Dear Mr. Dad: As the school year draws to a close, I’m getting worried about my 9-year old daughter. She’s just an average student and really hates to do homework. I worry that she’ll forget a lot of what she learned over this past year and she’ll start fifth grade even further behind than she already is. What can we do?
A: I’m torn about this. On one hand, I think summers are a time for resting up, having fun, giving the mind a little time to recharge. Unfortunately, with so many kids booked into wall-to-wall camps and activities, summer can be even busier than the school year and recharging—at least mentally—is out of the question.
On the other hand, there’s the Summer Brain Drain, which is exactly what you’re worried about. Students lose, on average, 2 – 2.5 months of academic skills over the summer. Math and spelling are the subjects that get hit the hardest. Put a little differently, teachers have to spend the first month or two of the academic year reviewing material students learned—but didn’t retain—the year before. Here are a few ideas for how you might be able to plug the brain drain—or at least slow the leak down…
- Visit the library. Most have great summer reading programs, complete with prizes for achieving reading goals.
- Read at home. You and your child should take turns reading to each other every night, for 15-30 minutes each.
- Look into summer schools. Sadly, only 10-20 percent of students attend one. But if your child is already weak in a subject or two, this is a great time to catch up—or possibly even get ahead.
- Ask the teacher your child will have next year to let you borrow a few textbooks. He or she may be able to give you a summer reading list. At the very least, you can make doing a handful of math problems a prerequisite for playing computer games.
- Don’t forget about writing. I’m not just talking about spelling and grammar—although both are important. I recently interviewed Jennifer Hallissy, author of The Write Start, who told me that “the speed and ease of children’s writing can have a major impact on their overall academic success.” Efficient writers take better notes—which makes studying a lot easier, regardless of the subject—and consistently get higher scores on written exams. Jennifer’s book has dozens of easy-to-implement activities for kids of any age.
- Make learning fun. Of course, there are the usual standbys: trips to the zoo, museums, and planetariums. But you might also check out a few books that are filled with fun, entertaining (and, gasp, educational—but your child will never notice) activities. I’m really like the Geek Dad series by Ken Denmead, The Daring Book for Girls series by AndreaBuchanan and Miriam Peskowitz, and Sean Connolly’s The Book of Potentially Catastrophic Science, which isn’t nearly as dangerous as it sounds.
With the big day just around the corner, we’ve been working frantically to evaluate our largest-ever field of submissions for the MrDad.com Seal of Approval and GreatDad Recommends awards. This season’s winners include:
<li>A very cool, reusable kit for building a kid-sized fire station, from Box-O-Mania (boxomania.com)
<li>Spanish language learning DVDs and CDs, from Whistlefritz (whistlefritz.com)
<li>A fun, Jack-in-the-Beanstalk play-and-book-in-a-box from InnovativeKids (innovativekids.com)
<li>Web Hunt and Oh, Really? Two engaging family games from Find It Games (finditgames.com)
The complete list—as well as submission guidelines for new products and services—is at mrdad.com/seal.