The beach, ice cream….and learning? Balancing relaxation with insanity.

The beach, ice cream….and learning? Balancing relaxation with insanity.

Summer is close and so are the great trips to the beach, getting ice cream, day trips and, most importantly, no school. Many parents believe it’s just a peaceful time to relax and enjoy the outdoors.

On the other end of the continuum there will be some parents that will be skipping the beach to send their kids to calculus camp at age three just to make sure they get a leg up on high school. This is not a time to relax, but rather a time to push ahead and go, go, go academically. Who is right? Well, they both are, and here’s why.

First, a note about summer vacation. While its origins partly come from agricultural demands of the 1800’s, there was also a push by educational reformers like Horace Mann that overstimulating young minds could lead to nervous disorders or insanity. Summer emerged as the obvious time for a break: it offered a respite for teachers, meshed with the agrarian calendar and alleviated physicians’ concerns that packing students into sweltering classrooms would promote the spread of disease. (Time Magazine, June 18, 2008) So, it wasn’t all about picking corn.

Research has shown that what takes place in the summer in terms a child’s education is critical. Analysis showed that summer learning loss equaled at least one month of instruction. Especially vulnerable are mathematical computation skills and skills related to reading and writing, such as spelling skills. (Cooper, et. al. 1996)

Therefore the question becomes how do we enjoy the beach, make sure learning continues, and not stress kids out to the point that their recollection of summer vacation is not one of crying because they could not master calculus at age five? The answer is quite simple – ask them.

‘Them’ equals the children. I have two young daughters and each summer we do two things. First, we make sure we get the reading list and take the advice of our public school system on what is encouraged for summer time school related activities. Second, I ask the question, ‘what do you want to learn about this summer?’ Or, if I want to get more specific, I will ask a question related to where we are going on vacation or a day trip. ‘What do you want to learn about the Grand Canyon?’ is a good example of what we are doing this year. Then, based on what they are curious to learn, I ask them ‘how do you think we could learn about those things?’ Based on the responses to these two questions we together create a curriculum for the summer that involves everything from reading, to math, to building things, to even making movies (via SAM Animation of course).

My point with all of this is that learning is critical during the summer as is fun. It is a “both and” versus an “either or.” Let’s face it, if a child lives in South Dakota and the only time it is 80 degrees is in July, sitting inside and doing quadratic equations is a tough sell.

So make it fun, let them have control, and you, the parent, play the role of facilitating their learning.  Just don’t forget the sunscreen!

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