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Navigating Summer Learning: Thoughts from a “Teacher Mom”

How can I get my kids to read more?

Do you have your kids do the math packet?

Should I buy one of those summer workbooks?

My friends often ask me questions like these. They figure as a “teacher mom” I have strong thoughts on what parents should do at home. Spoiler alert: I don't! Whereas I am passionate (and long winded) when it comes to talking about education, teaching, learning, I generally steer clear of "shoulds" when it comes to parenting. Further, it often surprises people when I (an educator) share my personal parenting perspective: I wholeheartedly and enthusiastically believe in the importance of rest, relaxation and the pursuit of one’s interests outside of school. Similar to my work in classrooms, as a parent, I prioritize nurturing curiosities and carving out time and space for these curiosities to develop. I strive to let my kids (currently 10 and 12) make decisions about their summer learning. I support their efforts by providing access to places (for my non-drivers) and materials- within reason.

For caregivers who are willing to consider giving up the summer workbooks, packets, and tutors but still want to create space for reading and writing, let’s start the conversation!

5 IDEAS TO IGNITE YOUR FAMILY’S IMAGINATION:

Make It Special:

  • New notebooks or journals with fancy covers, gel pens, felt tipped markers, different colored and shaped post its…. This financially-friendly swag does wonders to make kids actually want to write. No prompts or worksheets needed!

  • BONUS IDEAS INSPIRED BY MY KIDS:

  • When my kids were emergent readers and writers (PreK - Grade 2), I would buy or create blank books to have on hand. Stapled copy paper also works just as well. When we went on vacation, they brought their books and wrote about their experiences (sometimes conventionally, sometimes not). When we had a fun, sad, or frustrating day, they wrote about it. Not all of the books survived the trips, but they had fun writing- and it often kept them happily engaged on those long car rides.

  • When my son was in second grade, he was very into graphic novels. He spent an entire summer creating a weekly comic strip, putting the same character into all sorts of silly situations. We “published” it once a week and at the end of the summer, he had a binder full of comic strips he had written.

  • HELPFUL HINT: I did not correct incorrect spelling and grammar. He was writing… over the summer… because he as choosing to do so. A lesson from “teacher mom” would have likely put a stop to that immediately.

Make It Social:

  • Talk to other caregivers in your social circle. Together with your children, choose a new book (something current and “hot”). Buy a copy or see if it is accessible at the library. Warning: sometimes the newest books are so in-demand that they are tough to get from the library. Take turns hosting a weekly book club meeting for the kids. Supply snacks, space to talk, and then time to play/hang out.

  • BONUS IDEAS INSPIRED BY MY KIDS:

  • When in-person coordinating is tough, there are other options. In third grade, my daughter used to call her friend, put the phone on speaker, and take turns reading pages of a book with this friend over the phone. She ended up reading for far longer stretches than she did when reading independently.

  • Fast forward a year- she now just finished fourth grade and enjoys collaborating with classmates to write a “spin-off” series of Percy Jackson. This trio created new characters- modeled after themselves- and work together to storytell “Percy-esque” adventures from each character’s point of view. They are currently on page 36 of their Google Doc- and choose to write even though no part of this was assigned.

  • HELPFUL HINT: If only one book club meeting will be possible, consider choosing a series book. By starting kids on a series with their peers, they are more likely to continue reading that series, even if on their own. Look here and here for ideas.

Make It Techy:

  • Talk to your child about their current interests. There are tons of kid-friendly websites and even more apps, extensions, and platforms that can be used to share digitally. This will look different for each age level and child. Search for something that works for your child’s personality, age, and your comfort with private vs. public sharing.

  • BONUS IDEAS INSPIRED BY MY KIDS:

  • The summer between fourth and fifth grade, my son started a blog based on his experiences playing a video game. We compromised on finding the right level of “openness” for publishing. He did spend more time playing NBA 2K that summer, but he also wrote more than he would have without this exciting forum.

  • My daughter visits Goodreads to check out reviews on newer books - she particularly enjoys the ones that seem to be written by kids her own age. She then uses leftover birthday gift cards to buy books based on those recommendations. She is very interested in posting her own reviews this summer.

  • HELPFUL HINT: Respectful online reviewing is very enticing. Consider inviting your child to write a toy review to post on the Toys R Us or Amazon.com website. They might also enjoy reviewing a local restaurant or vacation hotel and posting it on Yelp or a similar platform.

Make It Personal: