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Summertime and the Learning's Easy

Richard McManus


Summer is a great time for learning. The freedom from school schedules, homework, and extracurricular activities give kids the time and space to learn. If you look back on your own summers, they were probably full of learning. Do summer and learning go together like dry towels and high tide... like melty scoops of ice cream and the force of gravity? They do in some children’s minds. Summer learning can be a “hard sell.” Perhaps that reluctance goes back to the long shadow cast by the threat of summer school. The words “If you don’t improve your grades, you will spend your vacation in class” have been used to motivate many recalcitrant students. How can we encourage students to learn in the summer? And how can we make that learning different from the experiences children have during the school year? Summer is a great time for learning. The freedom from school schedules, homework, and extracurricular activities give kids the time and space to learn. If you look back on your own summers, they were probably full of learning. In one eventful summer, I learned to swim, to paddle a canoe, and bait my own fishing hook. I also learned to love the novels of Jules Verne and Ray Bradbury. Some summer learning happens naturally, and some may require gentle persuasion. I remember being not so enthusiastic about the swimming lessons at first. I stood at the edge of the pond, refusing to go any deeper than my ankles, until encouragement by the instructor helped me take the plunge. The key to persuading a child to learn in summer is to choose your learning opportunities carefully. Keep in mind your child’s learning style, seek out motivating instructors, and offer learning opportunities that differ from “in school” experiences. The easiest program to persuade your child to attend is one that is part of a summer camp or recreational activity. For many children these programs are an ideal way to keep rust from forming on critical skills while also getting a tan! These programs are usually of the enrichment variety — extra practice and support to help improve academic skills during a recreational day. Enrichment programs are primarily for children who are performing at or above their grade levels. They can be a wonderful “extra” for the child who loves to learn — or can provide the enjoyment and stimulation to help a child discover the love of learning! Children who love to compete may find the idea that summer tutoring gives them an advantage all that’s necessary to get them interested in a test prep class. While others are lazing in the sun, an ambitious student may be excited by the idea of getting ahead. The test season for the SAT and ACT opens in the crisp days of October, but hectic schedules, homework, sports and extra-curricular activities make focusing more of a challenge. Knowing that summer study gives them an advantage by minimizing distractions and maximizing time may be just what it takes to motivate ambitious children to jump in. Children who thrive on social interaction may be enticed to learn by a group setting. Summer tutoring doesn’t have to be a solo experience. For some children, that summer reading book goes from dreary to enjoyable if it can be read with a group of friends and followed up with discussion and activities facilitated by a tutor or a parent. Students can also write together, competing against each other to see who has written the most persuasive argument or the most outrageous brag. They can race to complete the greatest number of algebra problems or to get the greatest number correct. Group learning always leads to laughter while providing a nice break from “in school” experiences. If your child is more than two years behind in reading at any age you should make every effort to change the picture over the summer. But how can you create enthusiasm in a child who already feels that academics are something he or she isn’t good at or doesn’t “get”? The secret is knowing that kids who are behind academically want nothing more than to catch up, but they often don’t believe they can. An effective tutoring center can assess a child’s skills, and paint a picture of where those skills could be at the end of the summer. This is a major strength for of our program at The Fluency Factory, where tutoring is always preceded by a comprehensive assessment and where a child’s progress is carefully recorded so that both parent and child can see and celebrate growing skills. Summer tutoring takes full advantage of the time that is more available in the summer to catch up areas of weakness, helping students return to school more skilled and successful. Finally, for a child who is an independent, self-directed learner, the summer can be used as a time for the independent exploration of a series of books, or a particular author, or some interesting point in geography or other sciences. You don’t need to use a tutoring center! There is a world of excellent instructional material at local libraries, online, and through the various homeschooling resources. Some parents engage in “seeding,” finding out their child loves and casually leaving some resources lying about. A child who loves space exploration can’t ignore a book about the Apollo space missions when he or she finds it sitting on the coffee table. “Seeding” with a variety of materials can allow a parent to quietly observe what inspires her child and exactly how her son or daughter goes about learning.

Summer and learning aren’t incompatible. In fact, in many ways, the summer was made for learning. By choosing our summer learning opportunities carefully, we can encourage even the most reluctant child to wade in above the ankles.

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