WE ARE about to embark on one of the most important and yet also most neglected periods of time for a child’s educational development – the summer vacation.
By: Alfred S. Posamentier is dean, Zoila Tazi is chairwoman of the Childhood Department and Mi-Hyun Chung is chairwoman of the Department of Literacy and Multilingual Studies, in the Mercy College School of Education.
Most kids, left to their own devices, will see this period of time as a time for freedom – especially from matters of education. Research shows that those who receive educational support at home will perform better in school than those who do not. Some significant difference in math or reading scores is made in the summer vacations over the years because parents have the most impact on their children’s learning.
The question that most parents grapple with is: What is their responsibility during this crucial period? We hope to give a few important suggestions.
Quantitative thinking – often referred to as mathematics – is frequently neglected in home educational support. For one thing, many adults have no qualms about themselves having not been too talented in mathematics, and if – even inadvertently – that is passed on to their children, it immediately lowers a child’s perceived expectation in mathematics. So for all grade levels, parents need to support on a continuous basis the importance of performing highly in mathematics.
For younger children, skills in mathematics can decline precipitously over the summer. Parents can effectively promote numeracy in young children by counting, describing shapes, playing board games, measuring ingredients for recipes, etc.
Parents should also be familiar with the arithmetic algorithms used in teaching math in their children’s school. This can be more challenging for parents coming from other countries, where arithmetic algorithms are oftentimes different from the ones that are used in our schools. Yet it is worth the effort to become familiar with these different approaches and support children as they reinforce arithmetic skills.
Even though most parents often claim to remember little from their high school mathematics classes, they would be wise to encourage their children to look at the many books available that enrich our understanding of mathematics at the school level by presenting topics often considered “off the beaten path,” and yet quite enriching and motivating. A clever technique for parents to follow would be to have them ask their children to read sections of the book and then explain to their parents what they read. This not only ensures real understanding of what they read but also genuinely reinforces it. Typically, a general appreciation for mathematics follows from such an activity.
More than the nightly storybook, the summer weeks should include many experiences with reading. Frequent visits to the library and story hour events are two examples of activities that will keep reading alive during the summer. Remembering that a child would hear a lot of reading during an average school day, parents should make a deliberate effort to increase the amount of reading that takes place at home.
Parents can read aloud a variety of genres, including narratives and expository texts, and talk about the text and the illustrations in the book. Many books for all ages include pictures or charts to help comprehension.
For the children of all ages, vocabulary development is a primary focus of instruction. Vocabulary knowledge persists as a predictor of academic achievement in later years. Parents can support vocabulary development during summer months through frequent conversation, highlighting new words and through continual narrative to children’s experiences.
For example, a trip to the zoo might include conversation about the color of the animals’ fur or about their habitat and homes. Conversation offers children the opportunity to connect vocabulary to concepts (for example, hearing the word tiger and seeing the actual animal); summer experiences actually offer many new avenues to develop vocabulary.
Drawing and writing
Parents can plan a time and place for their child to write every day and talk about, respond to or read aloud the child’s writing, because that will give the child the authentic purpose of writing. Writing for young children begins with drawing and scribbling. Often, art projects provide young children developmentally appropriate tasks that promote writing skills. Drawing and writing stories about summer experiences can help maintain the skills children learned in school while entertaining them in a delightful art project. Markers, pencils, brushes, etc., are essential materials for the summer months.
Parents should not try to replicate school during the summer. The ease and leisure of the summer weeks offer many benefits in themselves. The enriched, unhurried activities that both parents and children enjoy in the summer are excellent learning opportunities when they are reinforced with a parent’s attention to sustaining basic learning skills and building vocabulary.