Let’s admit it, supervising our kids’ distance learning has been exhausting. We’re craving a safe, relaxed, and joyful summer, but we’re worried. We don’t want our kids to experience a summer learning slide that may be even deeper because of COVID-19. Learning loss from this spring’s school closures will be significant and according to a report from the Brookings Institute the impact will be greater on children from under-resourced homes due to the stressors of illness, food insecurity, and job loss.
Preliminary estimates suggest kids will return to school having only gained 70% of the learning of a typical school year. They are likely to show the lowest gains in math, with an estimated learning rate of 50%. If schools open in the fall, kids will have been away from classrooms for about six months. Teachers anticipate spending several weeks, if not months, reviewing material typically learned during prior grades.
Since our schools are focusing on how to reopen, they don’t have much bandwidth for enrichment programs and summer school. While some may have access to camps, there are plenty of us who don’t and we’re still trying to balance work with the rest of life. So what’s the best thing we can do for our kids right now? It’s not planning a full day of academics.
Take 120 minutes and focus on the two most important puzzle pieces of learning: curiosity and reading. Together, they’re the cornerstones of learning and will set your kid up to develop the foundational skills and habits that will prepare them for the fall.
Encourage your kid’s curiosity
Psychologists view curiosity as a life force, vital to happiness, intellectual growth, and wellbeing. It makes the brain more receptive to learning. In fact, research shows that when we’re curious, we’re willing to learn information that doesn’t seem that interesting or important. If that information tells us more about the thing we’re curious about we will remember it and will want to learn even more. Satisfying our curiosity is its own reward.
Long-time educator and Founding Executive Director of Marshall Street Initiatives, Adam Carter, says, “Curiosity is our onboard engine of motivation rather than a skill to be taught and measured. And yet, it is one of the most undervalued habits our kids need to be successful in school and in life. Curiosity is the gateway to accessing and using knowledge, and following their natural curiosities in a safe and reflective environment helps kids understand who they are and what they care about. When we think about the summer months, the simple act of guiding your kids to follow their curiosity can lead to unexpected and inspired learning.”
A kid who is curious is interested in lots of things they want to understand better. They’re willing to be challenged to seek out more information and experiences so they’ll ask lots of questions to deepen their understanding. A curious kid will move out of their comfort zone to gain more knowledge. Because they really want to understand they’ll push themselves to look at new and different perspectives. When curiosity and effort are combined, they influence a kid’s success as much as intelligence does. And since kids are innately curious, tap into that.
- Get together and make a list of the things your kid is curious about. If they say it’s bugs, ask them what about bugs they’d like to learn. Use Prepared Parents’ Explore, Expose, Pursue tool to guide this exploration.
- Resist the temptation to cram facts into their head, instead encourage them to explore on their own.
- Answer those I wonder questions that follow their curiosity. Between the ages of two and five kids ask an average of 40,000 questions. They stop around age six when they get the message that mom and dad may be frustrated by all the why’s. Don’t shut them down. Use these questions to prompt them to chase the answers themselves.
- Provide the tools and leave them alone. Here’s an opportunity for kids to develop the skills to dig deep. Mastering these builds confidence.
- When curiosity ignites a spark, light the fire. You’re engaging your kid in ways that could lead to purpose and that’s central to fulfillment. Kids with purpose know who they are and what motivates them.
Set aside time to read every day
It’s tempting to use television as a summer educator, but kids learn more from reading books than they do from watching a screen. They don’t have to do much work to watch a TV show; it’s actually designed for them to sit back and relax because the networks don’t want them to change the channel. Books are proactive. They not only entertain, they encourage learning. Reading takes concentration and it forces us to use our imaginations to visualize the action.
All learning is built on the foundation of reading. It increases vocabulary, expands knowledge, and even reduces stress. Books for kids contain 50% more words that they’re not going to be exposed to on TV, the radio, or in regular conversation. In fact, kids engage in deeper, more meaningful interactions with the parent who reads to them. A study comparing what happens between mothers and their preschoolers watching TV and reading shows there are more connected while reading than when watching TV. Mothers who were watching a show with their kid made few comments; and if they did, they were unrelated to what their kid said. Those who were reading together were more engaged, asking questions and responding. They also took time to explain concepts in the story in greater detail.
Dedicating an hour to reading sounds like a long time, but it’s more than just sharing a story. Make it an event.
Take time to choose a book
Talk to your kid about what they’re interested in reading. Ask questions like:
- I noticed you’ve been talking about ______, should we read about that?
- You really enjoyed playing soccer in the yard, want to read a story about soccer?
- You had a lot of questions about yesterday’s thunderstorm, should we find a book about that?
Great Schools has compiled a comprehensive book list for kids sorted by grade level. Check out books on diversity here. Download the free app Libby to access e-books and other reading resources from your local library.
Share the responsibility
Take turns reading to each other. Your kid will feel loved and secure thanks to this undivided attention.
- Don’t rush. You want your kid to associate reading with a positive experience.
- Be patient while they read to you. This is about them becoming confident readers.
- Don’t continually correct mistakes. That can feel frustrating to a kid.
- Offer help when asked.
Be a critical reader
Pause occasionally to reflect on the story and ask:
- What details stand out?
- How would you respond to the situation the characters are in?
- Is there an alternate ending you’d prefer?
Kids should see you reading. Sit down together with your books and read simultaneously. Then talk about what you’re both reading and share interesting information, stories, and ideas. You’re not only modeling reading, but discernment and critical analysis.
Taking two hours a day to focus on curiosity and reading holds enormous benefits, but it leaves a lot of time open. Activities may be limited due to social distancing, but Common Sense Media has curated a list of virtual summer programs that will fill the time with great learning activities.
To set some goals for summer learning download Prepared Parent’s Summer Scholar activity to help you make a plan.