By Francoise Lartigue, content manager
One of the most satisfying jobs I ever had, other than working for ParentPowered of course, was teaching Kindergarten in the South Bronx in New York City. I loved the challenge of taking these energetic, imaginative, and eager children and helping them become students. Many of the children entered not having had a school experience before which meant we had lots of learning to do about how to learn!
We embarked on the typical kindergarten journey that included learning the key foundation literacy, math, and student skills. Have you ever watched a child read a book for the first time? Experience new success in counting? Voluntarily share a favorite toy with a peer? It’s amazing! A kindergarten year is filled with so many fulfilling firsts and amazing days as the students learn, grow, and become really functional students. I often felt in awe as I watched their young minds expand with knowledge and their skills grow.
As the year would inevitably come to a close I would feel excited for a summer break, but a part of me wanted to plead “You don’t need to leave, we can keep doing this! Let’s keep learning together this summer!” My desire to keep my students in the classroom stemmed from my own self-doubt and worry. Had I done enough for my students and families this year? Were my student’s families in a position to keep their children learning all summer long – doing activities, talking, reading books, going to the library?
As a young childless teacher all those years ago I didn’t think of offering any specific summer guidance to my student’s families. I reminded them to read with their children and have fun together! I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. Knowing what I know now – that was not enough to help my or any students stay engaged with learning and fight summer slide.
“Summer slide”, the euphemism educators use to describe the learning loss that occurs in students over the summer, is real. It stands to be much worse this year than usual. The economic, societal and emotional impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on families and communities has been far reaching and severe. As families enter the summer with limited options for childcare and engagement they will need continued support from the organizations that have already been supporting them the most.
The human brain, like all muscles, needs to be active to stay engaged. It compares to a good exercise habit that keeps your body fit. When children continually stay engaged with active learning, they keep building the key habit of learning. They hold onto the important skills that will help them be ready to learn in the fall. Here’s some good news. It doesn’t take a lot to keep kids’ brains engaged and in the routine of learning. In fact, simple daily activities that families can map onto existing everyday routines can be enough!
If you’re thinking this sounds really similar to the ParentPowered way then you are correct. Recently, Rebecca Honig, our Director of Content and Curriculum, and I gave a webinar to help organizations leverage our evidence based family engagement model and create summer learning opportunities for the families they serve.
We took a deep dive in the webinar, but here are few thoughts to keep in mind as you work to figure out how to support families and keep the students you serve engaged in learning this summer:
1. Summer is not school
Families need easy to do, in the moment daily learning activities that build on skills their child already has.
Think: Reading for increased stamina or practicing math facts.
2. Simple is super
Parents should feel confident that they CAN do the things you are asking them to do. If you can’t explain it in a simple way then it’s not a great summer skill to focus on. Breaking concepts down into their simplest form helps already stressed parents understand the content immediately.
Think: X,Y,Z! Think of a skill X. X helps kids learn or build Y. Try doing Z.
When kids add or subtract numbers in their heads, it’s called mental math. It helps kids do multiple step math problems. Playing games with numbers builds this skill.
3. Make learning a routine
Also make it part of existing routines. When you can help families build the habit of learning into their daily routines it starts to become second nature. When we guide families to do things like rhyme while zipping a coat, use position words in a bathtub game, or invite their child to read to them while cooking we have helped them make learning not only a routine but part of their routines.
4. Success matters
When families experience repeated successful moments of learning together they’ll want to do more! When kids love to do an activity they WILL ask to repeat it.
Think: Counting and racing games, silly sentence rhyming, or building a pillow fort together to read in.
5. Presentation matters, too
Families are maxed out at the moment. Giving them highly doable activities in a well organized way is the first step to engaging them in trying the activity.
6. You know your families best
You have the advantage of knowing them, of knowing their circumstances and their routines. You know what your students love and get excited about. This information is going to allow you to choose essential skills, perfect moments, and exciting activities.