The “S” Word Over the Summer…How to Never Stop educating the kids!

The longing of each elementary school-age child in the summer, is to pretend like school does not exist.  They will not discuss homework, or teachers, or any of the evaluations of their success by adults at school, such as a B- in reading. School is the unmentionable thing.  Try “pool” instead and you’ll have better luck starting a conversation.

Teach the Kids Undercover

I’ve got a secret plan: Let’s teach our kids over the summer without them knowing it.

We’ve got a lot of hurdles.  I’d argue that present day technology makes it harder, not easier, to pass on genuine knowledge to the younger generation.  Facts are deceptively accessible, but are they the knowledge we really need?  Still, let’s do it.  Let’s educate our children through experiences, like nature parks and local art showings.  Let’s ask them to discuss it all. Why is it even there? What is the goal of those people who preserve national parks?  Why do people play good music outside for the mere pleasure of having an audience listen? 

Learn Through Doing

Let’s educate teenagers through real summer jobs, but not in the manner of pushing them into the workplace with a mentality of fake it till you make it.  Let’s educate our teenagers through exposing them to great, decent people doing great, decent work, and best of all, doing it with grace and a wink.  If you’ve ever received excellent customer service, you’ll know what I mean by grace, and if you’ve ever been that person, I take my hat off to you.  Search for the place where your teenager can learn from the best, even if they’re learning to make coffee.

Summer Programs

And then there are workshops offered in summer that focus on developing specific talents.  Summer programs that focus on chess or theater or woodwork are different in intent and pace from school. There’s a reason they aren’t usually called “classes”. They are project-based in nature.  I made something, your child thinks at the end, and it’s different from anything anyone else has made. Or maybe he doesn’t think much of anything except: That was tolerably fun!  I think I’ll go play a video game now.  But he has been a creator, has made a little bit of uniqueness and given you a glimpse into how he views the world.  You might be educated by that knowledge in your own turn.

So avoid “s” word, but never stop educating the kids.  Our time with them is too precious.

Movies with a Mission, to Learn over the Summer

As an educator, I am all too familiar with this scene: students drag themselves to school on the first day in August remembering very little of what they learned the previous year. I know their former teachers went over these concepts ad nauseam; why don’t they remember? Many argue that summer is to blame. It seems that summer has become the classroom’s worst enemy. While the two-month break is a great time to relax and let kids be kids, the truth is that it can be a dangerous time for education. Teachers work hard to instill core skills and understanding during the school year and the break seems to wash it away.

Movies, a Fun way to Engage over the Summer

Luckily there is a fun, engaging way parents can promote learning during summer. Educational videos exist for all ages to review and add on to student learning from the previous year. For elementary school, basic song-driven movies can serve as a creative way to remind young students of what they learned. The classic series Schoolhouse Rock comes to mind, but Sesame Street and Little Einsteins have the same benefit. Many young children naturally have a musical learning style and reciting songs or mantras can help them retain information. Plus, a refreshment of basic content is crucial during the long summer months.

To encourage a deep dive into content, many movies can help broaden students’ understanding of a topic. For example, Disney’s Wall-E could pair well with a unit on conservation and sustainability. The goal is for students to take this learning back to the classroom and make connections to new content. The Iron Giant is another film that expands on what elementary students may have learned about history, especially the Cold War.

Example Movies for High School Students Over the Summer

Middle and high school students can also greatly benefit from educational shows and movies over summer. Adolescents can be notorious for neglecting to flex their educational muscles when they have time off. It is especially important for older grade levels to maintain stimulation. For these older students, movies serve as a way to form a deeper understanding of a text or concept. As an English teacher, I am impressed when a student is interested in a film adaptation of a novel we read (after we have read it, of course).  There are countless wonderful book-based films to guide the student including To Kill a Mockingbird, Romeo and Juliet, Frankenstein, and The Great Gatsby.

