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School's Out: One Teacher's Take on What to Do With Kids

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At the end of every school year, I am often faced with the same questions from parents: What can I do with my children during the summer holiday? What kind of extra work can I provide for them and what type of programs should I sign them up for?

Although I understand and can appreciate why parents want to keep their children academically engaged over the summer months, I rarely prescribe a structured "summer package" of activities.

Learning, particularly over the holidays, should happen spontaneously and naturally. Ideally it should be a situation where the child is intrinsically motivated to learn something new or review concepts learned during the school year.

I suggest that parents tap into their children's interests and encourage them to explore what inspires them most. As a result, the child will pursue a subject with genuine interest less the pressure of an overloaded school year schedule.

Here are some tips to keep children motivated, busy, and hopefully inspired this summer:

1. Make it a habit to read.
It really doesn't matter what your child is reading as long as he or she is engaged and practicing literacy skills. Let your child take the lead in this area. Remember, they are in school for 10 months of the year where a teacher is guiding their learning; so during the summer holidays, let your child self-guide his or her own learning. Make time to read with your child and base the book selection on your child's interests.

2. Keep a personal journal.
Journal writing is the most efficient way a child can develop writing skills. Let your child pick out a journal, decorate it if he or she chooses and make it a daily habit to write something of any length in the journal. The idea is that each day your child can reflect on the day or a special event in any type of written format; a poem, a poster, top 10 lists, a comic strip, an illustration, a mind map, etc.

Do not get caught up in technicalities such as spelling. Occasionally, ask your child to share an entry with you or another adult. Edit the work together by looking up words in the dictionary, playing with different sentence structures, highlighting words and finding new words in a thesaurus as alternatives. Focus on the positive. Don't be surprised if they become completely obsessed and territorial with their journal -- let them own this little project!

3. Expose your child to current events.
There is a misconception that kids are too young to learn about world issues. The reality is that students love to learn about current events and are probably already aware of trends and major news headlines.

By exposing children, you may start a new and interesting conversation that will take direction based on your child's interests -- be it sports, geography, arts or sciences. There are many sources online that can open your child's eyes to interesting global issues and those that enable your child to interact with the articles and editors resonate particularly well.

4. Don't over-schedule.
It's summer time. Let your children relax and enjoy their time away from school. Why not leave some of the summer planning to your children? Ask them to think about local trips that you could do together (e.g. museums, parks, exploring farmers markets). You will be surprised with the range of activities they will come up with!

In a nutshell, my main piece of advice to parents this summer is to let your child sit back, relax and lead their own learning. I promise, you won't regret it!


Zein Odeh is currently the Junior School English Curriculum Coordinator at Toronto
French School and Educational Consultant for GoGoNews, an online kids newspaper.

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