Keeping your kids entertained and educated while off from school
BY VANESSA DENHA GARMO
Summertime for many school-aged kids means sleeping in, hanging out and having fun. Although there is room for some of that, experts are encouraging parents to have some structure and a strategy for the summer.
Summer learning loss is the loss of academic skills and knowledge over the course of summer holidays. With that said, it’s vital for kids to be educated as well as properly entertained.
“The summer slide is a real thing,” said Melody Arabo, 3rd grade teacher in the Walled Lake School District. “We work so hard in the 3rd grade on multiplication facts and reading and then in 4th grade, we hear from teachers that students don’t know their facts. That transition between 3rd and 4th grade is significant.”
Arabo, who was Michigan’s 2015 Teacher of the Year, recommends making learning in the summer fun. She practices what she preaches, too. When she is out walking the dog with her son Adam for example, she will throw out letter sounds.
“Making a game out of learning is something parents can easily do in a car ride for instance,” said Arabo. “Throw out multiplication facts, ask questions about states and state capitals and make up learning games to fill in the downtime.”
This year Arabo was selected for the Teacher Ambassador Fellowship with the U.S Department of Education. She is among 10 teachers across the country selected to serve as a liaisons between educators and policymakers.
Arabo uses many opportunities to teach her own children. “When Adam makes breakfast with me, we count how many sausages he will eat and how many eggs his sister will eat for example,” she said. “We are reiterating what kids are learning in school.”
As important as learning is during the summer months, Arabo doesn’t believe a daily structured study time is necessary. “If you do those things great, but if you can find a better way that won’t seem like work, kids are more apt to get something out of it.”
However, she does see benefits to kids being tutored once a week in the summer. As a teacher, she tutors students during the break. She also recommends several educational websites including IXL for math and Reading A to Z. “There are thousands of books on that website you can actually print out and fold into a book, if you wanted,” she said
TenMarks is another website, which is similar to IXL.
“Let the kids have fun” said Arabo. “We work them hard during school year. We add activities and it ends up being a long day. So, let kids explore. Sometimes when they go outside and play, they can learn just as much as they would reading an A to Z book.”
Just as important as keeping the mind sharp in the summer, Arabo recommends managing a child’s social life. “Keeping them connected with friends is important,” she said. “When they go back in the fall, they don’t have to start all over socially.”
As much as having fun in the summer is a must, it is also imperative to have downtime. “Kids are involved in so many things during the school year,” said Iklas Bashi, Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and a Life Breakthrough Coach. “So many kids are over-committed, so that downtime is important.”
Depending on the child, downtime can vary. “You can get them to choose what that looks like depending on their age,” said Bashi. “For elementary school-aged kids, it could be going to favorite spot in the house or outside where they can read, do a puzzle, play a board game or color.”
Since 2003, Bashi has worked with individuals, couples, parents, teens, families, and groups, journeying with them to work through the obstacles that stand in the way of discovering their God-given identity and purpose in life. She strongly believes that meditation and prayer can be part of downtime. “Kids need time when their minds are not stimulated by the phone, video games, and social media,” said Bashi, “downtime where they can play music that is relaxing and they sit and journal.”
Limiting screen time is important. “The smart phones have become a baby sitter,” said Bashi. “When I am at the mall or in public, I am seeing phones in toddler hands like 2 and 3 year olds. That is just alarming. There are so many things you can give a toddler to occupy them. This,” said Bashi picking up a cell phone, “should not even be a last resort – not a resort at all.”
Research shows that the earlier you are exposing children to the technology, the greater the chance they have of becoming attached to it. “Too much screen time is not good,” said Arabo. “In the summer, it is easy for kids to get more screen time than they should. They need to get outside more. There are so many learning opportunities just being outside.”
Bashi highly recommends the summer bucket list for each child where they write a list of things they want to do during the summer other than just going to the pool. This can include going downtown, ice skating, visiting a museum or spending time with a relative they don’t see often.
“I talked to parents who take their kids to the pool every day and although that can be fun, it also gets old and many parents talk about how their kids complain about being bored,” noted Bashi. “As a parent, talk to your children about the options for the summer and start making a list and scheduling different things to do.”
Experts warn against giving into every whim children have and “that is where boundaries come in,” said Bashi. “I understand it is summer but there still has to be boundaries. It is not going to be detrimental to any child if they stay home one or two days a week and have some downtime.”
Arabo highly recommends educational camps. There are science, art, math and even cooking camps. “Theater camps are great because they include literature and oral language skills,” she noted.
For elementary and middle school children, there are a variety of different camp options. “Find camps that get kids out of their comfort zones,” said Bashi. “You want them explore new things that they can learn new things, new skills, or a new sport. Do something they typically would not do. That will become fertile soil that they learn about themselves and perhaps the child never thought about or something a parent never thought about.”
For high school students, Bashi said that boundaries have to be in place. They cannot go the pool every day. “High school kids can volunteer or get a summer job. They can apply for a summer internship. And a lot of places offer scholarships for summer internships,” noted Bashi. “Employers and colleges love to see motivated and interested high schoolers waiting to learn more. When they see you want to keep yourself busy, even as a teenager in the summer, they would see that the student would be a great addition to the university of business.”
High school students have options. If they love the pool or beach, they can become lifeguards. Another option is to take summer classes to learn something new. High School students can attend community college and take a photography class for example or could volunteer at a camp as a counselor or in the library.
Kids 12 an older can start businesses by babysitting or mowing the lawn. “Parents need to find opportunities to empower their children instead of handing everything over to them,” said Bashi.
In the spirit of faith, Bashi recommends signing up for a Holy hour once a week with the family. “I know everyone’s schedule will conflict even if it is summer. Maybe two people can go in the summer,” she said. “You are actually still making time for your prayer life. One hour a week is not going to kill anyone.”
There are dangers of keeping a child home alone. A child’s brain is not fully developed. The brain of an elementary age child is less developed than a high school student. “None the less, the brains of these two examples are still undeveloped brains,” said Bashi. “This is factual neuroscience. Because their brains are not developed and depending on the age, they don’t have the ability to guide themselves and to make good judgment calls.”
A child left home alone, for long periods of time with access to technology and the internet could lead to trouble. With the smart phone back in her hand Bashi said, “These things can be a weapon used for good and bad. Over time, social media continues to be a major problem.”
Cyberbullying has become a notable topic in the media among school-aged kids. “Parents should consider having their kids take a hiatus form the phone and social media for a few days at a time,” said Bashi. “There is great danger in having children spend long hours unsupervised.”
Back to the maturity level and brain development, Bashi references continued research done on the brain. “It shows that an adult brain is not fully developed until 25-years-old. It is not that we don’t trust our children, but when you take into account their brain development and their well-being, they don’t have the skill set to make the proper decisions,” said Bashi.