Watching educational movies can promote multi-lens views of an event or idea. Looking at ideas from several angles before passing judgment is a major element of critical thinking. Any educator will tell you that critical thinking is a skill that is heavily weighted in the Common Core Standards in all states. Movies like The Truman Show can be eye-opening and can encourage students to think critically about the world around them. The Help, a movie that employs African-American and Caucasian narrators to analyze the Civil Rights Movement in the south, falls into the novel-adaptation category. This movie instills a powerful lesson on “walking a mile in someone else’s shoes”.

Movie Worksheets

A great way to keep students on topic during these films is to provide movie worksheets. You can do a google search, but often the worksheets you find are behind a paywall or you must log in first to download. There are some sites out there, but the one that seems to be the best has pre-made Movie Worksheets for free. They have hundreds of worksheets for with no log in required. The only real issue is many of them do not have answer sheets but at least its a start. They have some major films that can be used in the classroom such as: Hidden Figures Worksheet, SuperSize Me Worksheet, What Darwin Never Knew Worksheet to name a few

Teachers consistently encourage parents and students to take an active role in education. The summer months are a great opportunity to do that. The next time you are deciding which movie to watch on a Friday summer evening, choose a movie with a mission: one that will refresh or expand education.

Music Education Keeps Children Cognitively Engaged During Summer Vacation

Parents and educators share concerns regarding summer learning loss for children. Although summer is a time for fun, travel, exploration, and relaxation, it can also become a learning gap where children lose knowledge and cognitive skills that they acquired during the previous school-year.

Benefits of Summer Music Education for Children

Why not try music activities to bridge the summer learning gap? Learning to play an instrument, singing, making music in groups, and participating in focused listening activities are all excellent ways to enhance your child’s cognitive, psychomotor, and social abilities. Consider the following benefits of music education for children:

  • Music study correlates with development of language and reasoning skills due to music’s role in developing the left side of the brain.
  • Music study correlates with better test scores among students, including SAT’s.
  • Through music, children develop auditory attention which transfers to better listening skills in the academic classroom.
  • Playing an instrument helps children to develop eye-hand coordination and enhances their ability to practice fine-motor skills.
  • Music is closely related to Math via rhythmic elements and pattern recognition.
  • Music-making promotes creative thinking.

3 Suggestions for Summer Music Education

Get your child involved in music activities during summer vacation! Here are 3 suggestions for younger children as well as teenagers.

Music Camp

Find a music camp in your area. Music camps can be found locally in schools, churches, college campuses, recreational community centers, music retail establishments, and commercial music centers.

Camps offer programs for age groups ranging from young children up to teenagers. Music camp activities include instruction on instruments, basic music theory, ensemble participation, and listening activities for music appreciation.

Sources of information about local music camps include the following: (1) the music teacher at your child’s school, (2) local, municipal recreation departments, (3) administrative offices in local schools and churches.

Private or Group Lessons

Summer is the perfect time for children and teenagers to start or to continue music lessons in private or small-group settings. This could be for singing or playing instruments. The extra free time afforded by summer vacation means that kids have plenty of time to practice without the pressure of schoolwork and homework assignments. With extra practice time, skills acquisition and creative accomplishment can skyrocket!

Adolescents who play in school bands or orchestras or who sing in school choirs can make huge progress by taking lessons over the summer. This will pay off when they return to school in the fall.

For students who take music lessons during the schoolyear, a summer break can lead to learning loss. Therefore, it’s important to continue lessons over the summer. Take advantage of a more relaxed and flexible summer schedule to really dig into music study. It will be greatly rewarding!

Age-Appropriate Music Learning Apps and Websites

Explore the many apps and websites designed to facilitate your child’s cognitive development through music activities. Through interactive games and creative tasks, children acquire music knowledge and improve their skills. Focused listening skills, music facts, pattern recognition, music composition, and music appreciation are just some of the areas that children can explore through music learning apps and websites.

Your child does not need to study an instrument or participate in organized singing activities to reap the benefits of music learning apps and websites.  The cost is minimal, and children can access these learning aides from home or while traveling on summer vacation. Make summer vacation a time of musical exploration and accomplishment for your child. Best wishes for a music-filled summer!

