By: Richard Horowitz
At this time of year parents often ask what to do about their child’s learning over the long summer vacation. Parents are legitimately conflicted about the issue. On one hand, children do deserve a break from the stress of grades and homework and relief from the pressure of the rigid schedules demanded by their after school activities. On the other hand, a ten-week mental shutdown sends the wrong message to children about learning and responsibility.
Here are some tips on how to keep a child’s mind stimulated while still allowing them fun through the summer months.
Tip #1 – Reinforce the connection between learning and having a good time.
Unfortunately, teachers often tell students to stop having fun and to get down to work. This approach teaches children that learning is a tedious process rewarded only by a grade or comment when the assignment is finished. One way to counter this mindset during the summer is giving your child a role in researching and planning the family vacation. Have your child take responsibility for learning about potential locations. Assist them in discovering historical significance and finding out about upcoming local events scheduled at the time of your visit. Continually remind them during the trip that their efforts were responsible for the enjoyment they are experiencing.
Tip #2 – Create a sense of ownership in vacation activities for your children.
Grant as much input into decision- making about summer activities as is reasonable. This doesn’t mean doing whatever the kid’s want. Think of it as an opportunity for each member of the family to state his/her individual needs and to negotiate solutions that everyone can live with. This is an essential ingredient in developing a child’s emotional intelligence and verbal skills.
Tip #3 – Engage children in mentally stimulating activities that don’t feel like school.
On vacations or day trips have your child take responsibility for keeping the financial records for the trip and calculating miles per gallon if you are in a car. Ask them to estimate time to arrive based on speed limits and total mileage. Seeing how math skills are applied to solve real life problems is highly motivating. At the end of the day younger children might enjoy drawing a picture about some aspect of the day.
Tip #4 – Let your children choose their summer reading material.
Give your child reasonable freedom to select what they want to read during vacation. Adults call this “beach reading” to indicate a less demanding but highly entertaining type of literature. Challenge your child by telling him/her that you will find vocabulary words that he/she might not know even in this less challenging material. This becomes a game with the consequence that your child will have to look up the unknown word in a dictionary and add it to his/her personal vocabulary list.
Tip #5 – Provide practical experiences to enhance literacy skills.
The best motivator for writing is an actual audience that will read the results. Ask your child to write postcards to friends and relatives describing events and sites. Suggest that your child be a vacation scribe, journaling summer activities for the family scrapbook or commentary for the trip videos. Play verbal games that stimulate creativity. For example, ask them to come up with a funny alternative to an illustration on a road sign or billboard.
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