Don't let kids put their minds in neutral for summer

July 08, 2005|by LISA PREJEAN

We were at a park recently and felt the need for some freshly squeezed lemonade.

I got in line at a stand that resembled a big lemon. How could we go wrong?

Then the person in front of me pointed to another line where tickets had to be purchased first. Only ticket holders could stand in the lemonade line.

OK. Fine.

So I got in the other line.

When I arrived at the front of that line, I asked the teenage attendant if I could have two extra cups if I bought two lemonades.

She asked her co-workers if that was OK. They shook their heads. Extra cups are against company policy, she informed me.


OK. So I'll pay for four, even though there's only one size - jumbo - and it costs $3.

When I placed my order, her eyeballs rolled up and her lips started moving silently.

I looked at her and realized that she was struggling to tell me how much I owed.

"It's $12. Three times four is 12," I said, trying to keep my voice low so I wouldn't embarrass her.

But it only got worse when I handed her a $20 bill.

She cast a pleading glance in my direction and said, "Can you just tell me what 20 minus 12 is? I'm so tired I can't think."

Had she been in the sun too long? I saw a water bottle at her feet so I knew hydration wasn't a problem.

Perhaps it had been too long since she learned basic math skills. Perhaps she never learned them at all.

Maybe she put her mind in neutral for the summer.

Then I became a little worried. Have I been helping my children exercise their minds this summer?

My 10-year-old appeared at my elbow right about then and I switched into teacher mode.

"Hi, honey. I have a question for you."

He waited expectantly and I asked, "If the lemonade is $3 and I'm buying four of them, how much will it cost me?"

He looked at me as if I was weird (imagine that) and said, "$12, Mommy."


Then I asked, "What will I receive back if I pay $20?"

When he got that one right, I knew it was OK to go back to the rides at least for the day.

Trying to find a balance between play and academics during the summer is a challenge for parents. We want our children to have some fun during summer break, but we certainly don't want them to lose what they've learned throughout the school year.

If a child struggled in the previous grade, how he spends his time during the next six weeks can make a significant difference this coming school year.

"Nothing will get the job done except a concentrated effort," says Bob Rubock, who, along with his wife, Wilma Kumar-Rubock, co-founded SuperTutors Inc. in Frederick, Md.

"During the summer, there's no school. Nothing else is competing for the child's time and attention. It's the perfect time to catch up. There are no new concepts being introduced."

Need help in order to help your child? Try these suggestions from Rubock, whose company provides one-on-one tutoring assistance:

  • Go to This Web site provides tutorials, answer sheets and other resources you can use.

  • Test your child. Give him addition, subtraction, multiplication and division problems to do without a calculator.

    "Without an understanding of how numbers work, you can't go any further," says Rubock, who has a master's degree in electrical engineering. "It's a continuous building process. No matter how far you go up that road, the foundations are the same."

  • Start where you need to start. If your child is failing algebra, algebra might not be the problem. The problem might be as simple as addition or subtraction.

    "The problems are usually basic," Rubock says.

  • For language skills, make sure that your child understands what he is reading.

    "It all starts with vocabulary. Do you know what the words are saying?" Rubock asks. "There's no shortcut to memorizing and understanding. Just like math starts with numbers, everything in language arts starts with words."

    After your child reads a story, ask him where the character went, what he said, what he did. Comprehension is key.

  • How much time should you spend on academics this summer? That depends on the child. Most children will benefit from 45 minutes to an hour each day. Consistency and repetition are important.

  • Remember, your help makes a difference.

"The more involved the parents are, the more ahead the kids are," Rubock says. "There's no substitute for individualized attention, whether it comes from a parent or a tutor."

For more information, go to

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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