A Teacher’s Advice: How to Keep Your Children Learning All Summer

By Guest Blogger Kelly Nichols

Our world is fast-paced and ever-changing. While that is often positive and productive, moving forward rapidly can leave holes in us as people (especially in young people). As an elementary school teacher, I see children who possess such great knowledge of new ideas but seem to have missed the knowledge that used to come naturally in childhood. When summer arrives, with it’s long days, I have a few suggestions that might begin to help remedy the situation.

Creativity. More and more I see children who either lack creativity or need reinforcement that their ideas are “okay”. It is difficult to come up with an original idea. To this I say, “Let them be bored.” I implore you, don’t feel their schedules with camps, play dates, or activity after activity. While none of that is bad, too much of it could be harmful.  As the proverb says, necessity is the mother of invention. Unplanned time and a little boredom will lead to creation of activities. When your child reaches the point of boredom, don’t fill the space, don’t offer options or suggestions, give them the gift of having time to think and be creative so the “boredom” will end. Proof of this is one rainy fall, my class had so much indoor recess they ran out of things to do. They began to clean our classroom. Gradually, this evolved into a “business” where my students would volunteer to clean any classroom when their schedule allowed. The schedule filled quickly and Cleaning Squad 406 was born!

“Screen Time”. It can be so addicting. And I am sure some days, you will just need some peace and quiet. In moderation, nothing is wrong with that. But I learned a valuable lesson this year. One of my most technologically obsessed students couldn’t stop or change activities when he was using the computer. He tried, he really did. So as a consequence, I banned him from the computer for three days. The ban worked. A little later he said to me, “I never knew how boring the computer was until you banned me. Now I see there is so much else to do that is not boring.” “Screens” also influence the above. It zaps creativity out of children.

Wait time. A kindergarten teacher explained  to me earlier this year her concern. She mentioned that children have no idea how to wait for their turn, the end of directions, etc. In third grade, we have exactly the same issues. Children begin a conversation with me while I am already in the middle of one with another student. The kindergarten teacher made a point that children rarely wait at all. Teach them to do that. When you are talking to an adult, have them wait instead of interrupt. While waiting in the checkout line, at the doctor, for a movie to begin, be a role model. They don’t need to be entertained. They need to learn to wait. And whatever you do, please don’t hand over your phone just to pacify them. They don’t “have” to play a game. They can learn to be patient and wait. Those skills are essential for success.in society.

Reading is a life skill. Find time to model for your children that reading is not just something to do in school. Read a novel together; a chapter a night. Let your child see you read something you enjoy. Have a family reading time where everyone hangs together and reads. Don’t be too concerned with the “level” of what’s being read, just read, read, read. Visit the library. E-books are great (and convenient) but there is something about being to browse and borrow. Talk about what you are reading. If something stands out to you, tell your family about it. Being a role model will open the door for your child to see reading for what it really is; a life skill.

Hand out responsibilities. As your child is able, ask him/her to do needed tasks around your home. I find that when students take part in the upkeep of our classroom, they take pride in work well done. I have students file papers, check the closet to be sure things are neat, take care of an emergency spill, straighten the library, stack chairs, etc… Honestly, sometimes it may take longer this way and it probably won’t be done quite like I want it to, but those are small prices to pay for showing children their hard work is valuable and appreciated. Both great lessons to learn at early ages.

Communicate.  As technology has advanced, our communication skills have significantly deteriorated. This is obvious in daily interactions with children. This year a student in my class turned in a paper in which all “I”s were not capitalized. When I asked him about it, he thought it would happen by itself. (autocorrect?). Children are adept at texting, short-cuts, and “talking” while using computers simultaneously. What we miss is face-to-face conversation, listening, looking each other in the eye, and waiting to speak until the other person has finished. Children often miss the chance to say kind things and instead say whatever comes out. Pausing before speaking is a forgotten skill.

The phone call. While cell phones are the norm, there remains some phone etiquette everyone needs to learn. I have a phone in my classroom for which I always employ a “receptionist”. The receptionists job is to answer the phone, “Thank you for calling Ms. Nichols’ room, how may I help you?”, take messages, or do whatever is required. One such receptionist responded to the question, “Is Ms. Nichols there?” with “Yes” and a hang up. I’ve gotten messages that “somebody” needs my help or “someone” needs to check out now. Occasionally, I ask students to call their own homes if there is a question, change in scheduled activity, etc. One incident this year, a well-mannered student called his mother and started talking. She informed me later that she wasn’t certain who is was at first (Who would expect that? The phone isn’t the best) when he just chatted away. She realized he rarely made a phone call and was ready to practice. Please also teach your children to DIAL a number (not a cell phone necessity but a life lesson).

Cleaning. Students in my class have responsibilities to clean certain parts of the room. We switch throughout the year for equity. Confession: it is never done like I would do it. But, it gives each child ownership of the space we occupy eight hours a day. Occasionally they come up with better ways to do something. I am all in because I know they have taken ownership! Another teacher, a custodian, and I watched two classes of children walk by a tray in the cafeteria that had fallen out of the shelf where the kids are supposed to place them. One lone boy bent over and picked it up. The three of us cheered him on! How could they miss the tray? Everyone had to walk right around it. Children should be able to notice things out of place and return it to where they belong.

Explore Nature. My students love to go outside and watch the ants build hills. The love to dog in the dirt. They love to run in the high weeds. This exploration is fun. Allowing nature to be a learning space nurtures a love of outdoors. It  allows children to see live animals, plants growing, etc. This is also another perfect space for creativity to develop (I remember a fallen tree that became a fort, a small creek that became our “swimming hole”,hideouts we created, etc). Nature is an amazing place to explore!

Advancement is fabulous. Let it not be at the cost of the necessities.


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