This summer, give your child an official home job
Summer learning loss isn't mythical.
Now that the elementary-school textbooks, backpacks and lunchboxes have been stowed away, it's time to get to work.
Indeed, it's the summer slide season - the time when students lose some of the academic gains they made during the school year because they're hanging out at home, not doing much reading and not spending time on any other academic thinking.
Summer learning loss isn't mythical. Every teacher will greet a classroom full of students who return super rusty from not having flexed the muscles of writing, silent sustained reading or math-problem solving all summer.
It would be nice if students would come back ready to pick up right where they left off in June, but that's not how it goes. Many will return antsy and likely to have behaviour issues from months of being out of such productive routines as bedtimes, wake-times and homework.
The answer is not to ruin kids' summers with tonnes of boring academic exercises like multiplication-tables worksheets (even on devices like iPads or computers, kids tend to resent practicing school skills, despite struggling in the classroom).
And if your children don't like reading, it rarely makes a positive impact on them to demand that they drag themselves through a book (my sons both despised reading as youngsters, and my 17-year-old still hates it).
One thing that could help, though, is making sure kids have something they're responsible for over the summer.
According to Katherine Reynolds Lewis, author of the new parenting book The Good News About Bad Behaviour: Why Kids Are Less Disciplined Than Ever -- And What You Can Do About It, children are likely to have behaviour issues because they're asked to do less and less at home. "Children are unemployed. So often their days are full of homework, music, sports and extracurricular obligations, but no true responsibilities to the family or community," Reynolds Lewis wrote. "Nobody depends on them to care for a younger sibling, to clean the house or to put dinner on the table. Adults think they're helping children by doing these tasks themselves, or outsourcing them. In fact, not giving them simple household chores deprives kids of the chance to build skills and be useful."
It's true that this phenomenon occurs across socioeconomic classes. I recently completed an academic year teaching at a school in which 98 per cent of the students were low-income. And yet, when you asked the kids who were excelling academically, they'd tell you about all the responsibilities they had at home, from caring for the family pet to washing dishes after dinner and doing their own laundry.
Some of my students who struggled the most, however, could not report a single task they were in charge of performing. Fourth- and fifth-graders would tell me that if they didn't wake up on time, they'd just stay home for the day or that they simply didn't have anything they were required by their parents to do for themselves on a daily basis.
When I talk to parents of children who are not performing at grade level about how to help their students succeed academically, I always suggest the simplest, most relationship-enhancing activities: Play card games or dice to sneak in math practice; play memory or noticing games like looking for signs that include a certain letter of the alphabet while out and about to aid focus; or simply tell your children stories and encourage them to make up their own to improve literacy.
This summer, I'm adding another suggestion to the list: Give your child an official home job.
It can be as simple as clearing up the table or as complicated as feeding and walking the dog on a schedule - whatever it is, just be super clear about your expectations and make sure the work is done to specification.
You're probably guaranteed a little pushback and the need for some reinforcement, but it's a great non-academic way to build planning skills, self-determination and work ethic into daily life.
It'll be an investment of time, but one that will potentially pay dividends for your kids when school starts again - as well as for the rest of their lives.
- Washington Post Writers Group