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The Key to Summer Learning

The Key to Summer Learning

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Updated on Jun 11, 2010

Parents, you've probably heard all about that dire syndrome called "summer slide." Even if kids galloped forward in school all year, some experts warn, those lazy days of summer can take them backward by Fall. And if your child struggled with any part of the curriculum this year, the first months of the new year may be downright scary to consider.

But then on the other hand, you've probably also been told firmly not to stress your poor kid out. After all, say a second group of scholars, kids need large doses of restful, open-ended exploratory time---you know, like old-fashioned summer fun. In their eyes, summer "academics"--probably heavy with worksheets and drill--are about as encouraging as a long stint on a chain gang.

Ready to throw up your hands? You're not alone! Sure, you want next year to go great...but of course you want your child happy and rested. Do you need to choose one or the other?

Parents, we have some reassuring news: with a little planning, you don't. You can have it all, as long as you take advantage of a few simple tools. Here are some "how-to's" to get your summer on the right track:

1. Start with your state and school standards. It's true that "standards" are associated with "school and teacher accountability," but parents, don't let that intimidate you! Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), every state has developed a comprehensive list of K-12 sequenced standards that you can and should read, too. Find yours by going to the website for your state's Department of Education. (If your child attends a private school, or a charter school within a public district, you may also want to check the school website, or even call, to get a grade by grade list of topics and skills.) Do beware: the complete K-12 document will take you all summer to peruse, and you may get some whopper headaches on the way. Instead, download the standards for the grade your child has just completed and the one to come. Take some time to give them both a good look.

2. Use them to see what your child can and can't do well. You probably have a hunch about your child's strengths and weaknesses, but now's the time to line up your wisdom with that of the school. As you read the standards, highlight the ones in which you see strengths, and use a different color for weaknesses. You may even want to ask your child for help; if you simplify the language, even a kindergarten or first grade kid may enjoy reflecting with you.

Then pull out recent report cards, and even state standards test scores if you have them. Where are the matches? Any surprises? If you've been in close touch with your school this year, you may have the basis of a summer study roadmap right away: if your child is behind in a particular area, you'll know what to work on. If your child is on grade or ahead, you can still keep going deeper and broader--kids love to pursue their interests and feel truly competent as learners. One caution: every child is unique, and if you are still uncertain about her progress, go ahead and call your teacher or guidance counselor for extra guidance. Your goal should be a manageable list of a few top priorities--not a whole year condensed into eight or nine weeks!

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