Use it and improve it

Sharpen your child's academic skills before summer break ends and school begins

Sharpen your child's academic skills before summer break ends and school begins

August 09, 2002|by Chris Copley

Summer vacation is almost over. Most schools start on Aug. 26, some sooner than that. And for some children going back to school means discovering they've forgotten what they learned last year.

Teachers say they see some students whose academic skills fade during the long summer break. It's the old "Use it or lose it" aphorism.

Parents can help their children gear up for school by getting their kids to use their skills, according to Rick Gehrman, Washington County Public Schools supervisor of teacher personnel and former principal of Springfield Middle School in Hagerstown.


"Everybody can benefit if they stay current," Gehrman said. "We notice that students that are having trouble in school, if they can stay current during summer break, they get off to a faster start in the fall."

But almost no one - adult or child - wants to work during a vacation. So parents who want to beef up their children's academic skills should make it fun.

"First and foremost, keep it light and friendly," said Judy Fox, early childhood educator for Washington County schools. "Nothing like, 'George, we're going to sit down and learn.' That's dreadful."

Work on reading

Leslie Hobbs, supervisor of secondary mathematics for Washington County schools, said the first thing to work on is reading.

"The first thing parents can do is encourage their kids to read," Hobbs said. "Nothing is more important. Read the newspaper every morning. Follow a particular topic - sports or Ann Landers or whatever interests them. Continue to read."

The local library is a tremendous, free resource of reading material; a newspaper is another, Hobbs said. And not just for its features and news stories, but for the everyday mathemetics used in shopping.

"I think the newspaper is the most wonderful tool," she said. "You can compare the price of store items all over Hagerstown - on Sunday you get such a pile of inserts."

Reading for pleasure is a skill that affects other academic areas. But there is more to reading than pleasure.

"There are three kinds of reading that we teach in Washington County schools," Fox said. "For the most part, people read for a literary experience - a novel or picture book. But people also read to gain information - National Geographic or a newspaper. We also read to accomplish a task."

One place where adults read to accomplish a task is at home in the kitchen. Fox said cooking with children is a great way to have children practice this kind of reading.

"Read the directions for a package of brownies or instant pudding," she said. "You read it to your child, then read it with them, then they read it to you as you make it."

Practice math

Baking from scratch is a good way to practice simple math. Double a recipe for cookies and let the child figure out how many eggs or cups of flour go into the mixing bowl. Divide the total number of cookies by the number of people who will eat them to see how many cookies each person is allowed.

"Do real life things, not textbook things," Hobbs said. "Go to the grocery store, estimate how much it will cost to make a recipe. 'We need to get three pounds of ground beef. And what do tomatoes cost this week?' Or find the cheapest price per ounce in soft drinks - comparison shopping."

Some home schooling parents make use of everyday events as a teaching time, according to Barbara Martin. Martin is co-founder of Appalachian Regional Cooperative, a network of home schoolers in the Tri-State area. She has five sons.

"Education is a year-round thing at our house, because learning takes place all of the time," Martin said. "(My sons) keep track of batting averages, their own and professionals. We add up how much money we need to play hockey and to buy new equipment."

Sarah Moulton, another home schooling mother, said her son created his own real-world math problems this summer.

"Our 12-year-old son hates math, but he loves to work on projects that interest him," she said. "He had to do lots of math when we built a skateboarding quarter-pipe in July. He had to learn to read the plans, calculate the materials needed - lots of measuring and organizing."

Live social studies

Jim Newkirk, Washington County schools' supervisor of elementary reading, English language arts and social studies, likes questions as a learning tool.

"Reading the newspaper, does that make you think of things you learned in school?" Newkirk said. "Dialogue with your kids. The poor person who got killed in Frederick by lightning last week. Does that remind you of anything you read about in science class?"

Newkirk said Washington County schools teach several aspects of social studies: history, economics, geography and maps; people of the nation and world; and political systems. This area is rich with opportunities to explore these, sometimes in combination.

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