Keep your kids academically strong over the summer

Obtaining a good education is one of the tickets to the great American dream. For parents, it's especially crucial to get the best possible education for one's children, given the present focus on testing and accountability.

A huge area of concern is keeping kids academically strong over the summer months when school is not in session. It is the lament of many area teachers that the first months of the school year is spent getting kids back up to speed in order to do grade level work. The key is to make it not seem like schoolwork.

Here is a range of suggestions to boost kids' academic skills while still ensuring they have fun in the process:

Read to your kids

Even big kids like and need to be read to. Research supports the idea that reading to kids is essential for boosting reading skills. An alternative idea is to take turns reading pages in a book or magazine. We have several fine libraries in this neighborhood including branches located in Columbia City, Rainer Beach, Beacon Hill, among others, with children's librarians only too eager to suggest books and help. Let your child pick the books to ensure their interest. Lots of kids dislike reading- it's hard, or they find it 'boring' (kidspeak for it doesn't relate to their lives). The key is to find out what that child is interested in and read all about it. Then watch the excitement build!

Besides books, read billboards, bus advertisements, DVD cartons, and advertisements in the paper- anything that captures the interest of your child. Talk about what you've read, too. Ask your child their opinion and listen carefully and without judgment.

Let your child see you read as well. Kids are the great imitators. Make your actions support your words- that reading is fun, important and useful. When you read, you can find out all kinds of really cool stuff such as information on favorite stars, sporting events, etc. Share this with your kids and discuss what you are reading. Let your enthusiasm be contagious.

Do practical math together

Next to reading, this is another excellent way to boost your child's grades and scores. One activity is to take your child grocery shopping and compare prices. Teach them to look at the unit prices of an object, and shop for the best value. For example, the sticker below the display of toilet paper will show the actual cost per yard. Have your child find the product with the lowest cost per yard. Is $.22 per yard more or less than $.17 per yard? So, which one should we buy?

Another idea is to give the child a small amount of money and have them pick foods for a fun dinner within that budget. Budgeting is also a great tool for handling the angst of teen girls who hunger after yet one more pair of shoes. When Lakewood residents John and Mary Siple's teen girls hit high school, the Siples gave them each a flat sum of money for back- to-school clothes with the stipulation that no more would be coming. The girls, now young women in college, quickly learned money management skills as well as how to dress fabulously by shopping consignment stores.

Cooking is a great way to boost your child's math skills. It offers excellent practice in working with fractions, plus the child gets to read at the same time. Go through cookbooks together and pick out a fun dish that the two of you can make together. For best results, let the child direct the activity, with safety first of course. Have your child determine what needs to be done and when. As your child participates ask him questions pertaining to the recipe such as how much is one quarter of a cup? What does one eighth look like? Perhaps while you are waiting for the cookies, etc... to be done, practice writing fractions and reading them.

Write with your child

A lovely activity that not only boosts writing skills but also keeps the lines of communication going is a two-way journal. Kids and parents take turns writing and responding to one another in a simple spiral bound notebook. For parents who are working two jobs, and often don't see their kids until the weekend, this is a great communication tool. Sometimes it is much easier for teens and parents to communicate in writing than it is face to face. The journal can then become a precious family keepsake.

By the way, spelling doesn't count for this one! The goal is to simply get your kids to write, to enjoy writing, and to express themselves with this lifelong skill.

Very young children can create a drawing a day in the journal along with a few 'words' and the parent can write back. For children too young to read, the parent and child can read the 'special message' together.

A wonderful extension of the two-way journal is the language experience approach where the child dictates to the parent a story or a description of an experience such as going to the water park. The child then copies the story and the two read it together several times until the child can read the story without help.

Parents are a child's first teachers. These ideas will do much to help children maintain gains in academic growth while still having fun over the summer.

Coming up for the next installment of School Smarts, using movies to boost skills.

We welcome and invite your input on future School Smart topics, ideas, and educational questions. Please send them our way at

Mary Sanford taught at the elementary through community college level for the past 22 years.

A South End resident, Dr. Sanford began her career as a special education teacher, focusing on reading and writing skills for K-12 youngsters. She has a bachelor's degree in special education from Bloomsburg State College, a master's degree in learning disabilities and reading from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, a school administrator's certification from SUNY, and a doctorate in adult education from Syracuse University.[[In-content Ad]]