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Make Summertime a Learning Time

Educators often bemoan the loss of learning in their students over the two-month summer break in the school year. Indeed, children do forget some facts and learning strategies and may take a few weeks in the fall to bounce back into classroom routines. One way to keep kids in a learning mode during the summer break is to give play center stage, something that should be an intimate part of school life in the early years.

For parents planning for summer, I suggest structured activities such as art workshops and camps. These provide for adventurous learning with more opportunities for self-expression and recreational skill development than the school year usually can offer. But unstructured time’allowing for the natural flow from boredom to activities invented by children themselves or suggested by parents’provide special learning opportunities. Keeping materials, such as safe scissors, glue, washable paints and markers and paper, accessible allows for these sorts of spontaneous projects.

One colleague, a child psychologist, suggests providing children with a section of the family garden or a few pots on a patio or windowsill. If space permits, raising cherry tomatoes, which ripen fast and are small enough to be plucked and served by the child, is a particularly apt choice. Talk with them about the process of growing things and read them books with garden themes. These activities can enrich a child’s sensitivity to the pleasure of the outdoors as they learn.

Playing games with adults offers children a context for informal conversation as well as learning. Games, such as chess, that parents have never learned, can be learned along with their children. I find backgammon with my eleven-year-old to be a great challenge. Playing Memory with children ages three and up, Scrabble or Scrabble Junior, Monopoly (provided you start early in the day!), and my all-time favorite, Sorry! are all options to explore. Also, when you’re at the beach, don’t forget to spend some time writing messages and names in the sand.

How to use news to teach

“For the past three years, educators at Pottstown High School in Pennsylvania have taught an integrated, elective course titled “USA TODAY.” Nearly 140 students out of 700 are involved in the class. It is the number one elective at PHS each year. The course is centered on process-learning and focuses on the multiple intelligences. Goals are to address standards and teach students to: think critically, communicate both orally and in writing, access and organize information, work cooperatively, develop effective research skills and utilize technology.”

I use USA TODAY to improve reading comprehension and writing skills. In a speed-reading activity, I give students two minutes to scan the entire paper for an article that interests them. Then I give the students five minutes to read the article they’ve selected and another three minutes to write a summary or interpretation of the article that they’ll share with their peers, in small groups or with the class.

Other times I give students a list of names of people in that day’s news. From that list, I have the students choose the people they view as important, and then we discuss what characteristics make that person important. We recently discussed the conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. We discussed why King remains an important figure, and which conspiracy theories are plausible.

I not only use the news quiz that comes with Experience TODAY, I also have students make up their own quiz questions. From these, I compile another quiz that I give to them. The most valuable aspect of the USA TODAY is that it is a hands-on learning tool. It’s something that belongs to the students, something that they can make marks on and use as their own, just like in college