The crowd gathered at Sam’s was a dead giveaway. Parents searched for curriculum to keep their children busy during summer and the learning going.
“I’m worried about him losing math,” said one mom, as another poured over reading books. Several just grabbed the giant I-can-do-it-all workbook and dumped it in their cart. While the parents’ commitment to their children’s education is encouraging, they are missing some of the best actual learning opportunities available.
The best learning happens with hands-on activities, not workbooks. To be sure, many educators and parents love workbooks — for one reason. Workbooks are easy to measure. In five minutes a parent can check to see if their child is “getting it” or whether they need another worksheet.
However, worksheets seldom lead to real learning. While a child can complete the sheet, they often cannot transfer those skills to the real world. More often, the sheets kill a child’s desire to learn at all. If those same parents took advantage of summer’s break in books and provided more hands-on opportunities, they would see their children’s academic abilities grow — and they might just see a love of learning grow as well.
For math — do a project. Plant a garden, build a tree house or bird house, or create a budget for the family vacation. Then, let the kids do the math.
A worksheet asking for square feet elicits groans. Figuring the square footage for the dream tree house creates its own incentive for getting the answer right. When parents include children in planning the trip budget, they not only educate their children about how to make smart financial decisions, they increase their children’s appreciation for all that goes into making this special time possible. Older children can get online to research deals on hotels and tickets. Their internet savvy may actually pay off for parents. Even younger children can add meal prices to make sure everyone stays in budget.
Trips to the grocery, the county fair or the pool are all opportunities to have the kids do a little math. Another way to build math skills is to play games. Nearly every game builds some level of math skills while everyone has fun.
For reading — pick a book to read aloud together this summer. Children who hear great books read expressively learn to love reading. The bonding with family also creates a positive association with reading. You can even take a book and have different family members read the different parts. They get to practice reading skills and fulfill their desire to be a drama star all at the same time.
Hand the plans for the bird house or the map for the trip to the children and ask them to read it. This offers practice in a different style of reading, which builds the variety of skills children need to succeed. Whether they read the recipe as you cook or the directions to the doctor’s office, everyday situations offer a chance both for your child to practice reading and for you to offer immediate, helpful feedback when they need extra support.
For overall skills — take advantage of special summer opportunities. 4-H projects offer some of the best learning opportunities around. Projects are available for nearly every child’s interest, and completing the projects develops a varied skill set. The hands-on approach means the learning will last, because it was experienced and related to something the child loves. Take your children to the Boone County fair to explore an idea for next summer.
Summer programs through the library, Eagle Creek Nature Center, or the state parks likewise offer hands-on opportunities to explore interests and keep the learning going over the summer.
Parents who engage in their children’s learning and support it throughout the summer greatly enrich their children’s lives. However, the focus on just books often kills their child’s very desire for learning. Instead, make learning a strategic part of the flow of life. Give children active roles in everyday projects, and you’ll see the learning stick — plus a desire to go deeper grow. That’s true education.
Tess Worrell is the mother of eight and teaches parenting and marriage. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.