Win a Winner!
Writers & Photographers
Berlitz Summer Camp
by Jennifer Langsdale
It is an alarming statistic: according to the National Summer Learning Association, our elementary school children can lose as much as two months of mathematical skills and two months of reading skills during summer vacation. We want to prevent this learning loss, but the question is, how can we keep children’s brains engaged in valuable learning activities while also allowing for fun, enjoyable family time during the busy summer months?
Learning does not have to involve a workbook or flashcards. With just a bit of creativity and inspiration from the 10 ideas below, you can make this summer fun and productive!
1. Involve your child in transactions when you dine out. Let young children pay for the meal with paper money and share your mathematical thinking with them: “Mary is getting a quesadilla for about $5 and Mommy is getting a salad for about $7. That equals $12, so Mommy will need to give the cashier about $12 for our lunch today. Let’s see if we have enough money!” You may also allow your child to begin counting money and placing their order. Allow older children to be in charge of ordering your family’s meal and paying for it using paper money. Instead of handing them a twenty-dollar bill, allow them to hold your wallet and determine which bill is the best to use given your total cost. With this activity, your child will be applying mathematical skills to their real life in addition to exercising their memory.
2. Allow your child to help with cooking, planning menus and grocery shopping. Involve your child in cooking and baking as a fun way to practice academic skills and have family time. You may ask young children to help you to read/follow recipe directions. They may also help you find the appropriate measuring cup and measure out ingredients. Older children may also help you read or follow directions, however, you may make this more challenging by asking them to double or triple the recipe. Children of all ages will enjoy taking some of your batch to the local police or fire station!
In addition to cooking, children of all ages can be involved in planning family meals for a week. Encourage your child to include healthy choices in every meal, and praise them as they add healthy items to your menu. They can then write out and decorate a weekly menu for the family that can be posted in your dining room or on your refrigerator. Older children may help you make a grocery list and do the grocery shopping, using coupons that they cut out or helping you estimate the cost of your groceries. Your child will learn a great deal academically from these activities, yet you will also find that they are more likely to devour the healthy menu when it is one that they’ve designed!
3. Make reading a family affair. Children learn to love reading by seeing that the people around them love reading and talking about their reading. Make reading a family affair by starting a family book club this summer. You may choose a theme (friendship, non-fiction about animals, fantasy, or another family interest), and each family member can choose to read a book that relates to this theme. Or, you may decide that each family member will read the same book (adults may choose to read chapter books with younger children). Either way, schedule a book club meeting every week where family members bring their books, questions, and thoughts about their reading. Celebrate book club night by having a special dinner or fun snack. During book club, have a family discussion about your reading, and make sure to agree how many pages family members will read by next week’s meeting!
4. Designate your child “photographer for the day.” For example, you may choose to give your child the job of being “Wildlife Photographer” on a trip to the zoo. Encourage your child to take pictures of the wide variety of animals that they see, using different lighting and angles, noticing how this affects the resulting picture. Later, you can print these pictures for your child and give them paper or a photo album to glue the pictures in. Let them group similar animals together on the same page, give each page a title, and write about each animal. By allowing your child to photograph their experience at the zoo, they will maintain focus and remember what they learned from this experience for a longer period of time. Additionally, they will be exercising their artistic skills as you encourage them to capture the animal from different perspectives, positioning their camera/body to get a unique picture, and using different camera features. By printing and sorting these pictures, your child will directly see the impact of artistically creating a unique picture. While sorting the pictures in an album, your child will be practicing the academic skill of classifying and categorizing objects – in this case, living things.
5. Encourage your child to discover math everywhere. While running errands, at the park, or on a family road trip, have a math scavenger hunt. For example, you may ask your family to find as many examples of straight lines as they can in three minutes. With young children, you might ask them to find geometric shapes, things of a specific size (find a truck bigger than ours, find a car that has more children inside than ours does right now), or specific numbers. With older children, you will use more specific geometric terms (find an acute angle, obtuse angle, symmetrical figure, etc.), and may ask them to find examples of numbers less than a whole (1/3 of the sky is filled with clouds, ½ of the cactus arm is missing), prime, or greater than 1,000. You can take your math scavenger hunt a step further by creating a family competition and making a checklist for each family member, awarding a special prize to the first person who spots (and writes about, draws, or takes a picture of) all of the math items on their list.
6. Listen to music and share. While you are in the car with your child, turn on one of your joint favorite songs. Ask your child: “What do you think the writer of this song is trying to teach us about the world?” This simple question engages your child’s critical thinking skills and prepares them to tackle the complex literary task of determining theme. Some popular songs to try may be: “Don’t Laugh at Me” by Mark Willis or “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson.
7. Have a debate! While you are cooking a meal, eating a meal together or doing the dishes, engage your child in a debate. Ask them their opinion on a current event or topic of interest to them, encourage them to explain why they believe the way they do, and have a discussion about the topic. You may even have a weekly “Tuesday Topic Night” where your family discusses a topic of interest, each family member sharing their feelings and justifying their opinions. This quick “debate” prepares your child to support his/her opinions during classroom discussions, will prepare them to write persuasive essays in the future, and engages their critical thinking skills.
8. Tell stories. As you give your child a bath or say good night, create a short imaginary story and tell it to them. After they have heard you do this a few times, ask them to make up a story and tell it to you. As your child tells the story, you may help them ensure their story has structure by asking: “Now, what problem is your character going to have?” or “Wow! Your character is coming very close to making friends and solving his problem!” This quick, fun activity will allow your child to better understand text structure in their reading, will engage their imagination and capacity for understanding abstract concepts, and will allow them to practice speaking skills.
9. Get physical. Children not only become less academically active during the summer, but many children also become less physically active while they are out of school. In order to have fun as a family and stay healthy, plan an outing for the day. You may plan a trip to ride your bikes to your favorite park and have a picnic lunch. Your older children may even plan the trip; planning your route on a map, ensuring that the distance you are traveling is reasonable and safe for all family members. As a family, you may even set a goal to raise money and participate in a 3K run, supporting a favorite cause while accomplishing a goal as a family.
10. Make the world a better place. President Obama has declared this summer a “Summer of Service,” and is encouraging families to serve their communities in various ways. Participating in community service projects gives children a sense of pride and civic responsibility. Click here to find project ideas and get the family involved:
Jennifer Langsdale teaches fifth grade at McKinley Elementary School in Santa Monica, a Title I California Distinguished School. She has previously worked in preschool through fifth grade classrooms.
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Tom, thanks for chiming in. This is our first submission from Jennifer. I am hoping she will send more our way!
Christina Elston, Editor
by Christina Elston
06/10/2011 - 06:30 pm
This article offered outstanding advise of how to keep the "kids" engaged during the "off months". Does Jennifer have any other articles I could refer to?
by Tom Evans
Santa Margarita, CA
06/08/2011 - 02:14 am