Here we are. Months into COVID and quarantine.
I don’t know about you, but I definitely did not think it was going to last this long!
When I find myself in a situation where there are many unknowns and uncertainty, I try to do to two things :
- Focus on the positives
- Identify what I can control in the situation!
This summer, after we finished online learning for school, I wanted to find a way to keep up the skills my kids learned last year. What my kids learn and experience is something I COULD control – so I found some recourses and strategies and implemented them during the last couple of months.
If you are a parent, I’m sure many of you are in the same boat as me : a stage of unknowns and uncertainly for our kids’ school and education in the fall. Here in AZ, things are opening up first remotely for a few weeks and then are supposedly opening up in-person around Labor Day (if it’s safe to do so.) But who knows, right??
Although summer is coming to a close, I wanted to share these strategies and resources that worked really well for us over the summer so that you can use them now – or later in any way that works for you. Maybe your kids are going back to in-person school but need some extra support in catching up on lost learning. Or maybe your kids will be homeschooled or use distance learning and these can be additional resources to use at home. Either way, I think we can all agree that flexibility, adapting, and thinking outside of the norm will be needed in the months ahead!
To start, I wanted to give you some tips on how I made “summer learning” happen in our home these past couple of months
1. Pick small skills to focus on – don’t try to do everything
Rather than thinking I needed to do this whole summer-school type of thing, I decided to just think about what specific areas and skills that I wanted my kids to learn or improve upon. This way, I didn’t feel as overwhelmed and felt that if I could accomplish something in these areas with them – then I would consider it a success.
For Reese, I decided 3 areas of focus for summer learning and practice were :
- to enjoy reading
- to learn her multiplication times tables
For Paige, I decided the 2 areas of focus were :
- letters and numbers practice (sounds and recognition)
- beginning sight words
2. Think outside of “traditional” subjects
For both of the kids, I also wanted to focus on introducing social and emotional topics like skin color, race, body image and consent (how our bodies are our own and keeping ourselves safe.) These are admittedly topics that I had never explicitly taught my girls, so I felt that this summer was a great opportunity to spend time doing so. Of course, I wasn’t going to teach them everything there is to know about these topics – because quite frankly I think I still have things I need to learn about race and body image, too! But anything would be better than nothing so I simply started and explore these together. You can find some of the books I bought to help me in the links below.
3. Use a checklist or a flexible routine to keep things consistent
My kids, especially Reese, do really well with checklists. She likes to know what is expected of her and she feels proud and accomplished when she can check off a list (confidence boost!) She actually makes checklists for herself when she’s planning her weekend activities or when she has an event or project. It’s pretty cute!
Knowing this, I made a summer checklist for both Reese and Paige for their “summer school” at home. I have a home laminator (one of the best purchases EVER! Click here for the one we have) and I have them use a dry erase to check it off each day.
FAVORITE RESOURCES AND PRODUCTS
Here is a list of helpful resources and products that we used this summer. If any of these topics are areas that you want to work on with your kids I highly recommend them. I will definitely continue using them after school starts!
You guys. This has been one of the highlights of the summer as far as learning goes with my kids! Reese has memorized so many math facts this way, and the best part is that PAIGE is now learning, too, because she listens in! It’s so funny (and awesome!) to have our four year old now reciting multiplication facts along with her big sister.
A teacher friend of mine recommended using graphic novels (read : illustrated, comic-like books) to get your kid interested in and motivated to read. Her kids are voracious readers, so I took her suggestion! This summer Reese devoured all of Raina Telgemier’s remakes of The Babysitters Club and other books like Smile, Sisters, and Guts. Once she was done with all those books, she moved on to the regular novels of the Babysitters Club (I found an Etsy seller that was selling all of the old, classic ones I read as a kid that were now considered “vintage!”) So this strategy totally worked – Reese now calls herself a “bookworm” and it makes me so happy to see her reading!
