[We are proud to feature this interview with Amanda Lawrence, Educational Coordinator at The Harris School, loaded with great insight about how to spend summer with your children and preparing them for the start of the new school year well. Enjoy!]
Anthology Counseling and Wellness: What kinds of experiences should we be trying to give our children during the summer months?
Amanda Lawrence: Family time! Our lives are so busy that we don’t set enough time to just be together; parents are often juggling so much in their day to day lives. Commit to at least one day a week doing something fun as a family, get the children involved in planning the day. Limit the use of electronics and just have fun together creating memories.
The summer is a great time to build upon your child’s experiences and interests. Take your child to the library to get them excited about reading, let them explore and choose books that interests them, encourage them to look at both fiction and factual books. A trip to the museum can help generate a love for art, science, or history. These places can really highlight what your child is passionate about, and you can use this as a springboard to explore the topic of interest further together. Giving your child plenty of opportunities to be creative is so important. Summer is the perfect time to let your child’s imagination run wild and stimulate creativity. There are lots of fun ideas for art and craft project online; once you find an area of interest to your child, you can really have fun completing projects together. And finally, keeping active is also essential during the summer months. One good option is to sign your child up for local recreational or sports programs. Let your child choose what interests them – they may even want try something new.
ACW: What needs to happen during the summer to encourage our kids to be excited about learning?
AL: A lot of children think of learning as something that only happens inside their classroom. The summer break is great time for them to have some real hands on learning experiences, as well as realize that learning can take place wherever they are. You can use almost any everyday task as fun learning opportunity. I’ve listed just a few examples.
- Cooking dinner: have your child read out the recipe steps, measure the ingredients, mix, pour, set the timer, divide the food in to equal portions etc.
- Grocery shopping: have them write their own shopping list, find the ingredients at the store and count the money they’ll need to pay.
- If you are going on vacation, have your child research where you are going by looking at maps, exploring how you will get there, researching places you can visit, perhaps even creating an itinerary for the family. Once you arrive, you can expand the learning further by giving them a daily spending allowance for food and helping them plan and budget.
The opportunities are endless and these real life experiences will help them connect the skills they are learning in the classroom with real life situations. They’ll enjoy the responsibility of completing these ‘grown up’ jobs and this will help build upon their love of learning.
ACW: What do you think of audiobooks? Are they as good a way to expose children to literature as reading aloud to them or having the kids read on their own?
AL: I love audiobooks. I use them personally and have used them in the classroom. They are a great way to inspire the reluctant readers and to bring the whole family together in the magic of a novel. To listen and follow along to an audiobook requires a complete different set of skills to independent reading: children are developing their critical listening skills and following along to a story at a fast pace. Audiobooks can introduce children to books above their reading level with more complex and exciting stories, which will also familiarize them to new vocabulary. Over the holidays many families travel: this brings about the perfect opportunity for audiobooks. Listening as a family is great way to get the whole family involved in the same novel and generate discussions and interests. Audiobooks definitely can play a positive role in your child’s reading journey, but should be used along side independent reading and reading aloud to give your child a richer reading experience.
ACW: Do you have any recommended resources – math worksheets, flash cards, penmanship workbooks, or books to read for kids?
AL: There is an abundance of great resources available for children these days. Some children love nothing more than a grade leveled activity book, with shiny stickers in the back! If you’re child is one of these children then that’s great – encourage it and take your child to a local book store to pick out some fun activities books to keep them busy and stimulated over the summer weeks. However, to some children, nothing sounds more boring than sitting down and completing that workbook. Ff your child is like this, that’s also completely fine! It just indicates that they most likely have a different style of learning. For these types of learners, you might want to consider buying a complex lego set that they can work on throughout the summer instead; they too will be practicing all those important skills, like reading instructions, problem solving, counting, estimating etc., but in a way that is more exciting to them. Either way, try not to overwhelm them and let them move at their own pace.
You can also review important skills by incorporating short activities in your day. Choose a math problem to solve over breakfast each morning. Play a spelling/word association game when driving in the car. Set aside some time after dinner each evening to read together. The internet is a great resource and has some great free educational sites that children can review important skills in a game format. A popular site with my students is abcya.com.
ACW: What have you seen that helps kids prepare for the transition back to school?
AL: After the long break, preparing your child for the transition back to school is important. The summer is full of fun, freedom, late nights and excitement; it is understandable why children struggle to get back into the routine and expectations when school starts. The biggest obstacle is getting children back in the habit of an early bedtime and wake up, the start of school often includes a tired bunch of kiddos by the end of the week. I think one of the best things parents can do is to get started early, a week or two before school starts, bringing about more structure and routine to your child’s day. Reducing bedtime by 10 minutes each night until you are back to a typical bedtime routine is a great way to break the habit of a late bedtime. If you have something fun planned early in the morning to encourage your child to be ready for an early start.
The start of school also comes with a lot of anxiety from children. New classroom, new teacher, and sometimes a new school are big changes in their lives. This is why you should prepare your child as much as possible for these changes during the summer. Take full advantage of the open house or meet the teacher: this is a great opportunity to reduce anxiety and get children ready for their new adventure. I once had a very anxious student who was extremely worried about having a new teacher. On the evening of meet the teacher, he came to me with an ‘All about me’ book that he and his mom had made over summer. The book gave me an insight into all his favorite things, dislikes, and key things about him. This made for a great ‘ice breaker’ and really helped him overcome his anxiety about meeting me.
The other thing that can really help the transition back to school is to keep in touch with your child’s classmates. This not only gives children opportunities to socialize with their peers, but more importantly, it provides them with a connection to school and the positive feelings that come with it. They will reminisce about school together and thus generate excitement for the new school year.
ACW: How do you know when your child needs tutoring?
AL: Your child’s report card should be a good indicator as to where your child is, and should highlight any areas where your child would benefit from some extra support. The best way to really tell if your child needs a tutor is by listening to your child. Is your child anxious about moving up a grade level or going back to school? If so, this could be a sign that they are struggling academically and would benefit from extra support. Listen to how they talk about the different subjects at school – while of course every child has prefers some subjects to others, more often than not a strong dislike is due to them feeling less confident in that area. Sometimes a child might be doing fine academically but still very under-confident, perhaps even anxious, about their abilities; these children would also benefit from a tutor to help build upon their self-esteem and make them feel confident in their abilities. The summer is a perfect time to hire a tutor and give your child that one-on-one support. Tutoring can instill a newfound confidence in your child and make them ready for the new school year. When in doubt as to whether to hire a tutor or not, if you can, then do! It can do no harm whatsoever; all children can benefit from having someone solely focused on them.