Ready for First Grade Checklist

First Grade has been called “the hardest year” for students because of all the growth they make in this academic year. It is no surprise that education is changing, each year the expectations for students, parents, and teachers becomes more complicated. But I’m a first grade teacher here to tell you, your kindergartner will succeed!

As a teacher, I want to know if your kindergartner can do the following things:

*Follow Directions
*Treat others Kindly
*Try their Best

This summer in addition to practicing numbers and letters, help your child learn these three social skills to get your child ready for first grade.

Follow Directions

Things are very black or white for first graders which can be a struggle at home and in the classroom. If your child struggles following directions at home they might also struggle with it at school. Check in with your child’s teacher and tell them about what works best for your child or what doesn’t. Work together with the teacher to help your child see you are on the same team. It doesn’t have to be all rules and no fun, you can make these into a game!

Practice at Home: Give your child a piece of paper and write four things you want them to find around the house. See if they can find the items in the right order! Play “Follow the Leader” let your child have a turn and then you take a turn! Don’t forget to praise them for following directions! “Thank you for putting your shoes by the door, that helps me a lot!”

Treat Others Kindly

Being 6 years old is tough! You are used to being the center of attention in most aspects of your life and you want that to continue! Most children are still very focused on themselves but are starting to crave friendships.

Practice at Home: Pause the T.V. Ask your child “Is _____ being kind right now? How would that make you feel?” Remind your child about the golden rule – Do to others what you’d want done to you.

Try your best!

Trying your best is not the same as “being the best.” Each brain is developed at a different rate and for a child who is behind, it’s important that they see the value in trying. Is it hard to see your child behind? Yes! And it’s just as hard to watch as a teacher. But working together makes all the difference for your child.

Practice at Home: Instead of doing things for your kindergartner ask “Can I see you try first and then I’ll help?” most times they are able to do the task on their own. Praise when they try and succeed and praise when they try and fail.

If you are stressing out about what your child can and cannot do entering first grade, rest assured that they will be fine. If they truly struggle with learning, their teacher will know and will do everything they can to keep you informed so your child can get the best support they deserve. If you can help your kindergartner develop these things before first grade, you will be on your way to another successful year of learning! Use this ready for first grade checklist to make sure you child get the start they need.

Books Recommended for 9th and 10th Graders to Read During Summer to Enhance ELA skills and Cultural Understanding / Empathy

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Though some parents may consider aspects of this novel to be “inappropriate,” it is a genuine portrayal of an adolescent boy trying to navigate his Native American / Indian identity along with his duty to family and intellectual dreams. This novel has excellent appeal for young adults, and it provides a window into “reservation” culture about which most American students are unaware. **Alexie certainly has created bad press for himself in the past couple of years, but I think the literary work in this case is greater in value than the alleged flaws of the writer.

Everyday by David Levithan

This novel is a study in empathy, in that the main character inhabits a different person each day and must go through life as someone else for 24 hours. Levithan incorporates a sense of science fiction / fantasy in the novel, however it is incredibly realistic in portraying a spectrum of adolescent lives. The book is also beautifully written.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

There is an excellent body of “Holocaust” fiction for young adults, but Zusak’s novel is unique in its storytelling. His characters are multi-dimensional, and the novel gives deep insight into the difficult choices facing German citizens during the rise of Nazi power. The book is considered lengthy by some, and Zusak demands an intelligent reader. This novel would elevate a young adult’s understanding of history as well as the art of language.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This novel may seem antiquated to teenagers who are used to the ease and accessibility of most young adult fiction. However, the themes of prejudice, poverty, and innocence are as relevant today as they were during the novel’s setting. This novel is also valuable in understanding point of view and the importance of a narrator, as well as geographical diction.

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

This novel is gritty in its urban setting and heartbreaking plot. It’s a reflection of the current African American experience, and it doesn’t shy away from difficult subject matter. The literary value of this novel broadens the scope of how narration can be achieved, in that the story is told both as first-person journal entries and a third-person screenplay. This allows young adult readers to interpret the events of the novel with their own critical thinking.

