Rebooting  your summer learning schedule: Let’s get our students ready for the fall

Guest Author: Magdalena Ganias, Ed.D
Manager of Curriculum & Professional Learning, Worcester Public Schools Worcester, Massachusetts 

Do kids need academic work over the summer?
The short (and easy) answer is yes!
The more nuanced question is: how much work is necessary?

Research “summer slide” and you will find a wide array of opinions. Add the articles on the “COVID slide” and you have a recipe for frustration for both kids and parents.

As a parent and educator, I’m deeply immersed in the research.  Let me save you some time: it all points to the dramatic effect parents can have on their children’s academic success.

Just as we adults thrive on a schedule, structure sets up our kids to stay engaged, focused, and ready to excel.

A fantastic formula to “summer school” success is being flexible and making it your own. As parents, the role of teacher is the most powerful one we play. While we unconsciously teach our children new things all the time, we can all use some tools for purposeful advances to their skills. My commitment to my daughter has been to foster a love of learning so she may always be a curious, lifelong student.

Since we are roughly half way through summer, I urge you to recommit to bolstering your student’s readiness for fall. It’s not too late!

Here are some concrete steps to help:

  • Establish a schedule together. On most days, my daughter works right after breakfast. This gets the work out of the way and leaves the rest of the day free.
  • Allow for “choice and voice.” She chooses the books to read and I make sure they are age-appropriate. We use a mix of online and offline options for math. Our third activity is free choice, which helps her be creative and stay interested.
  • Keep a log to track and celebrate learning. My daughter loves her learning notebook, in which she logs the number of pages read, science experiments, math calculations, and any new, cool facts. Every week, we review the notebook and celebrate her progress and new interests.
  • Share your own love of learning. Don’t underestimate how critical you are to the process. Talk about the successes and challenges in your own day, and show up as much as possible on your child’s journey. It can be as simple as reading together, doing an experiment together, or making dinner side by side.

At age 8 and going into 4th grade, we have agreed on 30 minutes of daily reading.  Whatever time you allot, know that reading is the most important thing for every student.  It is an absolute non-negotiable in our house! Then we set aside 30 minutes for math, and 30 minutes of an additional topic that she chooses.

The parameters for your family are up to you. As a parent, you know your child best and how much time to dedicate to a task.

When it comes to student-led, or “free choice” learning, savor the special opportunity to observe your child. I’m so intrigued by the choices my daughter makes and by her excited reaction when she discovers something new. 

For example, her favorite thing to learn about is science. She watches Mystery Doug almost every day and has a special science journal to list her discoveries. Doug answers questions in an engaging and accessible way – and parents will be shocked by how much they learn too.  Perhaps the best part is the multi-sensory experience: she is hearing, writing, and then teaching me, all reinforcing what she learned. Truly, it doesn’t get any better than that!

Another important reminder for parents is to foster social-emotional learning and physical activity. Each day looks different, of course, but these can often be the best opportunities for connection. Sometimes, I’m cheering my daughter on during hours of dance lessons, while other days we take a 15-minute walk together and reflect on the day.

Although my daughter will tell you she gets to take the weekend “off” from her daily schedule, she is constantly engaged.  Remember, the simple joy of doing tasks together is schooling in itself! Cooking, gardening, tracking weather, learning about cars are just some of our favorite pastimes.

Incorporating learning thoughtfully and in collaboration with your child is key to fostering a love of learning, all while maintaining skills.

Here are some outstanding, free resources I urge you to try:

  • Google Art & Culture: Can’t say enough about this! Scroll through for details.
  • Khan Academy: The online platform fills in gaps and then accelerates learning for grade K-12 in math.
  • Common Lit: This features a collection of reading passages in all literary and nonfiction genres for grades 3-12.
  • iCivics: Check out this free resource to engage students in meaningful civic learning.
  • Little Kids Rock: Learn to play a song or take a lesson online.
  • Mystery Doug: Doug answers kids science questions in an engaging and accessible way using short videos.
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