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Summer Fun and Enrichment

Make Fun and Learning go Hand-in-Hand This Summer

April 01, 2009
To celebrate the summer before sixth grade, Brad Carr has lots of plans: attend the Indiana Basketball Academy camp, improve his trumpet skills at the North Central band camp and play as much as possible with his neighborhood friends. However, Brad has a few academic obligations as well, including math and science tutoring sessions with a couple of his favorite teachers each week.

"He gets to play most of the summer but he has just a few things to do," says Brad's mom, Carolyn Carr. "And he actually loves the time because they do some fun projects. It excites him for the new year."

Carr, an entrepreneur, founder of Select Staffing Solutions, Inc., and author of two educational enrichment books, believes providing summer enrichment activities helps keep her son engaged in learning and motivated for the coming year. "When it comes to the new year, he won't say, 'I forgot how to use my brain!'" says Carr, author of Top Secret! K-12 Survival Kit, available on Amazon.com, and Think Smart! K-12 Critical Thinking Training for Your Family, now out of print.

Derek Trull, an art teacher at Indianapolis Public School #63 and the IPS Teacher of the Year, says it's easy to identify which students have been academically engaged over the summer. "You can tell the kids who've been in enriching programs and those who've just taken a break all summer," Trull says. "It takes a month to a month and a half to re-learn what they left off with at the end of the year."

Research cited by the Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins University (www.summerlearning.org) shows that all students experience learning losses when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer. Students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer. Most students lose about two months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months. The news is even worse for low-income students, who also lose more than two months in reading achievement.

Luckily for students, effective summer learning isn't relegated to tedious workbooks or monotonous flashcards. Some of the best aspects of summer—being active outside, exploring, vacationing, attending camps and special programs—can also provide the best summer enrichment.

When summarizing his research on summer learning and academic success, Johns Hopkins sociology Professor Karl Alexander writes, "Better-off children were more likely to go to the library over the summertime and take books home. They were more likely to engage in a variety of enrichment experiences such as attending museums, concerts and field trips. They were more likely to take out-of-town vacations, be involved in organized sports activities or take lessons. Overall, they had a more expansive realm of experiences."

These are experiences you can easily provide for your own children—without lots of money, time or training—and you can have a lot of fun doing it.

Do your homework

Throughout the school year, parents should monitor their child's education: know what and how they are learning, as well as what they will be expected to learn in the coming school year, Trull recommends. If possible, ask the teacher what areas your child needs to work on over the summer and for suggested activities.

"Stay on top of what they're learning now and what they'll be learning next year," Trull says. "A lot of people think kids just have fun in the summer, but your child can have fun and learn at the same time." If you're not sure what is expected at your child's age, review Indiana's academic standards, which offer subject-specific requirements and expectations by grade and are available on the Indiana Department of Education website (www.doe.in.gov).

Learn at Home

Nearly every family activity can be converted to a learning experience in the summer. "Summer time is a great time for learning. Kids want to be outside and be involved," Trull says.

"Anything you do with your children together can be educational. Hands-on activities are very beneficial."

Reading to your child—and encouraging them to read themselves—is vital, says Jennifer Gordus, owner/tutor of ABCs of Phonics. For example, a six-year-old may not be able to read Little House on the Prairie on her own, but if you read it to her, she can hear more advanced language and begin using her imagination to envision the story.

"If you don't use it, you lose it," Gordus says. "It's important to maintain. It doesn't have to be an hour every day; it can even be 10 minutes a day."

Local educators offer these ideas for summer enrichment at home:

• Plant flowers. Talk about how plants grow; determine the dimensions of the bed; look at a color wheel to decide which varieties of blossoms would be complimentary.

• Go for a bike ride. Measure the distance traveled; use a compass to determine your direction; draw a map of your neighborhood.

• Bake cookies. Practice measuring and following directions.

• Pick a letter of the day. Choose activities and foods that begin with that letter.

• Take day trips to the Indianapolis Zoo, Children's Museum, Connor Prairie or another local museum. Many offer free community days; check their websites for information.

• Play games. Concentration or memory games build thinking skills. Monopoly and Yahtzee emphasize math, while Scrabble and Boggle focus on letters, reading and spelling. Junior versions are great options for younger children. Strategy games, such as Risk or Clue, help children anticipate moves and plan ahead. "As children progress, the subject matter becomes more conceptual and detailed," says Kevin Klee, owner of Oxford Learning. "Those strategy games can be very helpful."

• Keep a summer journal. Encourage children to write daily or weekly, even if they don't show it to anyone.

