Whether you call it the summer slide, the brain drain or just plain old learning loss, for parents, it’s a conundrum that can cast a pall over sunny summer vacation.
How do you keep the knowledge children earned in the classroom from slipping away in a hot haze of baseball practices, video games and cartoon marathons?
Dallas-based author and teacher Barbara Dianis said two studies done in 2011 showed that youngsters who took a complete scholastic break over the summer lost two to three months of learning. But the good news is that parents don’t have to pay for pricey summer camps or subject their children to flashcards and workbooks to keep young minds active.
Often, the recipe for summer learning can be as straightforward as mixing a dash of creativity, a few household items, a couple of simple games, some trips to the library and maybe a venture into the great outdoors.
Laura Knight, instructional coach at Central Oak Elementary in Crooked Oak Public Schools, said her children enjoy bubble math: She blows bubbles, and they make a sport of counting them, then adding and subtracting as more bubbles appear or as they pop.
“Who doesn’t love bubbles? Any objects that they’re playing with, they can add and subtract. With older kids, you can just turn that into multiplication and division,” Knight said. “You can do it with blocks, cars, stuffed animals, anything they have. You can do it with snacks; teachers do that a lot of times during the school year.”
Dianis suggested challenging youngsters to a language-arts version of I Spy and seeing who can rattle off the most nouns, adjectives and adverbs in a given space.
Parents shouldn’t overlook classic word, board or card games as teaching tools, either. Mad Libs can offer hilarious English reviews, the card game Set encourages critical thinking and pattern recognition, and parents can borrow a pair of dice from a board game and roll out a math skills challenge for their youngsters.
“Just roll the dice, and they can practicing adding the two numbers, subtracting the two numbers, multiplying or dividing. It’s a real easy one, and kids love it, and so many of them need their math facts. You can also get dice at the teacher supply store that go up to 10 (sides),” said Dianis, an Oral Roberts University gradute who wrote “Don’t Count Me Out! A Guide to Better Grades and Test Scores Pre K-12th.”
While it’s tempting to let kids do much of their summer learning via educational TV shows, online games and various apps, Knight cautioned parents to set reasonable limits on screen time.
“You need to interact ... and make sure they are on the right track. Because sometimes they’ll just play the game and not really understand what they’re doing,” she said.
At the library
One of the simplest and most effective tactics parents can use is to read to or with their children every day, Knight said.
As if books and air conditioning weren’t enough, the Metropolitan Library System of Oklahoma County also hosts free musical performances, story times and more.
“We pretty much have something going on every day. Most libraries have some kind of activity for elementary-age kids a couple times a week, some of them more often than that,” said Kristin Williamson, children’s services coordinator for the library system.
The offerings are particularly strong in the arts and sciences, with activities like juggling lessons, LEGO Builders Club and junk sculpture classes bridging the disciplines. She said hands-on science sessions like Physics Funhouse, Kitchen Chemistry and Tinkering Tuesdays often draw crowds of youngsters. The library system also has partnered with Science Museum Oklahoma for a science series especially for teens that pulls from pop-culture favorites like Harry Potter, Dr. Who and zombies.
Of course, youths who are inspired to try more science experiments at home can find books on practically any topic at the library, Williamson said. This year, the Metro Library’s Summer Reading Program has been put online for added convenience and expanded to all ages, even adults, with children and teens earning books as incentives and grown-ups getting discounts to Half Price Books.
“We are doing 20 minutes a day (as the goal) because there have been a number of studies that have shown the benefits of reading 20 minutes a day for all ages. It’s especially noticeable for elementary school kids when they’re learning how to read,” she said.
The Myriad Botanical Gardens are hosting a myriad of free or low-cost activities that will get youngsters brains active and their bodies outside, said marketing and communications director Christine Eddington. It is summertime, after all.
Earlier this month, the Children’s Garden began hosting Weekly Walk-ups, hands-on sessions offered every weekday morning for a suggested donation of $2. For example, children can sample herbs, vegetables and fruits grown there on Tasty Tuesdays or Thirsty Thursdays.
“It’s just a fun way of adding another dimension of interactivity to the Children’s Garden,” she said. “One of our missions here at the gardens is to educate people, particularly in areas of horticulture, nature, and that sort of thing. With it being summer, it’s the perfect time to do it.”
By popular demand, members of the OKC Astronomy Club will bring their telescopes back to the Great Lawn July 24 and Aug. 21 for free Astronomy Nights in the Garden.
At 10 a.m. Saturdays throughout the summer, the Junior League of Oklahoma City will present the free Bringing Books to Life story times in the Crystal Bridge lobby. Readers also can find a little free library and comfy chairs any time on the porch of the Children’s Garden.
“It’s a great place to read a book. It’s also just a really low-tech, fun sort of kid-friendly space,” Eddington said. “Putting your bare feet in grass and just having unstructured play is something that is sorely lacking today for children, and it’s critically important ... in terms of the development of a child’s mind.”
For more information
OKC SUMMER EDUCATIONAL ACTIVITIES: