During the summer, Glenda Hernández Baca and her children can be found in the kitchen measuring and mixing, stirring and sautéing. They cook together as a family, but what the children don’t realize however, is that their mother is helping them maintain their math and reading skills.
“You can do math no matter what you are doing, and cooking is also a great way to do math,” said Hernández Baca, Ph.D. of the School of Education at Montgomery College. “My kids love to cook with me and they help me with the recipes. We engage in reading, organizing and sorting, and discussing and analyzing fractions and conversions. They are doing so much learning but they do not know it.”
Without regular practice, a student’s academic skills dwindle during the summer break. The key to preventing that reversal, say educators, is finding creative ways to make learning fun while maintaining the light-hearted and carefree nature of vacations, camps and trips to the pool.
“The more students practice their academic skills in the summer, the more prepared they will be for the next school year and the less review and relearning they will need to do,” said Hernández Baca. “It is a great way to promote and model of A culture of learning and growing, no matter the season.”
For students who don’t enjoy reading, opening a book during the summer can feel torturous. Infuse reading with drama, suggests Ana Lado, Ph.D., Professor of Education at Marymount University in Arlington, Va. “Pick … books with lots of dialogue and either lots of active verbs or actionable scenes,” she said. “You and the child read the parts as dramatically as you can together … totally exaggerating the spoken parts as well as the actions as much as possible.”
“Have them make a video with their favorite scenes in a book,” continued Lado. “It forces them to read for scenes that have drama and to reread as they rehearse. It gives them a goal and making a film is a concrete goal. As they read through the book looking for drama and action, let them put a sticky note on each good page they find.”
In fact, infusing reading with drama can change the mindset of a child who doesn’t enjoy reading. “Some students will benefit if they watch a movie version of a classic text like something by Jane Austen, for example, while they are reading it,” M.A. Mahoney, Dean of Academics and Faculty at the Madeira School in McLean, Va. “This approach is sometimes the gateway to a lifetime of reading pleasure of an author.”
Providing incentives is a strategy that Lado has experienced with her son during visits to her local pool. “At the 30 minutes of swim break, another parent hired my son to read easy books to her child that were below my son's reading level,” she said. “My son was in upper elementary grades, and he read to a kindergartner. The books were easy for him, so he had fun and learned to ask the younger kids a few questions about what they liked about the book.”
For children who have challenges or difficulties reading, Hernández Baca suggests choosing short passages that allow them to explore a subject that piques their curiosity. “Consider cutting out an article or something shorter about an interest they have such as a band, music [or] sports, she said. “This helps to make the learning a lot more manageable and less intimidating for them. You can also take a longer article and cut it into smaller pieces or enlarge the font so again, psychologically, it does not feel as demanding for the child.”
Everyday conversations can lead to math, science and language learning opportunities. “Often, children will make comments about something they are curious about such as how something grows or why the sky is changing colors, Hernández Baca said. “Maximize that opportunity and tell them what great questions they have and look up information. You could even make it a library trip to learn together. This is a wonderful way to show and model that we as parents, are always learning, too.”
Even a short car ride or setting money goals can help support math skills, says Hernández Baca. “Talk about how much money a certain toy costs and how much they would need to purchase it. Have them come up with different equations that would help them reach that goal and talk about it. ...
“You can do math no matter what you are doing,” she continued. “For example, in the car you can count how many trucks you see or how many blue cars.”
Another way to practice math is to engage children in predictions and estimates, says Hernández Baca. “Asking ‘How long do you think it will take us to get there?’ or ‘How many steps does it take to walk to the car or to the house?’ You can then break it down and ask questions such as, ‘Why do you think mommy had to take fewer steps?’ or ‘How many miles an hour would we have to go if we needed to reduce the trip time to get here?’
A family vacation can provide an opportunity to practice language and writing. “Keep a vacation journal by printing out your child's favorite photos and have them write about them,”said Carly Flanigan, Lower School Learning Specialist at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School in Alexandria, Va
When parents model a positive attitude toward reading, a child might find it more pleasurable “Have a family book club [and] meet once a month at everyone’s favorite restaurant,” said Flanigan “Make connections about books you and your child read or listen to. Ask questions about characters, setting and action in the plot … Model your own connections that you have made to books [or] have your child read one of your favorite books that you love.”
“Read aloud no matter the age of the child,” said Elizabeth McConnel, Lower School Learning Specialist, also at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School. “Make this a fun family event. Utilize different genres of text including magazines for your child's reading. Use audio books, Audible, or podcasts.”
Current events can provide fodder for mental stimulation. “I always encourage students and families to read an editorial daily from a news source, and then to discuss it at a family meal,” said Mahoney. “This builds reading comprehension skills, civil discourse skills, and increases familiarity with essay construction, not to mention making meal time more lively.”
No matter the method, parents must be consistent and intentional about prioritizing and setting summer learning goals for their children, advises Hernández Baca. “For example, plan on doing some reading, writing and math regularly and daily,” she said. “Your kids do not need to know your structure or plan, but it will help you stay consistent with activities that specifically target learning in reading, writing, math, science or anything else.”