As we enter into summer, one question I am frequently asked by parents is : ‘What can I be working on so that my child continues to progress over the summer?’ If your child has had a difficult school year, having two full months with no formal academic activities can certainly cause worry. Looking for answers, and at times not finding much, it can seem like there’s not much for parents to do but enroll kids in tutoring, or if possible a skill building workshop or class, or resort to working with their kids on their own with worksheets and materials from their child’s teachers – not always a fun endeavor when kids want to be outside with peers or doing something non-academic related.
My number one recommendation to these types of requests (while keeping in mind that every child is an individual and will require individualized recommendations)? READING. Yes. Regardless of your child’s age, reading ability, level, and grade, the more time your child reads, the better. Reading, and if your child is struggling with reading, reading with your child, is simply the strongest recommendation I can offer to help your child succeed academically. 20 minutes every day. That’s the recommendation. Not a workbook. Not a program, not a technique, not a workshop. Read with your child. 20 minutes, everyday. You don’t need to learn ‘how to teach your child to read’. You don’t even need really great reading skills ! Just read with your kids. 20 minutes. Everyday. Here’s why:
In the world of education, 20 minutes a day is a magic number regarding reading. This is connected to a famous study conducted in 1987 by Nagy and Herman. The study examined how much time students spent reading, how many words read, and then performance on standardized tests measuring reading achievement. I probably don’t need to tell you; students who spend 20 minutes a day reading scored at the 90th percentile on tests measuring reading achievement. Those in the study that spent 5 minutes reading? Scored in the 5oth percentile. That’s a big difference.
Thanks to Pinterest and the internet, type in ‘why your child can’t skip reading tonight’ and the visuals that accompany this statistic will astound. But here is the logic: one student, Amy, reads 20 minutes a night, 5 nights a week. In one week, that’s 100 minutes of reading; in one month, 400 minutes; one school year, 3600 minutes; and by the end of the sixth grade – 21,600 minutes of reading! Her friend, Mark, reads only 4 minutes a night, or not at all. In one week, that’s 20 minutes of reading; in one month, 80 minutes; one school year, 720 minutes; and by the end of the sixth grade – 4320 minutes of reading.
Is your child more of an Amy (by the end of the sixth grade, has read 21,600 minutes or 60 days) or more of a Mark (by the end of the sixth grade, 4320 minutes or 12 school days)? Given that the fluency (how fast or slow a student reads) can vary, the number words read might be somewhat different, but it’s estimated that Amy would have read 1.8 million words, and Mark over 282,00o words.
It’s such a dramatic difference, I myself had to look at that math twice just to be sure it wasn’t a trick.
Now ask yourself, who is the better reader? Who would you expect to know more? And so on…..
So this summer, let yourself and your student truly relax and enjoy some reading! In the long run, it might be the best thing you can do to help your child’s school achievement for next year.
You can hear the kids now, “I’m boooooorrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeddddddd.” And instantly, your anxiety levels begin to rise. Wouldn’t it be great if our kids came home from the end of the school year and built cocoons for 2.5 months before emerging as beautiful, colorful, next graders? Instead, they come home and any semblance of sanity we had begins to drift away when that last day of “school” (aka the 90 minute “day” that proves someone in the district scheduling office needs a best friend named Basket of Chocolate covered Fruit) ends.
So how do you have a sane summer with a full household? Here are a few ideas that have helped me and that I hope will help you.
- Be aware of kids’ needs to simply decompress..
School has been a big year for them whether it’s their kindergarten or senior year. They may want to veg out and do nothing (teens) or they may have anxious excess energy to burn just because (elementary school). Our role as parents it to observe what our kids need and provide them access to meeting their need.
- Learn how your kid decompresses.
Depending on their age and developmental stage, your child’s need for stimulation will vary. As parents, we are responsible to help meet their stimulation needs. My favorite resource for understanding the energy level of my kids is “Fire Child, Water Child” which I’ve written about here– it’s one of the best holistic approaches to attention and activity challenges in the school and family setting. I know that I have an earth child and a wood/fire child. I’m a water child and each of our elements feed into and feed off of each other. Learning about my kids’ needs and how it impacts my own needs helps me help them engage and relax. Teaching our kids what balance is will help them value it as part of a healthy life style.
- Involve the family!
I’ve found that the best way to do this is to discover an activity that each of my kids might like and then as a family, work together on the activity. This way each individual person gets something that’s just for them and the family gets the experience of creating something for their loved one. Last summer, we made Lego Calm Down jars – you can find the information here – and my kids enjoyed the hours we spent talking about the activity, getting supplies for the activity, completing the activity and sharing the results with our friends. Involving your kids in the process from start to finish will take a bit longer than if you just did it yourself, however, this is actually part of disciplining your kid without drama. Discipline them to become a certain kind of person because of the relationship they have with you. This relationship is built in the activities you complete together just as much as the teaching and instructing we do in moments.
- Don’t forget about the parents!
One thing I’ve worked on as a parent is understanding that my needs are as valid as my kids’ needs. My regulation is as important and necessary as their regulation. So when I do activities with them, I have them create activities with me too. I enjoy coloring and painting, so I have an easel for myself and each of my kids in our basement and we spend time painting. We each have our own coloring books and pencils, so we spend time coloring. When parents are balanced, we can teach our kids about balance.
- When all else fails – and there will be those days – go for what’s easy.
My other go-to, when I’m not in my calm, regulated, trying to be Zen Mom mode is right here. It will give you about 45 minutes of peace until you can either find an escape or the strength to try again.
Have a Happy & Sane Summer!