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Schooled by Gordon Korman

Not only is the plot of this novel original and layered, the writing is honest and direct. This is one of the few young adult novels that carefully addresses the subject of homeschooling. Korman allows the “fish out of water” theme to play out so that readers consider what education truly is, and its significance. The story and the writing are innovative and inspiring.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

This is a valuable novel not simply because of its award-winning status, but because it’s an excellent and unusual contribution to the genre of science-fiction for young adults. Stead intertwines multiple plot-lines, and the central character is a strong, intelligent girl. The novel’s setting also reflects a time period that is quite different from what young adults experience today, particularly revealing an independence from social media and heavy parental involvement.

Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson

This short novel incorporates multiple young adult themes as well as poetic language. Inspired by Emily Dickinson’s line “hope is a thing with feathers,” the young female protagonist reflects on the lack of hope she has in her environment and the people around her. This work examines racial differences, bullying, and socio-economic disadvantages. What sets it apart from other young adult novels is the character’s honest struggle with religion as a means of faith, comfort, and hope.

Holes by Louis Sachar

Sachar’s novel has maintained its popularity among young adult readers, and rightfully so. Though many students may have already seen the movie adaptation or read the book, Holes is an opportunity for all young adult readers to re-discover the beauty of Sachar’s storytelling and the significance of theme. This novel is unique in its portrayal of judgment, prejudice, and the ambiguity of punishment. The characters, both kids and adults, are as flawed as the system that intends to rehabilitate them.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis

The novel is an excellent vehicle of historical fiction for young adults. The story is divided into two: that of an African-American family living in Michigan in 1963, and that of the church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, the same year. Curtis’s prose is gentle in leading the reader to fondness for the narrator and his family with humor and a loving tone. This makes the overt and painful racist act of the subsequent church bombing as jarring for the reader as it is for the book’s characters. Curtis humanizes the fictional African American people through the family for his young adult readers, and then incorporates a non-fiction tragedy to effectively (and in an age-appropriate way) illustrate the senselessness and horror of racial violence.

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Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

This novel is frequently recommended for its honest portrayal of European colonialism, the breakdown of African tribal systems, and the rise of apartheid in South Africa. However, Paton was ahead of his time in that the novel also reflects the impact of humans on the environment. Paton’s character development humanizes individuals of all races, yet reveals the de-humanization of prejudice, systematic discrimination, racial violence, and destruction of nature.

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr

Though some young adult readers may consider this editorial book to be a “downer,” Carr offers interesting perspectives regarding the effects of the internet and life online. He incorporates both neurology and psychology, which will interest those pursuing biological and social sciences. However, Carr also addresses the everyday and long-term effects of online distraction. This book would be particularly valuable for college and career-bound students as a consideration of how people spend their time, gather information, and develop expertise.

Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons

This novel addresses the themes of child abuse, domestic violence, racism, and the clear failings of the foster care system in America. Through a first-person account, the young narrator immerses the reader in her traumatic yet hopeful experience. The language of the novel, considered by most to be colloquial and “uneducated,” further reinforces the prejudice of the American South, the lack of responsible elementary education, and the upheaval of a displaced child.

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

In his book, Sedaris presents a collection of personal narrative essays that cover a wide range of topics, from his childhood experiences and being gay in Raleigh, North Carolina, to his eventual culture shock and residence in France with his life-partner. Sedaris is considered one of the great American humorists, yet his writing is also inclusive and vulnerable. Though he writes from his own observation and memories, Sedaris gives insight into family dynamics and finding a true self.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

When it comes to dystopian fiction for young adults, there is a long list of choices. The Road, however, distinguishes itself from others in the genre due to the absent pretense of a seemingly utopian setting. Instead, McCarthy presents his characters in an immediate post-apocalyptic world. The novel follows the journey of a father and son who fight to survive in world where life seems to have lost any value or meaning. McCarthy’s poetic language somehow manages to keep alive the themes of faith, love, and redemption.

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