I really liked these particular books because they were a bit more appropriate with words and topics than some other series of graphic novels out there.
MULTIPLICATION PRACTICE GAME
This hand-held multiplication practice device lets kids practice specific times tables on level 1 or mix them up and practice all of them on level 2 . Also, your kid can just go on it and do it themselves (no need for you to flip through flashcards with them! ) Plus, having it be an electronic game makes it more fun and appealing than paper flashcards.
Math can be an abstract concept for young learners, so having tactile items that they can touch and manipulate to represent math as a visual can be really helpful. I bought this set for Paige from Amazon that can also be played in a few ways as a game. It also comes in different animals and colors, too. The girls also like to use the little puppies as little dominoes and line them up. Hey, whatever keeps them occupied, right?? LOL!
One tip I learned when I taught first grade was to set a timer and let kids play with the manipulatives first for a minute or so and then go on to the learning part. That gives them permission and time get out their wiggles and satisfy their desire to just play with them first so they can pay attention a little better afterwards.
These are the cutest little “cookies” to practice letter recognition, putting letters in order, and CVC words. You can play different games with them, too.
WEIRD BUT TRUE ON DISNEY + NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
This is a win-win for parents and kids alike : they get to watch a show, and you get to feel good about it because they actually learn some stuff! This show, Weird But True, is based on the book series and streams on Disney+ and you can also check out their website for more videos and fun science facts that kids love. Watching an episode is on their checklist, which makes it feel intentional and less like they are just getting some random screentime.
Books are an amazing way to introduce different topics with kids – especially those topics that feel particularly big or heavy to bring up. I cannot say enough good things about this series called “A Kids Book About.” They are well-written and well-designed, and explore important life topics like anxiety, voting, empathy, divorce, mindfulness, shame, bullying, gratitude, etc. Basically, think about every topic you have struggled with or wish you would have known more about growing up – there’s a book about it. We bought the ones about racism, failure, and body image to start. And I will be getting more.
I think they’re a little old for Paige to understand, but listening along is exposure, which is still a good thing. I also had Maddix read one of these to the girls, which was my way of getting our teen to get involved in learning about these concepts, too 😉
MORE BOOKS ABOUT SKIN COLOR, RACE, AND PERSONAL BOUNDARIES
I listened to a few podcasts by black educators that recommended these two books to create dialogue about skin tone and race with your kids. One thing they stressed was important to teach was the concept of melanin.
The Color of Us (which I mentioned in my “July Faves and Finds” monthly email) compared skin tones to things like cinnamon, toast, honey, peanut butter, chocolate, etc. To make that more concrete, I pulled out these ingredients from our kitchen and the girls and I compared and talked about all the different, interesting, and beautiful ranges of colors our skin can be.
All the Colors We Are teaches about melanin production as the simple reason for the variation in skin tones. Our melanin depends on where our ancestors came from, and that racial groups closer to the equator and in hotter areas naturally had more melanin in their skin. It shows maps so kids can see this concept visually.
Asian Americans Who Inspire Us is an important book for our family because my kids are a quarter Japanese. Although I have not experienced the racism and inequalities that we are seeing in the media today, I have experienced discrimination and prejudice as an Asian American or being “other.” And this year, Reese experienced it at school, too – and it really hurt her little heart. So I have made an effort to build up this side of our family’s identity and my kids’ heritage, and I’m so glad for books like this that help me do that.
No Means No! My kids already know about personal boundaries and consent from conversations and teaching them what to do in certain scenarios. But this book helped to reinforce what we’ve talked about in a visual and in words that speak on their level.
A GIANT ROLL OF PAPER
When all else fails, grab a giant roll of paper (this one above is painter’s paper from Home Depot.) There’s something about lying on the ground and drawing on giant paper that makes it more fun (and attention-holding!) for kids. Use it when you need a few minutes to yourself! 😉
Good luck, mamas! I’m rooting for you, you can do this!