By Françoise Lartigue, senior content and curriculum specialist
It’s 10 in the morning but the sun is already hot. The little boy, who is supposed to be participating in my next swim lesson, is clinging to his mother’s leg. His name is James. He looks hot and his face is stained with tears.
“I don’t wanna swim,” he says—quietly at first and then a little louder.
James’ mother gives me the same frustrated, pleading look that all parents do when their child is refusing to join a lesson.
“It’s okay,” I say with a smile. “We aren’t going to swim today. We’re just going to give our feet a bath and then I’ll teach you how to make it rain. Have you ever made it rain before?”
James starts to release his mother’s leg and quietly says “no”.
“Oh, it’s fun and easy! Let’s go, I can’t wait to teach you!”
James now grips my hand and we walk to the side of the pool.
We start together by giving our feet a “bath” in the pool. Over the next half an hour we pretend our way, in small but significant ways, to getting all the way into the pool. James makes it rain on my and his own head with big splashes. He is using both his arms and then later his legs – it’s the beginning of the swimmers’ flutter kick.
We end the lesson with me showing him how to make underwater finger “candles”. We pretend it’s my birthday and I blow out all the candles by making bubbles in the water.
“Next time,” I tell him, “ we’ll pretend it’s your birthday and you’ll blow out the special underwater candles. Can you practice at home in your bathtub?”
James nods eagerly, “YES! Will you sing to me, too?” “Definitely!” I reply.
Small pieces to build BIG learning
Over the course of the summer, James learned to swim. Each lesson we worked on the small pieces, building and practicing.
Breaking things up into activities that felt simple and easy to practice made what initially seemed overwhelming, into something manageable and doable for James.
My years around the pool as a swimmer, instructor, and coach taught me that breaking things into small, easy to try steps is how we help people of all ages achieve success in the pool.
Becoming a Kindergarten teacher confirmed that, really, it’s how we make learning new skills achievable for everyone.
Learning, the ParentPowered way
This concept also happens to be a cornerstone in the research Dr. Benjamin York conducted as part of the creation and development of ParentPowered. One of our specialties at ParentPowered is taking big learning objectives, like developing phonemic awareness skills, and breaking them down into bite-sized pieces of digestible, actionable information that families can add to their everyday routines.
This method combined with the accessibility of delivering these insights via text messages is the ParentPowered way. And it creates impactful and well-loved programs, with 90% of families telling us they do the ParentPowered activities at least once a week. In fact, 93% families indicate that ParentPowered texts have helped their child learn and grow.
Given the evidence and parent feedback backing this approach, applying elements of the ParentPowered way to summer goals, both learning goals and other goals, is a natural fit.
So much about summer—with its shift in routine away from school to less predictable schedules, demands an approach that is simple and doable. As educators and parents we know the importance of keeping kids engaged, learning and growing throughout the summer. We also know that it’s key for us too! And when you share these strategies with your families and teams, it can make their summer that much more joyful.
Bringing learning goals to life
Figuring out how to make all the things we want to learn and do actually happen can be a different story. Especially after the toll the past 16+ months have had on people, specifically educators. Perhaps the most important work that can be done this summer is to focus on doing the things that will feed and replenish mental and physical health for adults and kids alike.
Using the ParentPowered way to support the crafting and building of summer plans and goals will make them feel all the more doable. Try these five Ready4K-inspired steps to support your learning goals.
1. Put It On Paper: Make a List, Set a Goal
Carve out 10 minutes for yourself or with your child to brainstorm all the things you want to do or learn this summer. For kids, include anything their school might be asking them to do over the summer, too. Write it all down. Then pick the 3 – 5 that feel the most important to you right now. Or that need to be accomplished, like completing a reading list. As you’re deciding, check in. Does the goal feel realistic?
It also can help to make the goal as specific as you can. This helps us know when we have achieved it. For example, setting a goal to spend more time outside is great. But setting a goal to do five hikes this summer is more specific. It’ll be easier to plan for it, which makes it infinitely more doable!
Write the goals down and post them up. Visibility matters, it’ll serve as a reminder and help keep the focus.
2. Break It Down
Hello, bite-size pieces! Even when the goals are things we really want to do, it can still feel overwhelming. Figuring out all the steps that are needed to reach a learning goal is key.
Creating tasks that spark the “Oh, I can do that!” feeling is what will make the path to success possible. Planning on reading 10 new books this summer? Staring down the list can feel like it’s too much. But breaking it down to reading 15 minutes a day can ignite the “Oh, I can do that!” feeling.
3. Build It In
Adding the bite-size pieces of a learning goal to existing routines or creating a new routine around the pieces helps to set the stage for success. Routines become habits. And habits are the behaviors that are often done without too much extra thought.
A good friend of mine, who just persevered through the toughest year of teaching she has experienced in her 20-year career, shared recently that she has a goal to watch at least one movie a week all summer long. Movies bring her joy and offer mental release and she hadn’t been able to carve out time while teaching this past year. She’s made Monday night her movie night. Added it to her calendar to block off time, along with the movie title.
4. Check in
Every few weeks over the summer, check in on how things are going. If it’s going well, this moment of reflection just confirms that things are on the right path and to keep it up. However, if things aren’t going as planned these check-in moments offer a chance to shift and learn.
Asking questions like: Are these learning goals still really important to me? Is the routine the right one? Are there more bite-size pieces I should try first? Or are the bite-size pieces actually the right size?
Want more ideas and shareables?
For example, one of the many learning goals people set revolves around reading more. A friend shared that she set the goal to read for 20 minutes every night. After a few weeks she realized that reading at night wasn’t working, it made her fall asleep well before the 20 minutes had passed. However, shifting it to waking up a bit earlier and reading with her morning coffee made it a reality.
5. Celebrate You!
At the end of all of our programs we always send messages to celebrate parents and caregivers as well as children. It’s not just because it’s fun and feels good. The act of celebrating and reflecting on an accomplishment, big or small, builds confidence and strength.
Pausing to acknowledge hard work and success marks it in your mind. The next time you’re faced with a challenging task, it’ll be easier to think back to past successes and remember that you got this!
Want more transition tips and summer learning ideas? Take a look at this research round-up.