The Pursuit of Excellence

What you can do over the summer to prepare kids for class.

Are you dreading your children’s back-to-school blues? No doubt they are reluctant to give up their carefree summer days. And they may also be anxious about all the new homework they’ll face come September. Have no fear: You can add a few simple activities to the last few weeks of summer that will rev up your kids’ confidence and get them primed for the classroom. Check out these ideas.

  • Put on old clothes and dirty sneakers and take your kids to a pond or stream to explore. Spot the various forms of wildlife nearby. Look under rocks, see what lurks in the water, be curious. Take pictures and write an article with your children about it.
  • Got an old camcorder? Encourage your kids to film a news report, complete with commercials. They can read the newspaper for stories or make up their own. If they’re particularly creative, they can write a screenplay and direct a film.
  • If you have a teacher’s supply store nearby, check out the selection of summer workbooks and resources, which are often fun, colorful and inexpensive. Workbooks generally are available in a wide variety of grade levels (kindergarten all the way through high school), and teacher supply stores stock materials in various subjects. This allows you to select workbooks featuring the subjects in which your child needs extra practice.  Don’t worry, the answers are in the back; it’s easy to check if your child’s work is correct.
  • Gather the tests from the past school year and ask your child to review one. If your child is feeling shrewd, quiz him or her in recalling the information tested.
  • Ask your kids to write a short story, an autobiography or a family newsletter. Illustrations are welcome. The more your kid writes during the summer, the less traumatic it will be to pick up a pencil come the fall.
  • If your child brought home a math book— or you can find a comparable one in a teacher’s supply store— review what was covered. If you’re feeling adventurous, work ahead to future chapters, motivating your child to begin mastering the topics of the upcoming school year. If you don’t have a math book, call the school office and ask if you can borrow one. Also, sometimes math books are available online.
  • Visit the library. Encourage your kids to pick out books that appeal to them, just for fun. When you get home, ask your kids to write down the books’ due dates on the calendar. The summer season presents a great time to reinforce time management skills.
  • See if your child’s school gives a general idea of what topics are tackled in the upcoming year. If American history is on the menu, perhaps your child can read a book on the Civil War or watch a related movie. Will your kid be studying natural history in science? A trip to the local museum might be in order. 
  • Indulge in some art and music classes during the summer. Motivate your child to learn a new instrument, take vocal lessons or enroll in a drawing class. Not only are they entertaining, these activities enhance creativity and critical thinking skills. Don’t know a professional musician or artist? Look for summer programs around the community or perhaps ask a talented neighbor or friend to do the teaching. The school’s art and band teachers might also be willing to teach a few lessons over the summer.
  • Is Junior a computer whiz? Search for writing, math or science classes available online. Taking an online class reinforces computer skills as well as academic skills. Group classes build cognitive skills along with social skills.
  • Going on vacation? Buy an inexpensive notebook and prompt your child to write a vacation journal. Look at a map and point out all the neat places you’ll go. Better yet, invite your kid to make a map.
  • If you’ve got a reader, perhaps he or she would enjoy a book club. The subject matter doesn’t have to be weighty. Discussing any book utilizes reading comprehension and literary skills that your child employs when completing English homework and writing book reports for school.
  • Reviewing math skills is essential, but it can be boring. Turn mathematics into a game by playing hopscotch with the times tables written in the hopscotch grid. Call out math problems while your kid is jumping into the pool, having him or her yell out the answer before hitting the water. Additionally, explore the various online math games for a quick and entertaining way to review math facts.

Don’t worry about setting up a rigid summer learning schedule. Setting aside 15 to 20 minutes three days a week dedicated to classroom skills is just fine. You might be surprised when your child’s natural curiosity turns a 15-minute activity into a half-hour or more of learning fun. You’ll also likely find that these activities provide another way for you and your child to spend quality time together. Enjoy! Before you know it, the lazy hazy days of summer will be gone and September will be here.