“Back to School” – during the eight years I taught elementary school, those words never failed to inspire me. The promise of a new year with fresh faces, new ideas, crisp-from-the-store supplies … it was exciting! Even now, with my own children in elementary school, the back to school season is a fun time of year. But after you’ve bought all the items on the supply list and purchased new clothes, how can you ensure your child will be ready to do his best academically? Here are a few ideas.
1. READ, READ, READ! I know, I know – you see this everywhere, and tend to just ignore it. But, it’s true that reading is the basis for every other academic subject. If a child reads well, everything else tends to fall into place. With my own kids, I have them read 20 minutes each summer day on their own. With younger/beginning readers, I would still do this. They may not be able to read everything, but they can “read” the pictures and make out some words and sounds. This is how a child learns to read. With beginning readers, I would also make sure to read through a book or two each day with them. One method that makes the process easier and more fun is to have your child read one page, then you read the next. Finally, don’t forget to read TO your children also. My oldest child will be in fifth grade, but she still loves to listen to me read at lunchtime, after dinner, or before bed. This is a great opportunity to expose your kids to some reading material that’s at a higher level than they might be exposed to in their own reading. For instance, when I read “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” to my kids, they frequently asked, “What’s that?” about a word that they weren’t familiar with. This led to a good conversation about word definitions and we all learned something.
2. WRITE, WRITE, WRITE! Writing tends to be ignored compared to reading, but it’s vitally important as well. Writing is a bit more of a complex skill than reading, and with some kids it takes a bit of effort to get them to write. Still, I would encourage your children to write frequently throughout the summer. If your child likes writing stories, feel grateful and encourage her! If she doesn’t, encourage her anyway. What is she interested in? Perhaps you could begin brainstorming a fantastic story idea out loud and then encourage her to write an ending. If stories don’t seem to be igniting a spark, see if your child would like to write something else. Would he like to write a family newspaper? My kids enjoy doing this on the computer. If you have a digital camera, he may think it is fun to add a photo or two to the paper. Writing a letter (or even an e-mail) to a family member is another way to encourage your child to write. Are there friends or cousins in other towns who could be penpals with your child? These are all ways to make writing fun.
3. FIGURIN’ SUMS. Yes, math is important too, especially those pesky math facts that children should know readily. I have tried worksheets and flashcards with my children, and while they will do them, they’re generally not too excited about it. But don’t despair. There are numerous websites with “flashcards” that are more interesting to kids. I have listed my favorite in the resources box. You can choose the operation and skill level, and when your child gets 10 correct he earns a star. Then when 50 are done, he earns a big star. Your child can do this each summer day and it takes just minutes, yet it will keep up his skills. I also like to frequently ask my kids math questions as they arise in everyday life. For instance, if the news report says that today’s high was 92 and that is 5 degrees above the average, ask “Okay, what would the average temperature for today be?” My children love “real math” questions like this, and they show children how math concepts do figure into daily life.
4. TAKE A LEARNING TRIP. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to go to a far-away spot for vacation. Find out what’s near you. You might be surprised! This summer I am planning day trips with my kids to a nearby Underground Railroad location, a famous author’s home, and other historical sites. Make a big deal about the history of these places and learn a little about them before going with your kids. When you’re there, point out the interesting things you see and let your kids buy a postcard and write some of the things they learn on the back. Education just doesn’t get better that this!
Follow these tips and your child will be off to a great start for the new school year. Enjoy the learning you’ll both do!