By Dr. Raymond J. Huntington
The end of the school year may find your children exhausted from a year of hard work and fixated on that great burst of freedom that begins in June. If so, your suggestion that they consider some “summertime learning activities” might not be well received. But staying smart during the warm weather months doesn’t depend on test taking and fretting over grades. With less structure and more adventure, the following activities can turn leisure time into learning time, preparing your child for challenges in the year to come.
Look beyond the books at your local library. In most communities, checking out books is just one of the many things you can do at your local library. Many libraries are true resource centers, offering a wide array of educational and cultural activities. Your child can participate in group learning projects, learn a foreign language, build technology skills and more. Young children in particular enjoy participating in storytelling activities, while teens can use libraries to learn about colleges and universities, including steps to qualify for admission.
Most library staff members take a very active role in connecting with readers by providing reading lists for people of every age and using individual readers’ interests to recommend specific works. Many librarians get special satisfaction by helping people find “just the right book” or discover the exact research needed to answer a question or complete a learning project. Most libraries also have reading clubs; a great way for your child to discover new books and discuss his or her impressions of them.
Several recommended reading lists are available on the Internet. Start with the website utilized by your local school or school district. These lists tend to be targeted to students at various grade levels, and often correspond with books assigned during the school year. The American Library Association and the Young Adult Library Services Association also has a website featuring recommended books for young adults at www.ala.org/ala/yalsa .
When choosing books, create a mix of “easy reads” (books enjoyed without a great deal of effort in comprehension) and along with some more challenging books. These challenging books may be classics such as The Call of the Wild, Wuthering Heights, Treasure Island, Little Women, and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea – all of which are entertaining while providing dense and more complicated prose. Reading and effectively interpreting the historical and cultural contexts of these more difficult novels builds real intellectual muscle that carries over into other academic subjects.
Is your child is a reluctant reader? You might break down some of the barriers with books on tape. This format can spark excitement over the subject matter and encourage your son or daughter to consider the written versions of similar books.
Encourage ambitious independent learning projects. If your child enjoys writing and storytelling, consider journaling activities. These can be as simple as keeping a diary or involve more inventive tasks such as using prose, photography and illustrations to chronicle summertime activities like family trips or camp. Is your child is especially visual? Consider using a loose-leaf notebook so that individual pages can be taken out and posted in family-friendly areas such as the kitchen or playroom.
Scientifically minded students will find many exciting “science fair”-type projects through library books and websites specializing in sharing this type of information. One of the most comprehensive sites is “Science Fair Central,” offered by The Discovery Channel at http://school.discovery.com/sciencefaircentral . Another great offering comes from the American Federation of Teachers, which publishes the “Summer Learning Calendar” found at www.aft.org/calendar.
Students who enjoy mathematics can test and strengthen their skills through Figure This! (www.figurethis.org) . Created by The National Science Foundation in partnership with the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, this initiative features engaging mathematical challenges designed to be completed together by families. Using colorful animated characters and extensive “real-world” applications of mathematics, the Figure This! challenges reinforce standards-based learning in algebra, geometry, measurement, data analysis and probability. While they tend to be “fun,” the challenges are also an effective primer for the rigorous mathematics that most students will be required to master in school.
Introduce your child to the Sudoku puzzles that are published in many newspapers and available in bookshops. These offer a challenging, fun way to build mathematics, organizational and critical thinking skills.
Volunteer. Help your child build a strong sense of self-esteem and people-skills by lending a hand to those in need and engaging in community service projects. Most communities offer ample opportunities to volunteer through churches, schools, local government initiatives and neighborhood associations. There are also an abundance of well-structured volunteer programs in every state. Visit the “Learn and Serve America” website, part of the Corporation for National and Community Service, at www.learnandserve.gov for more information.
Turn to teachers and guidance counselors for help. After spending many months with your child, teachers and guidance counselors are good sources of information on summer learning activities that tie into your child’s interests and aptitudes. They are also familiar with the education standards for your school district and state, as well as the most significant academic challenges your child will face in the next grade. Talking with these educators can also give you great ideas for summertime learning opportunities that strengthen your child’s grounding in “the basics” and expand horizons and expectations for the year to come.
Dr. Raymond J. Huntington and Eileen Huntington are co-founders of Huntington Learning Center, which has helped children achieve success in school for 28 years. For more information about how Huntington can help your child, call 1 800 CAN LEARN.