Friday, May 16, 2014

Summer Learnin', Had Me a Blast.

{Is my title cheesy? Sorry! I've had the song stuck in my head ever since my husband sang a few lines of it last weekend.}

Here, in Connecticut, we have just a few weeks of school left. In your part of the country, school might be out for the summer already. Either way, the summer slide is our minds. I've already had an email from one client who wants to counteract the summer slide for her son, and I'm sure I'll get other emails.

First, let's be real. Summer homework is for the birds!  Any kid will agree with me and probably some parents, too. BUT the summer slide is a very real issue for certain kids. If a kid likes to read, and reads on his or her own, then there is probably not much to worry about. Going to the library a few times a week or downloading new books will be more than enough, along with getting outside and enjoying a little freedom.

The summer slide is the result of minds being left idle, so the solution is fairly simple, right? Keep the kids engaged, and their minds will follow suit.  Engagement is easier when it doesn't look or feel like work. I happen to have a kid, going into first grade, who loves to do workbooks, so I'll probably get her a workbook like this one because she enjoys it but we'll be doing plenty of other things too. There are a lot of ways to keep kids engaged and thinking over the summer.
Here are five ideas to try this summer:

  1. Letterboxing This is a scavenger hunt-style activity that reinforces navigational skills (math!), reading comprehension and nature hikes (science!). I took my almost-a-Kindergartener and my preschooler on a letterbox hike last summer and they got a real kick out of it. There are letterbox activities for all age and grade levels.  Click here to find letterboxing sites in your area: 
  2. Correspondence If your child is going to sleep away camp, chances are, you'll be tucking a few postage-paid postcards into his or her suitcase, right? But every kid should write letters, camp or not. Some ideas: grandparents,  friends that have moved away, famous people, favorite authors. 
  3. Legos There is bound to be a rainy day or a super-hot day that keeps you indoors. A Lego kit like Lego Friends or Lego City is great because it involves following visual instructions (reading comprehension), sorting by color and size (math), problem-solving and imaginative play. 
  4. Children's Museums For younger kids, children's museums are great! They are designed for play and learning, across all subject areas. Find your area museum here:
  5. Public Library My public library has a summer reading program and other events going on all summer, for kids. If you have a kid that thrives on rewards and incentives, a summer reading program might do the trick, to get him or her reading. 
For kids that are struggling, and are behind, some tutoring sessions over the summer will keep them on track for Fall but self-directed play and structured activities are just as valuable in the fight against the summer slide.  

{This post contains Amazon affiliate links.}

Friday, May 2, 2014

Different Brains for Different Folks

I had a meeting today with a potential client that made me think about brains. Specifically, I thought about how we already know so much about how the brain works, and about how "brain-based" is a huge buzzword in education circles. In theory, brain-based education is a really good idea because it capitalizes on what we know about how the brain works, and what the brain is capable of. In reality, though, brain-based pedagogy approaches the principles in a general way, that can be applied to all students regardless of how each individual brain works.

What got me on this train of thought was the potential client explaining an assignment that her son was required to do in his Social Studies class. The assignment was an annotated bibliography, and was to be submitted ahead of the actual paper he needed to write. He struggled with the assignment because he had not yet developed an argument or thesis, so he couldn't wrap his head around how each source could be used in the paper to support his eventual thesis. I have no doubt that some of his peers were able to do the assignment without a problem. Some people can organize their thoughts in the abstract, without really knowing what they are going to write about. Other people get overwhelmed by this roundabout way of getting the answer to a question, or developing an argument.

So what do you do, if you're the student that can't do the assignment in this way, if you need to do it differently to get it done? I say, break from the script. If you know yourself as a learner, and you know how your brain works, then find the best way for you to do the assignment. When I was a classroom teacher, executing lesson plans and assignments, I often did not think of the particular individual adjustments that I could make for a student until the issue came up, either because I noticed the student struggling or because the student came to me for help. Managing a class of 35 students, with varying degrees of skill in writing and reading, is a challenge. Developing individualized instruction for each of those 35 students is even harder. I would even say it's impossible.  And yeah, we teachers need a little help sometimes when it comes to figuring out exactly what each student needs in order to do her best!

The best thing a student can do for himself is to learn how his brain works, learn who he is as a learner and approach writing assignments from that perspective. So, if you need to hand in an annotated bibliography, for example, and you're feeling overwhelmed by the abstractness of the exercise, go ahead and develop your thesis first. Your thesis might change over the course of your research, and that's okay. Writers are constantly revising their own ideas, as they expand their knowledge and worldview. But at least, you'll have a place to start when you begin your annotated bibliography and that's all that matters--to be able to begin.

PS Here's a fun little brain test you can take: