Summer practice helps children retain school lessons
By Lynne Wikoff
Generations ago, school closed for the summer so kids could help with the harvest. Nowadays, few people live on farms and harvesting is mostly mechanized, but summer vacation and the loss of learning caused by it remain part of our culture. Fortunately, there's a lot parents can do to help kids retain what they've learned during the previous school year.
"I talk to the kids about the concept of practice," said Marleen Chong, a second-grade teacher at Haha'ione School in Hawai'i Kai and mother of two daughters, ages 20 and 14. "They understand that they wouldn't trust a pilot who never practiced after he learned to fly a plane, and that basketball star Shaquille O'Neal still has to practice every day. That helps them accept that they need to practice their skills to keep them, too."
After one week of pure vacation, Chong recommends "practicing" sessions three to five times a week, ranging from 15 to 30 minutes for kindergartners to 30 to 45 minutes for second-graders. Each session can be broken into shorter segments to hold the child's interest.
It helps to save the schoolwork your children bring home during the year. By reviewing it, you'll know what they need to practice most, and you may also get some ideas for fun activities to spur their interest. Even without it, though, there's plenty you can do. Here are some ideas to get you started.
Reading. Regular trips to the library provide lots of variety in summer reading. Let your child choose some of the books, and you choose some, including stories for you to read aloud. (Chong advises that if your child stumbles over five words per page in a book, the book is too hard.)
Ruth Nishimura, a fifth-grade teacher at Kaiulani School in Palama and mother of two grown children, also emphasizes the importance of reading for older elementary-age kids. And she suggests that parents also read while their children are reading to show that it is a pleasurable pastime.
Writing. Have your children write (or for the very young, draw) in a journal every day. Topics might be what they did that day or something that made them happy or that bothered them. Ruth suggests asking leading questions if your child needs help to get started, such as "What did you like most about what you did?"
Since the purpose of journal writing is self-expression, it's best for parents to avoid correcting the child's work, which often causes frustration and resistance. "Of course, the technical aspects of writing are important," said Chong, "but a journal isn't the best place to address them."
Nishimura agrees, saying children's writing should be for their own enjoyment, not a "school" experience. She advises simply recognizing the positive in children's efforts rather than having a preconceived idea of what it should be like.
Math. Marleen says that tools such as flash cards and computer math games should be balanced with "real world" problems. For example, ask younger children questions such as how many items you still need if you have eight things on your grocery list and you've already put three in your basket, or how many forks you'll need at a picnic for three families with four members each. When you are cooking, ask older children to half or double a recipe for practice with fractions.
Ruth suggests saving your children's math workbooks to use for review, beginning at least two weeks before school starts in the fall.
Have fun! Take advantage of all the free activities available during the summer, and encourage your children to talk, write and draw about them afterward. "Sharing things in a fun atmosphere helps strengthen the parent-child relationship," said Nishimura. "Then children come to school with a positive attitude, ready to learn."
Lynne Wikoff is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer who holds a master's degree in social work with an emphasis on child development. She has raised a daughter, now in her mid-20s, and a stepson, now 40, and she hangs out regularly with her twin 10-year-old step-grandchildren.
Wikoff and fellow Hawai'i parent Ka'ohua Lucas take turns writing the Family Matters column. If you have comments, questions or suggestions for future topics, write: Family Matters, 'Ohana Section, The Honolulu Advertiser, P.O. Box 3110, Honolulu, HI 96802; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; or fax 535-8170.