Tips for parents on how to plan activities
After two full years of pandemic schooling, districts across the country are tackling the problem of learning regression. Many strategies involve taking advantage of extra summer school, but what do the experts say about where parents should start?
First, summer learning doesn’t have to be 100% academic. Parents and schools can succeed by focusing on children’s interests, suggested Aaron Dworkin, CEO of the National Summer Learning Association.
“The first is to find your students’ passion,” Dworkin said.
Summer camps can build social skills and independence, while providing access to essential mentors. For older teens, Dworkin said a summer job is one of the best forms of hands-on, real-life learning.
“Look at summer as this chance to work on your playing. What do you want to become? Better at singing, better at piano, better at driving – you’ve got the chance,” Dworkin said.
Dworkin recommended that parents take advantage of their city’s free programming. Public libraries, parks and recreation departments and other organizations offer a range of free activities.
Related:Summer camps are back for 2022! Check out our huge list of how to keep the kids busy during the break
This summer is a great opportunity as the US bailout called for $30 billion for after-school and summer programs over the next few years.
Learning in school
Knox County Schools is again offering a summer boot camp for select students.
The four-week program is aimed at elementary and middle school students. There is a credit recovery program for high school students. Eligibility is based on academic achievement and economic status.
Camps include free bus transportation and free breakfast and lunch. For primary and secondary school, the camp offers four hours of instruction in reading, writing and mathematics; one hour of intervention; and one hour of play or physical activity.
The deadline for eligible families to register for camps is Friday. Eligible families should have received an email with registration instructions.
Dworkin said it’s important to remember that all students regress in the summer – it’s called the “summer slide”, and it can be worse for low-income students and students from color.
The data on the summer slide shows that vulnerable students lose a few months of schooling each summer, and these losses are cumulative.
“Over time, five years in a row, the kids were really falling behind. It shows up in different ways. You have to spend a lot of time relearning what you did last year,” Dworkin said.
For most, the public education “tap” closes in the summer. The gaps are widening because high-income families can afford to shell out thousands of dollars for summertime enrichment.
“Low-income kids don’t have them and can’t afford or access those opportunities,” Dworkin said. “So this subset of the population doesn’t get a chance to practice math and reading skills and also accelerates learning by learning new things.”
New data confirmed fears that the pandemic could worsen the summer slide, Dworkin said.
“In math, people tend to do worse because at least with reading, families feel more comfortable practicing reading and reading to their kids at home,” Dworkin said. “Math isn’t something people work on in the same way, so it’s even a little worse.”
This tense situation is compounded for families who depend on schools for services like meals. Hunger is also a summer learning problem.
Differentiate between interests and age
Enrichment is not unique. Different age groups and different levels of education require different programs.
Younger children might do better with local programming at the library or park. Older children are more suited to summer camp or programming on a college campus.
The town of Knoxville offers camps in June for children ages 6-12. These camps have a registration fee of $20 and a weekly fee of $20.
Knox County Public Libraries hosts free summer activities for all age groups at various locations. They have a daily story hour for babies and preschoolers, craft sessions, and Zoomobile tours.
The University of Tennessee runs Kids U summer camps for students in grades 3-12. ACT preparatory courses for high school students are free. Tennessee Athletics also hosts sports camps.
For more summer ideas, visit Knox News’ listing of Knoxville-area summer camps.
And, the learning must be adapted to the interest of the children.
“It doesn’t matter what they read as long as they read 30 minutes a day,” Dworkin said. If a child likes insects, let him read about insects. If they love space, go for space books.
The important thing, Dworkin said, is to let a child’s natural curiosity guide their enrichment.
“At the end of the day, all education is about empowering students to take ownership of their own learning,” Dworkin said.
In all age groups, timing is everything. Dworkin recommended targeting “integrated life transitions” like summers between elementary and middle school, middle school and high school, high school and college.
“If you’re doing a program that’s focused on getting kids ready for the next step, it’s proven to have a huge impact on data,” Dworkin said.
While summertime enrichment will fill some gaps caused by the pandemic, restoring personal connections is a top priority.
“All the things we’re doing to get kids connected are the things that COVID has taken down,” Dworkin said.
To help re-establish connections, Dworkin recommended establishing a common goal or project.
“Community service is an important thing to do over the summer that allows for connection and can be fun…and a sense of something bigger than yourselves,” Dworkin said.
Any activity that is team-based or that binds the group to a purpose can both strengthen bonds and grease the rusty wheels of socialization.
Mentoring can be huge for kids, especially older teens. It’s an unspoken part of summer camps, Dworkin said, because of the access to college-age role models who lead by example as counselors.
Relationships are even more important in response to a youth mental health crisis.
“It’s not just that we only need to respond to math and reading to catch up,” Dworkin said. “We really need to connect people.”
Real world apps
Summer is a time of hands-on learning and career exploration. With the increase in school-business partnerships, schools should leverage these relationships for summer jobs.
“The holy grail of learning is the paid summer internship,” Dworkin said. “Not the unpaid summer internship, which is one of the most unfair forms of summer learning.”
A summer job can help older teens hone the intangibles that prepare them for the job market and give them a better idea of their preferred career.
Kids are tech savvy enough for hands-on projects.
“Don’t just be on apps, learn how to build an app,” Dworkin said. For example, doing a podcast with family interviews can improve technical skills, listening comprehension, planning, and self-initiated goals.
spoonful of sugar
Summer school in the United States has a reputation for being a punishment, obligatory and boring recitation of remedial lessons. Good summer learning programs should be the opposite – engaging and fun.
Dworkin said summer enrichment should use “learning in disguise” — using games and creative methods to present the program in a way that feels like playing, not learning.
Disguised learning is the practice behind online games that teach kids to code or even the age-old practice of “playing cash register” that teaches kids to count money.
Summer enrichment can be like this. It’s not just about what students missed, but learning new skills and discovering intangibles presented in an engaging way.