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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:

  • Nurture your child’s passions. Find a reasonable way to provide greater access to that passion. Books on that topic (fiction and nonfiction) are wonderful. Trips and outings to do something related to this personal passion provide wonderful writing inspiration.

  • BONUS IDEAS INSPIRED BY MY KIDS:

  • The summer between second and third grade, my daughter was obsessed with gems. After visiting the Gem Room at the Museum of Natural History, we found & read many books on rocks and minerals. She created a simple Google Slide presentation and shared it with her soon-to-be third grade teacher… who, at the start of the year, invited P to share it with her new class (instant pride)!

  • My kids both love music. They also intend to practice their instruments, but this rarely happens as a self-initiated activity. Last week, we bought scaled-down, simplified sheet music of songs by their favorite musicians. They (fingers crossed) will read the music and learn to play some of their favorite songs. We also have blank paper ready so they can write their own lyrics, play with arrangements, and perform their own music.

  • HELPFUL HINT: If they love it, go with it- even if it is not what you would necessarily choose. I am already anticipating this summer’s musical performances may be a bit… jarring interesting, but I am committed to sitting and applauding for approximately 10 minutes each week.

Make It For Everyone:

  • Model it yourself. Yep, much easier said than done. I get it. But, our actions speak louder than words. Thankfully, a little goes a long way! Get a magazine, go the library and borrow a book, write letters to relatives who live far away… find something that seems interesting and manageable. It does not need to mirror what your children choose to do. Nurture your own curiosities, too.

  • BONUS IDEA INSPIRED BY MY KIDS:

  • We have a family read aloud going at most times. Purely anecdotally, I noticed- way before I had my own children- that most of my middle school students who read for pleasure, read with stamina, and read with beyond-their-years proficiency reported that their parents still read to them. I made a mental note. When my kids began reading with independence, I still kept the family read aloud in place. Sometimes, we read all together, and sometimes I have a “special” book I read with each child. The conversations we have had during these sessions are something I know I will always treasure, and I hope they remain special memories for my children, too.

  • HELPFUL HINT: If coming to a unanimous, collective family read aloud book decision seems impossible, alternate who gets to choose the read aloud book. Everyone’s voice matters.

Full disclosure: most of our family’s summer learning experiences actually came from my children. Kids inspire me every day: their ideas have a way of bringing a playfulness and joy to all we do. Enjoy exploring kid-driven possibilities to keep literacy learning alive this summer. I hope you also enjoy the extra freedom-from-frenzy that summer invites! I would love to hear your voices: Please share some of your own inspiration. What are other ways we might encourage reading and writing this summer, while also keeping a child’s curiosities, interests, and choices front and center?

BONUS IDEAS INSPIRED BY KERRIE LAROSA: Last summer, Kerrie wrote a lovely blog series on how we can help children use play to discover their own learning opportunities. I immediately connected with and wholeheartedly support these fabulous ideas and insights. I encourage everyone to read (or reread) those posts which can be found here and here.