Monday, June 8, 2009

Summer Learning: The Best in Non-Traditional Options

Summer Learning: The Best in Non-Traditional Options
One of the best reasons to continue with summer learning is the chance to learn in different ways than can be achieved during the traditional school year. Children have the chance to explore personal interests, incorporate travel, and yes even explore the wonders of the backyard to add to their knowledge base. The key is finding a way to help kids maximize their learning without taking out the fun. It is easy to kill the fun by over emphasizing what a child is learning from a summer experience, but there are some things you can do which enhance learning while not turning the experience into a lecture format.

A place to start, is to understand what types of learning you think are being done in an activity without altering the activity or changing or adapting it in any way. A great example I give to parents is cooking. There is lots of reading, math, science, and yes even history in cooking. The problem is children often aren’t aware of the connection and those working with children don’t think to make the connection for them. Now again the caution is that you have to make it part of the process, it isn’t time to create a lecture on the history of pizza, or the chemical agents that react with water and yeast. However, it is a good time to introduce the vocabulary that is appropriate on both the cooking side and the math and science side. It helps make the connections and it reinforces and sometimes introduces concepts and vocabulary children need to know.

For instance math and cooking are an amazing marriage. Children who struggle with measurement, fractions, addition, subtraction, more, less, and a host of other math concepts can and do find success working with cooks. However, some cooks I’ve met are math phobic, not realizing the connection between what they do in the kitchen and the math that they do actually perform every time they enter the kitchen. They’ve become functionally able when doing math, but nobody has helped them to transfer those skills, so they can apply them to other types of math situations. If you can start to do that for children by examining what you do in your cooking tasks that is related to specific math, reading, science, and other school related tasks, you can help your child not only master cooking but learn how to apply these topics across multiple areas of learning.

Another place I see this done effectively with parents is in home improvement and repair projects. There is a practical application of math and science skills when working with tools and fixing a variety of problems that occur around the house. Children become engaged in measurement, physics, chemistry, and a variety of other topics. We built a simple machines unit out of building projects because it was a practical application that made our science unit real. Why not use real life, to teach real skills? Again here is the issue of awareness. Do you know what skills are being taught and can you make sure the vocabulary and the understanding of the connection is being transmitted to the child as they work on the project? I wouldn’t expect that the child will remember everything, but over time as you continue to do these projects, repetition builds a language base far better than anything that can be learned in a book.

Some technical high schools have learned this lesson and have started applying the knowledge to restructure their academic courses to work with their shop classes to help students connect and build on their knowledge base. They use their shop knowledge to help them learn their academic knowledge and teachers are learning to build course work to help them do this. In our town do to this work, our technical high school for the first time has a higher testing rate than our traditional high school. It is something to consider.

Travel is another great benefit of summer. The chance to explore and learn about new places, the opportunity to plan, organize, and make predictions about what will happen, and to compare the predictions to the reality. We struggle as teachers all the time getting children the opportunity to do these very activities in school. Planning a vacation and allowing kids to participate is a great way to help them learn some of these very valuable skills. Helping them to process what they’ve learned, comparing predictions to outcomes is a common scientific skill that many kids lack experience with in the early grades. We just don’t often have the time to do as much of this as we should.

This is also a good time for kids to learn about journals. I suggest parents let kids keep a journal of pictures, impressions, likes, dislikes, future places to visit, etc. Again we often struggle with getting enough time for children to write. Giving kids an opportunity to record in an informal manner with nobody checking for grammar, spelling, or punctuation, gives them the freedom to explore ideas and thoughts. It also gives them something to write about later when we insist that they write about their summer.

There is nothing like a summer trip for some geography lessons. Geography can be one of our sadly neglected topics in school. There are only so many hours in the day. Summer time is a great time to get out the maps while you are planning your trip and let kids find where you are and where the location of your vacation is on the map. Let them help you find the attractions you want to visit. When they have a stake in where they are going, they are more motivated to learn how to read one then when reading a dusty textbook.

When your home during the summer, let your kids explore the interests they don’t get to investigate during the school year. We often have kids who are experts in one subject but that subject isn’t covered during the school year. The summer is a great time for them to renew their credentials.

Just remember while you want to help them learn, keep it fun!

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