We are at the halfway point of summer and now is a great time to take advantage of the wonderful learning opportunities offered during the break.
No longer constrained by the four walls of the classroom, a set curriculum, or standardized testing, summer activities help children to develop the skills necessary to not only succeed in their formal education experiences, but also to truly become lifelong learners.
The purposeful implementation of a three-step strategy can help transform even a seemingly mundane experience into a dynamic one full of learning.
Whether your family has the opportunity to take a trip out of town or across town, encourage your child to slow down and observe the environment that surrounds them. Walk instead of riding in a car to intimately experience the world around you. Notice the different housing styles, materials, businesses, people, etc.
Take off the headphones and instead listen to the various noises generated by both the natural and built environments which surround us. Close your eyes and just listen. What are the sources of the sounds? Which spaces have fewer sounds than others?
If you are riding in a vehicle, encourage your child to put down the electronic devices and instead notice what is around them. Even taking note of the various license plates seen on the highway can be a learning experience. Which states other than the one you are in are prevalent? Hypothesize as to why. Are there reasons beyond simple proximity?
Read the billboards or marquee signs of different businesses. Are they trying to use humor, color, or funny pictures to catch you attention? And if you are traveling out of town, ask your child if the advertisements or business that you see are the same or different than the ones at home. Hypothesize some more possible reasons for those similarities or differences.
2. Ask Questions
Ask questions before, during, and after your observation experiences. Predictive questions about what your child expects to see will get them thinking and can turn a basic neighborhood walk into a valuable learning experience.
During this step, encourage your child to ask his/her own questions. Remember, it is okay if questions are unable to be answered. Unanswered questions are simply a natural avenue towards more in-depth exploration at a later time. After the observation, ask your child the types of questions that need an explanation.
Following up "of the things we observed, which was your favorite?" with "why?" is critical. In addition, return to the predictive questions you asked before the experience; what surprises did they encounter?
3. Reflect on Learning
Have your child produce a tangible piece that reflects on their summer learning. Do they enjoy writing? If so, have them write a daily reflective journal entry on what they learned each day you explored together. At the end of the summer, ask them to summarize their entries into a few paragraphs, or maybe even a poem.
If they are more visually oriented, have them take photos or video throughout the summer and put them together to show what they learned.
By taking the time to do this, you will not only assist your children in building critical thinking skills, but you will also be amazed as to how many of the experiences end up tying into content during the school year.
Instead of viewing summer as a break from learning, view it as a time for authentic learning to take place. While remediation of specific content may be necessary for some children during July and August, make sure your child recognizes that learning occurs all of the time and it is not always as a result of a structured classroom experience. Challenge your child to identify his/her own learning opportunities outside of conventional education settings.