• Watch educational television shows together, such as those on the History Channel, Animal Planet or Discovery Channel, and then talk about what you learned. "This allows children to organize the material and verbalize it," Klee says.

• Go for a hike and talk about what you see. Create a nature guide. Hunt for animal tracks and then read about the animals you discover nearby.

• Solve brain teasers or logic puzzles.

• Set up a job shadowing experience in an older child's area of interest. Talk about what classes or type of training would be needed to pursue this career, and read books about the field. "This keeps their eyes open to opportunities in the future," Carr says. "It can inspire them."

Learn in the community

A variety of community programs, many sponsored by local parks departments, schools and community organizations, offer a great opportunity for summer learning for free or a minimal cost.

Trull recommends families consider programs through Indy Parks, which often incorporate math, science, language arts and art in the fun.

The Indy Parks and Recreation Summer Fun Guide, available at www.indyparks.org, offers a wide variety of summer youth opportunities, many of them at no charge. Free activities include a 4-week Brazilian arts academy, professional symphony, jazz and pops performances, hip hop dance classes, an African drumming class, youth barbershop chorus, puppets program, preschool nature programs, story time and family fun days.

Plan trips to your local library and sign up for the free summer reading program. The Indianapolis Marion County Public Library (IMCPL) summer reading program, "Indy Adventure: Summer Reading Spectacular," patterned after the Indiana Jones films, officially begins June 9. Children are invited to select any books of interest and receive points based on the difficulty of the books they read, says Tami Edminster, program specialist. For example, 25 points for a novel, 15 points for a fairy tale and 5 points for a picture book. Points can then be redeemed for prizes. Small trinkets are available for 5 points, while the top prize is a visit to the haunted house at the Indianapolis Children's Museum for 125 points. Parents can also earn points for reading to their young children.

"We really feel strongly that parents or caregivers should be involved and spend time reading to their children" Edminster explains. "It's never too early. This is the perfect program, even if you have a one-year-old or a two-year-old."

For convenience, parents of young children can pick up a Baby Bunny Bag at any IMCPL branch; the pre-packed bag holds 12 board books designed for newborns to two-year-olds.

Edminster encourages children to spend the summer reading books that interest them—even if they are not on the list of children's classic literature. "No matter what their child is reading, reading is better than not reading," she says. "Summer is the time to read what you want. It's all about practice, practice, practice. You wouldn't expect to be a great basketball player in September if you don't practice all summer."

An estimated 50,000 people—nearly 90 percent children—are expected to participate in the free program. The library also plans special events and programs throughout the summer, such as a local caricature artist and a professional yo-yo expert.

"There's always something going on," Edminster says. "We hope people will make the library a destination at least a couple of times a month."

Attend a camp or class

Summer camps and programs—whether academic, sports, music or art—provide fun, stimulating enrichment opportunities for children.

A search of the Indy's Child camp directory at www.indyschild.com finds summer enrichment opportunities in nearly every area of interest—from traditional camps to a focus on animals, sports, drama, music, dance, reading, science, math, sewing, puppets, foreign language and culture.

Through his research, Professor Alexander found that summer camps and programs, such as these, can have a significant impact on children. Alexander writes, "Summer programs can be an important part (of enriching summer learning) by providing a variety of experiences that challenge children, develop their talents, keep them engaged and expand their horizons."

For some students, summer offers the perfect opportunity to address areas of struggle. Local tutoring programs and classes can help reinforce skills and prepare students to start the new year at grade-level and on-track with their peers.

"Summer is the best time for a dramatic, significant learning experience," Klee says. Oxford Learning (www.oxfordlearning.com) is a tutoring center for preschoolers through high school. Students complete a dynamic diagnostic assessment to determine their potential and ability as well as current academic levels. Then a customized program is developed to address academic gaps and build skills to use in the classroom and empower students.

"Our goal is to get them out of here, out of tutoring," Klee says. "We don't want them to have to be in tutoring again."

ABCs of Phonics (www.abcsofphonics.com) is a multi-sensory phonics-based program which offers both "Fun with Phonics" group classes for children ages 4 to 6 and one-on-one tutoring for ages 3 and up. "We read it, write it, eat it, jump up and down to it—anything we can do to get it into their heads," Gordus says.

The Fun with Phonics classes meet for 26 sessions, each one dedicated to an individual letter. For example, on "B" day, students might glue beads on a bee and have bananas for a snack. The next session begins June 9.


Lisa Young Stiers is an Indianapolis-area freelance writer.

Lisa is Senior Staff Writer for Indy's Child and Cincinnati Parent Magazines and lives in Brownsburg, Indiana with her two children and husband.
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