Monday, July 14, 2014

Summer Literacy by Mikey Smith

Summer Literacy
Creative Ways to Keep ALL Kids
Intellectually Engaged this Summer
by Mikey Smith, M.Ed
We have all read the articles and seen the research about so-called "Summer Slide." The message is clear: kids whose brains remain engaged over the summer fare better academically once the new school year rolls around.  Many schools have jumped on board the anti-brain drain bandwagon, sending home packets and packets of worksheets to keep kids busy during summer months. While schools should be applauded for addressing the issue of Summer Slide, not every kid is thrilled to crack open a novel and answer questions or write essays about what they did over the summer.

So what are some fresh ways to keep kids engaged and reading and writing during the summer months? For starters, mother of two Lorien Martinez has a simple but effective suggestion. "My kids have to read 30 minutes a day BEFORE any electronics," she says. Middle school teacher Summer Magee offers a twist on this idea of reading regularly during the summer: having kids take on trilogies and series books with - here's the twist - their parents!

Magee says, "I had my little cousin, who was at the time a reluctant reader in third grade, do this with her dad. They started with The Lightning Thief I think. Her competitive side kicked in, and her dad had to really work at night to keep up with all the reading she did while he was at work." Did it work? You bet! Magee says, "By the end of the summer, they had a few trilogies finished and her speed really picked up and she admitted she LOVED reading. They had dates to go see the movies together. It was really cute." Not only was it cute, it was effective. In fifth grade, Magee's cousin won the overall Advanced Reader (AR) award for her elementary school, and was selecting her books from her proud Aunt Summer's 8th grade classroom library!

Is your child's summer full of travels? Take reading and writing on the road using this great tip from mother of one, Megan Beauchamp. "Have kids take pictures with mom or dad's iPhone on outings to the zoo, the park, or the beach," Beauchamp suggests. "Then print out pictures and include journal writings to make a book of summer living." While Beauchamp's daughter is a tad young to try this out just yet, Beauchamp says she is excited to have literacy-building tricks like this one up her sleeve already, thanks to a Literacy Specialist who spoke to her Mothers of Preschoolers group.

"It was fabulous," Beauchamp says.   "She (the Literacy Specialist) explained that in order for kids to write they have to have something to write about. So when you go places, you should set aside time when you come home to journal about your experiences." She adds that the speaker also suggested parents should provide eye-catching supplies like decorated notebooks and colored pens so kids can create freely.

Feel like you've tried all those tricks before and your child still really, REALLY does not like reading and writing? After spending the school year battling a reluctant reader and writer it may be tempting to offer the summer off. This is probably a big mistake. On the other hand, you also don't want to overreact and make summer literacy and a boring chore that completely sucks the joy out of your student. Creativity and high engagement are key to striking this delicate balance: you want your student to work on reading and writing but you don't want it to FEEL like he's working on reading and writing.

One way to get your reluctant reader writer engaged is to have him make reading and writing part of a favorite activity.  Does your child love to cook? Have him research and catalog recipes. There are dozens of recipe websites, not to mention magazines and cookbooks (remember those?). Encourage your budding chef to write a review of each recipe after testing it out, along with any notes or ideas for variations. The recipes and reviews can be compiled into a family cookbook.

Similarly, if your child is an athlete or avid sports fan, encourage him to read the sports page daily and to write up summaries of games that were particularly exciting. Get a subscription to Sports Illustrated for Kids or one of the other dozens of sports related magazines. Kids, just like grownups, are more likely to read and write if they are truly passionate about the topic.

Middle School teacher Clarence Sayles works with reluctant readers and writers on a daily basis, so he is always on the lookout for ways to make literacy building less painful as well as ways to incorporate technology.  "I've suggested to my students to text themselves a start of day text with to-dos and weather," he says. "Then respond to it at the day's end with what really happened. If you have a smartphone, include pictures. Do that for three to five days and revise and edit at the end of the week." Compiling these text messages will result in a summer's worth of stories!

Speaking of technology, is your student always plugged in to some type of electronic device? How about having him write up a description of his favorite game so that you can understand what exactly he is doing for hours on end? Does he complain he doesn't enough time to play video games? Have him write up a proposal or a persuasive speech as to why he deserves more time. And, as with any other hobby, there are tons of magazines, websites and books for gamers.

Keeping kids reading and writing over the summer is not always an easy task, but it is one that is definitely worth it. Summer literacy projects can not only help kids improve their reading and writing skills, but can also help your family create memories that will last a lifetime.

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