Like many families, we find ourselves stuck in the same summertime routines. The kids all sleep in, head to the pool or the park in the afternoons, and perhaps spend a few days at the beach soaking up the summer sun. As parents, we all know the importance of keeping our children’s minds working over the summer so the transition back to school in the fall is smooth.
But no one wants to sit with their child at the kitchen table and complete workbooks. We want to get out and have fun! So what can a parent do to bridge their child’s learning over the summer without creating boredom? The answer is fairly simple. Expand their background knowledge.
What is background knowledge, and why is it so important? Simply put, the more a child knows, ideally through personal experiences, the easier it is for them to learn and make way for new knowledge. Making associations with even the smallest of details can make all the difference in the world when learning new things.
On a trip to Belize several years ago, my teenage daughter was (not so) thrilled to join us in a side trip to see some Mayan ruins. Once there, however, her mood lightened, and she seemed to enjoy taking in the sites. It wasn’t until she returned to school the following week, however, that the true benefit of this experience came to fruition. She came home one day, quite excited about a topic she was studying in history … the Mayan civilization! As she sat in class and learned of the significance of the pyramid shaped temples, she was able to draw upon her experiences of actually climbing to the top of one. Her background knowledge allowed for easier learning of new information.
Does one need to travel to Belize to have an “ah-ha” learning moment? Of course not! It can be quite simple actually. Taking your child on a drive into the countryside and pointing out the silos, barns and farm animals all contribute to this background knowledge. A drive into DC, noting the columns on the Lincoln Memorial will be of great benefit when, in third grade, they learn about Greek and Roman architecture. Watching a Chinese New Year’s parade in Chinatown will be advantageous for when they learn about Ancient China in second grade. Taking a quick jaunt up to Antietam or Gettysburg will be invaluable when they study U.S. History in middle school. Even a walk in the woods, pointing out the details in nature, will open their minds to new things.
It is the experiences, such as these, that contribute to learning. Can one obtain these experiences through reading a textbook or watching a video? Maybe, to a degree. But nothing beats real-life experiences. The senses of sight, smell, touch, sound and even taste all contribute to the learning experience. These are all things that cannot be satisfied with words in a textbook, or visual stimulus in a video, or on an iPad screen. Strive for variety and simplicity in the experience, rather than complexity or expense. It will be so much fun your child will never know they are learning!
So make a commitment to provide at least one significant experience for your child each week this summer. This can be anything from a visit to the museum, to a walk in the woods, to a road trip up the Eastern Seaboard. The experiences your child has will enrich their education and their lives for years to come!
Jill Turgeon of Round Hill represents the Blue Ridge district on the Loudoun County School Board, and is co-owner/director of IndED Academy.