number is a character (ex. 8 is a snowman) and there are short stories with graphics that include the fact and answer, making the learning fun and multi-sensory. For those interested, I have them available for sale in my office.
Most students are assigned a book or two to read over the summer. While of course having your child actually read the book cover to cover is preferable, if you have a reluctant reader you may want to help the process along a little so at least they can gain value in properly doing the accompanying assignment or participating in the discussion once school begins again. Agreeing to share in the reading is one way to bond and help your child complete the book. Another option is to get the book through a program like Learning Ally. This is a service that, for a yearly fee, has a vast catalog of audio books that are recorded by individuals (as opposed to a computer generated voice). They have novels, textbooks, and magazines. This way they can listen to some or all of the book while they are moving around – a great way to keep the mind alert for some! It’s also great for during the year if the content material is too much volume for your child to read independently even though they are academically capable of absorbing the material.