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Staying Sharp All Summer

A girl studying outside during the summer with books

Every year the cycle gets repeated

After a summer spent chasing butterflies, swimming, working or just plain lazing about, hundreds of thousands of students file back into their schools after Labour Day — ready for a new school year. Or are they?

“We have to allow at least a month for everyone to get settled and back in a learning mood,” a teacher friend recently told me. That puts us into October and, according to other teachers, many students are still not refocused and ready to learn by then or even into November.

This would mean that from July 1, through at least October 15, and probably November 10, many students are not focused or at their best. “For at least three-and-one-half months, learning can be haphazard to say the least,” says Robert Primrose, a Grade 10 teacher.

In fact, it may even be worse than that. Think about your child’s learning experiences in June each year. Tests, exams, field trips and other events consume most of that month’s schedule, adding another 30 days to the let down period.

Considering that the average school year includes only 195 days of instruction and that almost half of those days are spent in less than ideal conditions, we soon see why many schools struggle to meet the educational expectations of parents and society.

What can you do to help?

Easy. Help your kids stay sharp over the summer holiday and there will be no let down — no big gap in the fall. Kids who are focused and ready in September will learn, integrate and understand new material right away. This will allow them to make the most of each school day instead of only half of them.

There are many ways to help kids remain on top of their school skills. Make sure that your children read during the summer. Even if they have a busy social life and a part- or full-time job, make sure that they take time each day to read. Set up brief study periods at least every other day. Times when your child can review the worst or hardest subjects, read ahead into next year’s material and organize for next year.

Possibly the best way to help students stay sharp is through a good summer program such as those at Oxford Learning Centres to help keep thinking, reading, writing, math and study skills sharp and ready for September.

It’s not so much the memorized material that students forget over the summer, it’s learning how to learn that gets forgotten each summer. That’s because it is seldom taught independent of school subjects. Students who develop good learning and thinking skills will be ready for success in September. Attending a study session over the summer can overcome the summer let-down.

Holidays are similar. While it is important for parents to allow students a chance to breathe, to relax and to unwind, holidays often fall just prior to the time of year where tests, final exams and report cards loom large and many students are beginning to accumulate a certain level of anxiety.

Make sure that your student has fun over the holidays. Having fun means activity. Lying in front of the TV or staying at the video game or computer terminal for days at a time does not qualify. Make sure that life is balanced. Go for family walks to look at the holiday lights. Go skating. Sing carols in your neighbourhood. Play in the snow. Ski. Toboggan. In other words, get active!

The very worst thing we can do is to allow our kids to just drop down on a couch and vegetate for two weeks. By December, our children should be in full mental gear. They will have recovered from the summer holidays and will be alert and mentally active. The holiday should give them a breather but not cause them to become mentally passive again.

You can prevent this by planning fun activities. The challenge is to keep our students mentally active and focused. We can do this in a number of ways.

High School Students

Exams are looming. High school students should plan two hours of study per day over the holiday. Each subject should be analyzed and divided into units. Let us assume that the math exam is scheduled for Jan 20. That means that there are approximately 30 days (or units) left before the exam. Divide math into 30 units and study one each day. Make sure students use a Day Planner so that they can do a little every day. When they get back to school, they must keep their current work up to date.

Grades 1 to 3

Read, Write, Play. Read and play games that require concentration and memory. Make a family journal for the holiday and write in it every day. Talk about stories, books and TV shows. Don’t just let them be passively absorbed. Discuss what happened. Why? What else might have happened?

Grades 4 to 6

Work on planning. It is often hard for kids to master the Day Planner while they are at school. Use it every day to plan family activities such as feeding the cat, walking the dog, putting up the Christmas tree, buying a present for Aunt Millie, going skating and so on. Make it part of your life and make it fun.

Writing is often a problem for this age group. The family journal is often a hit here too. Write in it every day. Describe the holiday fun and activity. Encourage reading by purchasing magazines. Choose specific activity magazines that match the interests of your child – skiing, history, cats and so on.

No pressure but lots of attention and encouragement.

Grades 7 to 8

If exams or tests are planned for January, then use the same strategy as for high school students. Again, focus on Day Planners. Make sure that they are written in every day. Use them to prioritize activities and plan events.

Plan TV viewing. Try to get as many history and nature specials as you can, then discuss them — go to the library or use the Internet to do more research on these subjects. If you just watch these programs and then do something else, your kids will see that remaining passive is okay.

Play strategy board games, such as chess, Clue, Risk and so on. Games that are competitive and yet require thinking are the best.

Don’t forget to plan activities and have fun!

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