How to Keep Young Minds Active Outside the Classroom
The bell rings for the last time this school year, and just like that, summer break begins. For many, it’s perceived as a time for kids to kick back, relax and enjoy the break from the educational environment. But should the act of learning be left behind in the classrooms during the summer months?
Learning is inevitable and recurring in life. We experience it in different phases as we grow. When it comes to education, it is not just up to the teachers and schools to help children and young adults learn the essentials they need. For this reason, learning should never stop, even during the summer breaks. That’s why Harrisburg Magazine sat down with three educators, each instructing different age levels. These educators remind us of what skills each age group should work on strengthening, and they offer fun and creative tips on how to keep kids’ minds active over the summer months.
“They are only young once, and these years will impact the adult they become one day.”
This reminder comes from Crystal Jamison, lead teacher at Community Action Partnership of Lancaster Head Start. Jamison knows how crucial her role is in the lives of the children she teaches. She sparks the beginning of an educational journey that children will go on throughout their schooling and beyond. But for children this young, it is more than just learning about mathematics, history and science. Preschool learning needs to incorporate the adaptation of social skills that children will carry with them into adulthood.
“During the ages of 3 to 5 years old, children grow and change at different rates,” explains Jamison. “It’s important to make sure we teach what is developmentally appropriate. Head Start focuses a lot on social and problem-solving skills because, in life, if we do not have effective social and problem-solving skills, it will be very difficult to focus on reading, writing and mathematics, as well as challenging to navigate through life in the future.”
Many skills are incorporated into learning each day at Head Start, including social/emotional, physical, language, Spanish- and English-language, cognitive, literacy and mathematics acquisition. These years are vitally important to a child’s developing mind, and therefore learning should not stop when the children leave the classroom. It should continue at home and can be fun as well as educational.
Preschool Summer Learning Tips
• Take a trip to the Lancaster Science Factory, The Whitaker Center,Turkey Hill Experience or the Hands on House.
• Young children are capable of helping with laundry. Use several laundry baskets or other containers labeled with colors, and ask your child to try to match the clothes to the colors on the basket.
• You could go on a letter and shape hunt, looking for certain letters on street signs or finding shapes in your neighborhood.
• Fill a Ziploc baggie with hair gel. Seal the baggie, and tape the top of the bag to a foil pan. Place a letter, number or word under the baggie. Use your finger to trace the letter that is underneath the gel.
• As you make your weekly grocery list, allow your child to make their own along with you. They can draw pictures of the items and even cut pictures from newspapers or magazines.
The teenage years are said to be some of the most challenging. Children are transitioning into young adults. They are forced to test boundaries, push limits, face challenges and explore experiences to help them find out who they are destined to be.
Christopher Chyr, eighth-grade U.S. history teacher at Swatara Middle School, believes that middle-school students should be developing higher level academic reading, writing, speaking and creative-thinking skills as well as improving social skills and developing career readiness.
“I am a huge advocate of holistic education, which stimulates both the body and the mind,” says Chyr. “Middle-school students in their early teen years are going through a lot of physical changes in the body as puberty takes off and their brains start developing higher-order functioning abilities. It is very important to nurture that growth and development with both physical and mental stimulation.”
While the middle-school years are a time for exploration and independence, Chyr still encourages parental support and involvement through this blossoming phase of their child’s life.
“Make sure you spend quality time with your children, but also give them opportunities to explore a wide variety of experiences that will encourage them to grow and challenge themselves,” he says. “Teach them not to fear failure and that we all learn from our mistakes.”
The list of summer activities for preteens and teenagers can be endless. Chyr recommends many activities that include both mental and physical growth. Not only do his own children participate in many of his recommended summer activities, but he himself also practices these disciplines, including improv classes, which he finds extremely valuable to his personal growth.
Middle-School Summer Learning
• Middle-school students can benefit from various summer camps for sports and academic enrichment. Look for activities provided by local libraries, schools, universities, churches and other organizations.
• Dancing is a great activity where students learn individual and group dance routines, which help them develop physically and mentally while improving balance, flexibility and how to work with others effectively by performing a routine in unison.
• Studies have shown the benefits of taking a break from technology and interacting with nature. Take nature hikes, camping trips and join the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts.
• Improv classes teach so many valuable social skills. Kids can learn how to listen attentively to other people’s verbal and non-verbal forms of communication as well as reading the reactions from the audience while performing.
On to the stage of young adulthood and higher learning. College is commonly the first step into independence and freedom. While majors are chosen, and studies vary for each student, there are still the required core courses for each degree. One of these courses is English, which can just be an entry-level course or more advanced depending on the major. Sherry Roland-Washington, adjunct professor at Harrisburg Area Community College and Ashford University, knows the importance of strong reading and writing skills, which are used well beyond just the English courses and majors.
There are four key milestones that Roland-Washington says students should have prior to starting their collegiate journey.
“Know how to organize and compose a five-paragraph composition,” she says. “Be familiar with MLA and APA writing expectations. Practice interacting and annotating the text. And get organized by deciding if you are going to use a traditional binder, an electronic binder or other tools like Evernote.”
Along with the physical preparation, Roland-Washington recommends dedicating a lot of time to keeping the brain busy.
“Keep your mind actively engaged,” she says. “Just as we have to exercise to keep our bodies healthy, you have to exercise your mind. Staying engaged in activities that require you to think is one of the best ways to prepare for college. Students are expected to demonstrate their ability to think critically, read critically and write critically.”
College Summer Learning
• Incoming college students and current college students need to read. Pick up an interesting novel, and get lost in a book. Reading a variety of texts will assist the student’s writing-skill level.
• Refresh your knowledge of literary devices. Students are expected to have some knowledge of how to use a variety of literary devices to enhance their writing. Similes, metaphors and personification are some of the common literary devices we interact with on a daily basis. These literary elements exist in commercials, songs and our general conversations. Analyzing the lyrics of a favorite song is a great way to enhance a skill set. It may be surprising how often Drake and Jay Z use similes, metaphors and hyperboles effectively.
• A great way to prepare for college is to take a free course with one of the top universities on a platform called Open Sources. These course options are a great way to begin your collegiate career.