Look Outside the Classroom for Summer Learning

June 1, 2018, 9:41 am | Dawn Dunnegan, Laura Sternweis

AMES, Iowa – Parents will not find the “summer slide” at their kids’ local playground in June, July and August. However, teachers often have to deal with it in the classroom next fall when their students return from summer break, says Dawn Dunnegan, a human sciences specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

Girl in library finding a book, photo by Kalani/stock.adobe.com.According to a Harvard study, on average, students lose approximately 2.6 months of learning over the summer — that is the summer slide. Then in the fall, teachers have to give up weeks or more of class time to make up for that loss, said Dunnegan, who specializes in family life issues.

However, summer vacation does not have to be a learning wasteland, Dunnegan said. With a little ingenuity and planning, parents can transform the summer into a time for children to stretch their minds, explore new hobbies, learn about responsibility and build on skills learned during the school year.

“This doesn’t mean that children have to complete math worksheets and study spelling lists, but summer is the perfect time for children to experience that learning is fun. To develop lifelong learners, we can show children that they can learn all the time, anytime and anywhere. Learning can take place whether you are taking a trip to a far-off place or spending the summer in your own neighborhood or backyard,” Dunnegan said.

Encourage reading

“Kids who read beat the summer slide. Studies show that access to books during the summer months prevents a drastic loss in reading skills,” Dunnegan said.

Children can participate in the local library’s summer book program as a fun way to read and connect to others. They can earn prizes as they learn responsibility in caring for books. When visiting the library, they also learn how to behave in a public place, Dunnegan said.

Plan a trip

A family vacation – or a weekend or day trip – is a great way to learn about many topics.

“You can involve your child in researching your location, reading about what you might see and do, studying the history of the location or helping to plan the route by looking at the map,” Dunnegan said.

“To keep math skills fresh, ask your child to help figure out how much gas you might use, or how many miles you have left to go or have gone. They can help you set a budget and consider the cost of meals, hotels and event fees,” Dunnegan said.

Encourage children to write about the trip or take photos; that way, their learning can continue after they get back home. They could create a scrapbook with clippings, tickets, brochures and postcards that they have from the trip. Older children could create a photo book using an online publishing service, Dunnegan said.

Learn at home

Look for daily opportunities at home to help children learn through the summer months, Dunnegan continued.

  • Read the daily news together or read grocery ads. Your child can look for sales, determine how much money you could save on items you would buy, and calculate the total cost.
  • Involve children in preparing meals or baking. They can measure ingredients, and read and follow the directions.
  • Plan an event, such as a Fourth of July gathering or a birthday party, to help children with organizing, reading, writing, listening, speaking and learning to complete a task.
  • Plant a garden to help children learn where food comes from. Start with seeds or small plants and talk about how things grow. If you don’t have room for a garden, you can use small pots indoors near a window or outside on a porch or patio.

“These are all great ways to keep the learning going without adding much to your routine. Simply involve your child whenever you can,” Dunnegan said.

Use community resources

Check resources in the community, particularly those that are no cost, Dunnegan suggested. Ask your child to help research the options. Many communities have free swimming days at the local pool, free or reduced price days at a zoo or museum, or free movies, concerts or camps. Visit a different park each week and look for flowers, birds, colors, insects and other beauty in nature.

“Summer is the time for everyone to take a break from school, but it’s also a time for continued learning and informal preparation for the upcoming school year. Finding fun ways to continue learning throughout the summer will ensure a smoother start to next school year,” Dunnegan said.

Contact your Iowa State University Extension and Outreach county office to learn about summer camps, programs and other learning opportunities. Also, see the April (PM 3013h) and May (PM 3013i) issues of the Dare to Excel newsletter for ideas for helping children learn during the summer. Both can be downloaded at no cost from the ISU Extension store.


Photo credit: Kalani/stock.adobe.com

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