‘Keep their minds and bodies engaged in wonder’

“Keep their minds and bodies engaged in wonder during the summer months when they are not attending school.” That’s what Julie Olson, director of elementary education for the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan Public Schools recommended last week. She was one of 39 education leaders who responded to my request for suggestions about what parents could do to encourage continued learning during the summer. They described a combination of community, school and family activities that can produce a summer with happy memories and student growth.

Nathan-on-Education-newStephen Jones, Little Falls superintendent, wrote: “The key to summertime learning for children is being able to consistently carve out a scheduled time for academic purposes. My advice is to “schedule” a specific amount of time for children to read, read and read some more … each and every day. Summer schedules for children are very sporadic; the wisdom to dedicate a consistent reading time will pay dividends for all ages of learners.”

Vern Capelle, Upsala’s dean of students, suggested: “Promote summer reading by having kids read books they want to read, at their reading level, to foster interest in reading. Students will continue to develop and improve their reading skills by reading throughout the summer, but it is important that they are reading something they are interested in.”

Mary Olson, director of communications and public relations for the Anoka-Hennepin School District, urged: “Get outside! Learn life science lessons by observing the natural world. Whether its studying a colony of ants carrying crumbs to an anthill in the backyard or listening to a loon yodel across a northern lake, children can learn much by observing the natural world, taking note of what they have seen and asking questions of themselves. (I wonder how much weight an ant can carry? I wonder if different loon calls have different meaning?) They can learn more about their observations by visiting a library or finding online resources.”

Peter Wieczorek, director of charter Northwest Passage High School in Coon Rapids, agreed. “Learning opportunities are all around. You don’t need to be in school to find great learning opportunities – visit a museum, nature center, parks program, community education, library or a local makers space,” he said.

Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota, the state’s teacher union, said, “For students in elementary and middle school: Read! Students should read books all summer (not too easy, but not too hard). Give children daily opportunities to read (maps, newspapers, even recipes) and give children a chance to read aloud. For students in high school: Read! Also, find opportunities to grow life skills, like meeting deadlines and personal responsibility through part-time jobs, volunteering and service projects.”

Gary Amoroso, executive director of Minnesota Association of School Administrators, urged families to consider programs that districts offer. “These activities can include academics as well as arts and crafts. This is a great way for a child to continue the learning process throughout the summer,” he said

Finally, Steve Allen, director of the Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs, said. “Summer programs often come in the form of applied learning opportunities that tend to really engage and/or motivate students. I’ve seen students really become encouraged about their learning after a summer of relevant and meaningful activities. Another reason that I encourage students to continue with summer extended time activities is that it continues to reinforce good study habits. Particularly with potentially at-risk students, it is beneficial to keep them in the routine of going to school. Finally, some of the best programs I’ve ever run have been summer credit make-up programs. Students may fail one or two classes along the way. If you can make those credits up during the summer, students don’t get overwhelmed and ‘give up hope.’ If a student gives up hope, we all lose.”

Modeling from families is key. That along with helping youngsters set and work toward goals, plus encouraging reading, exploring and talking, are great ways to spend the summer.

Joe Nathan, formerly a public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions welcome, [email protected]