Help youngsters learn over the summer

Joe Nathan
Contributing Writer

Cambridge-Isanti School District administrators Bruce Novak and Mark Ziebarth, as well as other educators, recently offered several suggestions for families to help overcome “summer learning loss.”

Sometimes families forget that young people can lose between two and five months over the summer in key areas of reading and math, unless families step in. Youngsters can have plenty of fun, and still gain, rather than give ground over the summer.

Novak, superintendent of Cambridge-Isanti Schools wrote, “The most easily accessible and relatively low or no cost is the local public library reading programs.  I believe they range from pre-school to middle school (I am not sure about high school age). Summer camps are great – science and math camps, language camps, etc. (The downside is they have a hefty price tag associated with them). Any time parents or grandparents can do hands-on day trip experiences with their children it is great – for many different reasons, inter-generational opportunity – but also the cultural development opportunity – Science Museum, Conservatory, Art Museums, Zoo, etc.  Sometimes just camping and hiking and learning about birds, plants, reptiles and other mammals are important.”

Ziebarth, principal at Isanti Primary School and the School for All Seasons told me, “The best thing for families to do is set a schedule for academic time during the summer. Participating in the public library summer reading program is a great way to keep your child motivated over the summer. If you are planning a family trip, have your child help with the planning and have them determine the distance to your location. Using web based programs in math and reading for a few minutes each week is a great way to keep skills and also a way to prepare for the new school year. If you have any other questions, please call your child’s school.”

Curt Tryggestad, Little Falls superintendent explained, “A little counting doesn’t hurt. For elementary students, math facts are easy to embed in their brains over the summer. Adding, multiplying, whatever the level – find a way to make a game out of it and use that time in the car to get in a little practice.”

James Stewart, a Macalester professor, suggests that “families and students work together to identify a person, living or dead, in which the student has compelling interest—sports figure, musician, military figure, politician, artist, whatever.  The idea would be the student to become that person’s first hand “explainer,” in other words, a biographer—to read, take notes etc, yes, but also to write about specific points of interest and illumination about the chosen person and even to prepare oral presentations, an exhibit, etc.

Marcia Welch, principal at Vandenberg Middle School in Elk River recommends, “Have your child become a pen pal to a friend at school. Buy postcards, pens, etc and have your child start writing to a friend at school through the mail versus the Internet.”

Welch wisely concludes, “The key is consistent reading, writing and speaking throughout the summer with the adults that matter in a young person’s life.”

Joe Nathan, former public school teacher, administrator, PTA president, parent of three public school graduates now directs the Center for School Change at Macalester College. Reactions welcome, [email protected]