Taking a break from the statistics and stompy outrage about the war on teachers this week to talk about getting kids ready to go back to school. I know, I know, it’s still July, most of you probably won’t be sending your tots off to class for another month, at least. Don’t worry, we’re not sucking the fun out of summer, just making sure the fall goes as smoothly as it can for everyone.
Most kids will lose some skills over the summer, which is why some schools are switching to an alternative calendar that provides shorter breaks throughout the year, instead of the traditional summer vacation. Time seems bigger, when you’re young, so the summer vacation that goes by in a blink for adults is like an eternity for anyone under eleven or so. There are a million things more interesting than thinking about how to multiply fractions or remember how to spell “beautiful,” so the interesting stuff replaces the school stuff, and kids get rusty at some of the stuff they mastered the previous spring.
Most teachers I know start the new year with two things, drilling in the expectations for behavior and reviewing the previous year’s material. Most are in a time crunch to do so, however, because there’s a whole new year of things to teach. Doing a few small things with your child over the summer can help make sure they start the school year on the right foot. Disclaimer: my experience is 100% elementary, but some can be adapted to use for older kids as well.
1. Reading really is fundamental. Kids who read regularly and come from homes where family members read regularly have a huge advantage over kids who don’t. I know I don’t need to tell this crowd how wonderful reading is, but a reminder to regularly encourage your child to read, read with/to them or let them see you reading never hurts. Yes, the Internet counts, as long as you’re on a site that requires you to read. Set aside some reading time every day, even if it’s just a few minutes before bedtime. Most elementary age kids, even the ones who are already voracious readers on their own, still like to be read to. If your library is running a summer reading program, get your child involved.
2. Small changes in schedules are easier than big changes in schedules. If your kids turn into night owls when school is out, it can be a giant shock to suddenly have to get up at 7:00AM when they’re used to sleeping until 10. To prevent this shock, and a first day of school as a sleep deprived zombie, start slowly easing back into a morning schedule. Get them up and moving a few minutes earlier each week between now and when school starts, and it’ll be easier on everyone.
3. Check your school’s website. Many schools will put supply lists, fun summer events and other pre-first day information online early in the summer. If you know who your child’s teacher will be, and he or she has a classroom page on the school’s site, you and your child can get an idea of what to expect in the upcoming school year. For younger kids or kids going to a new school, most school websites have lots of pictures, so you can get to know the building and the atmosphere, as well as what the art teacher looks like.
4. Practice math skills in the wild. For very young kids, this can be as simple as counting things, identifying coins or using a watch with hands. Early elementary kids can count change, weigh the produce at the grocery store or do coupon math. Ex.: This box of cereal costs $3.79, and I have a coupon for 50¢ off, how much will the cereal cost? Older kids can do even more grocery store math, like shopping on a budget, calculating the price of various weights of produce (ex.: Bananas are 49¢/pound, this bunch of bananas is 3½ pounds, how much will it cost?) or comparing the price per weight on competing items. (Ex.: Name brand coffee is $7.59 for 0ne pound, store brand coffee is $2.15 for half a pound and premium coffee is $3.68 for 4oz., how much more does premium coffee cost per ounce than store brand?) You can throw math at older kids all day, from having them calculate how many miles to the gallon you get, to helping balance the checkbook to adding up all the bills and figuring out how much your family costs per day.
5. Sitting still is a skill. During the summer, kids typically have a lot more freedom than they do in school. Young kids, especially, can forget the basic stuff they need to be able to do to be successful in school, like how to sit still. Even the most granola-flavored kinetic learning school you send your child to will need them to be able to sit quietly for some part of the day. Like getting up early, it’s best to ease in to this. Start with having a quiet (but fun!) activity you can do with your child at the kitchen table, but one where you’ll need to explain to your child how to do certain parts. Increase the amount of time you spend doing quiet, sitting activities each week until school starts.
6. Talk about school, get your child excited about going and all the new things he or she is going to learn. Like all of us in our jobs, kids do better in school when they want to be in school. Parents do a lot to set the tone for the upcoming year in how they talk about school around or in front of the kids. Even if you have lots of opinions about aspects of your child’s school that aren’t entirely positive, don’t burden your kid with them.
7. Get creative. Sadly, school budgets are being strip mined and as a result, many programs and activities are being cut, especially those related to creative pursuits. Until (if?) schools can meet these needs again, it’s going to be up to parents and communities to provide creative and enrichment activities for a lot of kids. Getting creative can be as simple as painting the sidewalk with water, writing short stories together or going to an art museum. Some community centers offer art, music and performance classes on the cheap (sometimes even free, if you look hard enough), as do some craft stores.
8. Be a model of lifelong learning. Kids watch everything we do and say, and in my experience they all know more than they let on. There’s no such thing as a perfect parent, but by showing your kids that you still learn every day, even as a grown-up, it teaches them that learning is an always thing, it’s not limited to the stuff they do at school.
9. Have fun and make lots of memories. This is the only summer you’ll have with your kid at the age they are now, go play in a sprinkler and make a fort out of a card table and a sheet.