By Francoise Lartigue, content manager
One of the most satisfying jobs I ever had, other than working for ParentPowered of course, was teaching Kindergarten in the South Bronx in New York City. I loved the challenge of taking these energetic, imaginative, and eager children and helping them become students. Many of the children entered without having experienced a school readiness program. This meant we had lots of learning to do about how to learn!
We embarked on the typical kindergarten learning program that included building a strong foundation for literacy, math, and student skills. Have you ever watched a child read a book for the first time? Experience new success in counting? Voluntarily share a favorite toy with a peer? It’s amazing! A kindergarten year is filled with so many fulfilling firsts and amazing days as the students’ emotional development and blooming social-emotional skills. They learn, grow, and become really functional students. I often felt in awe as I watched their young minds expand with knowledge and their skills grow.
Keeping Those School Readiness Skills
As the year would inevitably come to a close, I would feel excited for a summer break, but a part of me wanted to plead “You don’t need to leave, we can keep doing this! Let’s keep learning together this summer!” My desire to keep my students in the classroom stemmed from my own self-doubt and worry. Had I done enough to prepare my students and families this year for future success in school? Were my students’ families in a position to keep their children learning all summer long – doing activities, talking, reading books, going to the library, or enrolling them in quality child care or an education program? Would all of their school readiness skills disappear over the summer?
As a young, childless teacher all those years ago in a large school district, I didn’t think of offering any specific summer guidance to my student’s families. I reminded them to read with their children and have fun together! I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. Knowing what I know now – that was not enough to help my or any students stay engaged with learning and prevent summer slide.
Summer Slide and School Readiness
“Summer slide”, the euphemism educators use to describe the learning loss that occurs in students over the summer, is real. School readiness – whether it be for kindergarten, middle or high school – has declined in some cases. The economic, societal and emotional impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on families and communities has been far reaching and severe. As families enter the summer, they will need continued support from the schools and community-based organizations that have already been supporting them the most.
The human brain, like all muscles, needs to be active to stay engaged. It compares to a good exercise habit that keeps your body fit. When children continually stay engaged with active learning, they keep building the key habit of learning. They hold onto the important skills that will help them be ready to learn in the fall.
Keeping Kids Engaged this Summer
Here’s some good news. It doesn’t take a lot to keep kids’ brains engaged and in the routine of learning. In fact, simple daily activities that families can map onto existing everyday routines can be enough to build social skills and offer meaningful learning experiences! There are so many quality education programs for income-eligible families, and financial assistance to make it easier to increase school readiness. And, school readiness can be boosted in simple, everyday moments.
If you’re thinking this sounds really similar to the Ready4K way then you are correct. Recently, Rebecca Honig, our Director of Content and Curriculum, and I gave a webinar to help organizations leverage our evidence based family engagement model and create summer learning opportunities for the families they serve.
We took a deep dive in the webinar, but here are few thoughts to keep in mind as you work to figure out how to support families and keep the students you serve engaged in learning this summer:
1. Summer is not school
Families need easy-to-do, in the moment daily learning activities that build on academic and social skills their child already has.
Think: Reading for increased stamina or practicing math facts.
2. Simple is super
Parents should feel confident that they CAN do the things you are asking them to do. If you can’t explain it in a simple way, then it’s not a great summer skill to focus on. Breaking concepts down into their simplest form helps already stressed parents understand the content immediately.
This example from the Ready4K curriculum gives families everything they need to layer in math in a simple, strengths-based way:
When kids add or subtract numbers in their heads, it’s called mental math. This helps kids do multiple step math problems. Playing games with numbers builds this skill.
Think: What are the building blocks of school success? For example, you know that counting helps kids learn or build math skills and is very easy to do. Suggest families try doing a counting activity to boost these skills.
3. Make learning a routine
Also make it part of existing routines. When you can help families build school readiness and learning into their daily routines it starts to become second nature. When we guide families to do things like rhyme while zipping a coat, use position words in a bathtub game, or invite their child to read to them while cooking we have helped them make learning not only a routine but part of their routines.
4. Success matters
When families experience repeated successful moments of learning together they’ll want to do more! When kids love to do an activity they WILL ask to repeat it.
Think: Counting and racing games, silly sentence rhyming, or building a pillow fort together to read in.
5. Presentation matters, too
Families are maxed out at the moment. Giving them highly doable activities in a well organized way is the first step to engaging them in trying the activity.
6. You know your families best
You have the advantage of knowing your families. Their unique circumstances and their routines. You know what your students love and get excited about. This information is going to allow you to choose essential skills, perfect moments, and exciting activities.