As another school year comes to a close, the task of filling long, summer days lies ahead. To keep young minds alert and engaged, parents may be tempted to hand out worksheets and flashcards, but three UBC education professors say there are better ways to nurture children’s learning over the summer.
Wendy Carr, associate dean of teacher education, offers tips on fostering literacy skills:
You can infuse literacy into children’s summer activities, and it doesn’t have to involve a lot of money; for example, following recipes, making lists for a camping trip, and reading trail maps and star charts. You can get kids involved in planning family excursions. Most local libraries have summer reading programs, and various branches have Lego, Minecraft and other “maker” activities scheduled as well.
Have a family games night where games can involve literacy, depending on the game being played. Go on a bird walk and use a field guide to make sense of what you’re seeing or hearing. Grow vegetables and follow instructions on how to nurture them. Visit local museums. And keep a summer adventure journal; for young kids this can be a visual journal and for older kids it can involve more writing.
The UBC Faculty of Education is also involved in the adventure-themed Think Fun Camps, which take place in the Fraser Valley.
Susan Gerofsky, assistant professor in the department of curriculum and pedagogy, discusses how to encourage math and science skills:
Like reading books together, mathematical stories, math art, math games and math puzzles can be shared by families on a summer afternoon, at the dinner table after a meal or as a bedtime story. Mathematics is the study of patterns and patterns-of-patterns, including those that come up in nature, in visual arts, in music and in language. Notice patterns in birdsong, waves on the beach, tree branches, leaves and flowers. Take a walk outside with sketchbook and pencil or a camera, and focus on beautiful natural mathematical patterns
Experiment making mathematically interesting art and crafts (www.georgehart.com/MathematicalImpressions/activities.html and mathcraft.wonderhowto.com are good starting points). Mathematical games and puzzles offer mind-expanding challenges that are fun for kids and adults, and do not necessarily involve any calculations—or even numbers! Games like Rush Hour/Unblock Me, 2048, Sudoku, Tetris, Tangrams, logic puzzles and many others can be played on a smartphone or tablet, or as pencil-and-paper or board games. A good starting resource is mathpickle.com. Check out cut-the-knot.org for math magic, and http://kasmana.people.cofc.edu/MATHFICT/ for math stories for high school students and adults.
Summer math, science and engineering camps are other great options – for example, UBC’s Geering Up camps, the Pacific Institute of Mathematical Sciences (PIMS) summer camp for Aboriginal students, or the Shad Valley camp at UBC. At these camps, kids get fun hands-on experiences in math and sciences in social settings.
Hartley Banack, lecturer in outdoor and experiential learning, explains why getting outdoors matters for child development:
Current literature is finding that time spent outdoors improves academic performance in a variety of ways. Experiential learning heightens and engages learners in a particular topic. We can see this most clearly in science, where we can observe a garden over time or watch animals give birth and raise their babies. Students can then relate to concepts like reproduction or nutrition.
We tend to think that going on big adventures is the way to do outdoor learning, but these often happen infrequently. Instead, try taking regular outdoor outings in and around where you live. Visit the Vancouver Biennale art sculptures, do the seawall by bicycle, or explore the trails in Pacific Spirit Park. UBC’s Nitobe Gardens and Botanical Garden are great places for an adventure. Even spending time in your local park and getting to know it better has real educational value.
We live in a risk-averse culture, but children still need opportunities to develop their self-reliance, to be resilient and take healthy risks, and assess what’s too much and too little. Start to develop opportunities for learning that encourage children to have some risky play where you are not necessarily with them all the time. Have them walk over to the park at the corner and collect something to bring back to you. Getting your kids on bikes is a fabulous way to increase physical activity and increase the roaming range of the children. Activities that encourage a sense of community and familiarity with their space are very important.