The Summertime Resolution :: Keeping Kids’ Brains Engaged During Summer Break

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Mom confession: Last summer, I did not make my kids do ANYTHING with their brains. All they did was sleep late, snack a LOT, play outside, and have fun.

Our school does student testing, called Global Scholar testing, three times a year. The test adapts to your child’s abilities, making questions easier or more difficult based upon their answers to previous questions. Teachers test at the beginning, middle, and end of the year, and they use the test results to demonstrate a child’s academic growth over a time period. I had a huge wakeup call at the beginning of this school year: over the summer, their testing scores had decreased since the end of their previous school years. There was a graph, which went up throughout the school year and then back down after the summer. Ouch.  

I am embarrassed to admit that I KNEW I should have made them do work over the summer. I just didn’t actually do it.

I’m not a teacher (that was NOT a calling that was put on my life), but as a pediatric nurse, I know how important it is to read with your child every day. I’ve heard the statistics and studies that have proven that children that read every day do better in school and in everyday life (Want proof? Read this from the Research Journal of the American Association of School Librarians or this  from the University of Washington). Other studies have not only shown improved vocabulary, comprehension, and “right brain” thinking, but reading daily can also expand your child’s understanding of more concrete subjects too, such as math and science.

I had received warning from other moms that third grade was going to be harder than previous years. At the beginning of third grade, my daughter started struggling with concepts such as making inferences and creative thinking. In a parent-teacher conference, I expressed my concerns about her preparedness for third grade and our frustrations completing homework because I was unsure how best to help her. Among other things, her teacher recommended that we start reading more at home.

I work 40+ hours per week and I am not the best about doing homework EVERY night. In fact, if homework gets sent home for the following week on a Friday, we do all homework on Sunday afternoon so we don’t have to worry with it on weeknights.

My two youngest girls have vastly different styles of learning. School has come easily to one child and not as easily to the other. So we might spend a solid hour on a worksheet for one child, while the other finishes her schoolwork in daycare in the afternoons without any help. In recent months, we still do most of our homework on Sunday afternoons, but we also read more throughout the week. In a perfect world, we would read every night, together as a family. My realistic goal is to read for 20 minutes, two or three nights per week. The older child reads one or two chapters of an age-appropriate book, and her sister reads short stories and shorter books that she brings home from school.

summer learning plan - reading books is key!
Squeezing some reading in before bedtime.

I am great about making goals and resolutions and plans. I am also great at making “secondary goals” in case my first ideas are affected by . . . life.

After I saw the girls’ test scores drop over the summer, and after I realized that school was about to get seriously challenging, I have made a summer learning plan. Instead of a New Year’s resolution, it’s…

The Summertime Resolution:

  • 20 minutes of reading every day before going outside to play
  • 1 hour a week with a tutor to review previous grade standards and get a head start on the upcoming year (check out the Wyndy app! A young woman majoring in elementary education has become a regular babysitter for us AND she’s willing to help my kids out this summer with tutoring.)
  • Piano lessons once a week because, obviously, music is good for brain development
  • Basketball camp one week
  • Church camp another week

The “Secondary” Summertime Resolution:

  • 20 minutes of reading AT LEAST four days a week — no less, even if we have to stay up late at night to get it done
  • Tutoring is a definite plan, and I’ve already booked someone for the summer.
  • Piano lessons once a week, but maybe not on the weeks of basketball and church camps or on weeks when we are vacationing. Ok, so maybe four piano lessons this summer to see if they enjoy it before we commit to one more thing on my calendar.
  • Basketball camp
  • Church camp

I learned my lesson. We won’t completely slack off this summer.

I don’t have elaborate plans for huge three-ring binders for daily math worksheets, flash cards, or writing exercises. We are not taking any educational trips, and I do not plan on keeping them on a tight schedule like during the school year. Ultimately, it is summer BREAK, and I think the kids deserve to spend their time with friends, outside, making memories. But I had quite a few moments of realization during the school year. Thanks to good old standardized testing and some supportive, amazing teachers, my eyes were opened to the importance of making even a small effort to keep their brains working all summer.

summer learning plan - read, read, read!

What are you planning on doing with your kids this summer to keep their minds sharp and ready for next year?

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Kathryn is 31 years old and lives on the outskirts of Birmingham in the small town of Kimberly. She is a full time working mom, living out her dream as a pediatric oncology nurse practitioner. An Alabama native, Kathryn spent her childhood in Greenville and Montgomery, then went to high school in Asheville, NC, before returning home to attend nursing school at AUM. When her youngest child was born, she went back to get her masters degree in nursing from UAB. Kathryn has been married to her husband, Heath, for almost 10 years. She is Stepmom to Seth (age 21), Brenna (age 15), and Mommy to Caroline (age 8) and Abbigail (age 7). Add two huge Labrador retrievers and a cat, and Kathryn's house can feel a little like a zoo when everyone is home at the same time. But it's the most wonderful chaos ever. Kathryn loves the beach, cooking in her Instant Pot, reading in silence and funky printed leggings. Her family spends a ton of time outside, hiking and playing in the sunshine, and commuting the short drive into Birmingham for rock climbing and eating at good restaurants.