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!
3. Find worksheets. Members of Education.com get unlimited access to thousands of worksheets broken down by grade and topic. Becoming a member is easy, just click here. Then, with your list in hand, go to the worksheets section and search under the topics that address your child's summer learning goals.
4. Make a balanced plan. Even in all-day classrooms, teachers always schedule regular breaks, and for good reason. No kid learns very well when glued to a chair for long periods. Once you have your list of priorities, sit down with your family calendar, and with your kid when you're ready, too, to make a balanced plan. Many kids especially appreciate predictable, manageable routines. You might plan, for example, on having your child do one hour of "summer jumpstart" work each weekday at a certain time, over a certain number of weeks, especially if you add a five minute "jumprope break" in the middle. Make sure you start when you say you will, and end on time...and then let the rest of the day be wide open. Or, if routines don't fit your family style, fit in your activities as you like, but do keep a running list of them, and of what standards they have addressed.
5. Don't forget fun activities! As noted earlier, here at Education.com, we do not believe that you need to choose between learning and fun. Over the last three years, our editors have assembled thousands of standards-based, grade-appropriate activities that teach, deepen and enrich everything from math facts to physics theory. Again, with your list of priorities in hand, scroll through our lists, which have been categorized both by subject and by skill. After all, as our teacher-writers have demonstrated, powerful learning is available everywhere from the kitchen to the card table to a backyard dirt pile, as long as parents know what to look for.
So what does it all add up to? If all goes well, your child will have had plenty of open-ended summer romping time, integrated with careful, creative attention to learning and growth--a recipe, we think, for happy times and for success both now and in the coming school year.
With all this in mind, we urge you, finally, to be sure to celebrate your child's summer achievements. At the beginning of the process, you figured out goals for progress; as the new school year approaches, don't forget to help your child mark what he's accomplished. Make a list together of highlights of your "summer jumpstart" time, and talk with your child about what he now knows about each topic you selected together at the start. September may still come as a shock for your child, but, as we all know, a summer of newly boosted confidence and good feeling can make all the difference in the world.