The 2020-2021 school year will be remembered as one of the weirdest for Canadian students, with schools and classrooms opening and reopening in accordance with public health restrictions. As though living through a pandemic wasn’t stressful enough already, students of all ages had to contend with changing learning environments, physical distancing and tragic news headlines from Canada and around the world. For many students, keeping up with curriculum and learning expectations has been challenging, to say the least.
The impact of the pandemic on learning will likely need to be studied well into the future. Interruptions to learning were nearly universal since the onset of the pandemic in spring 2020, with classes halted as teachers and students adjusted to emergency learning. The new school year showed that many parents were unwilling to risk sending their kids to school, with many families choosing a fully online version. Other students learned in a traditional, in-person classroom environment, though they too likely ended up online as the rate of COVID infection escalated.
So where does this strange and unstable year leave our children this summer? Many parents and guardians who have watched their kids struggle in school this year know that their learning, numeracy, and literacy skills need work. But how do you get kids to focus on learning after a school year like this? Why is it so important? Let’s take a closer look at some of the best reasons to keep your child learning all summer, and the best strategies for motivating your child.
Want to keep your child reading and writing over the summer? Read our article on maintaining literacy over the summer.
Summer Learning Loss and Pandemic Learning
The interruptions to school caused by the pandemic, combined with the phenomena of summer learning loss, make the maintenance of literacy and numeracy skills more important all summer long.
Summer learning loss, or “summer slide” is the general consensus that summer vacation is a time where students forget what they have learned over the previous year. Research indicates that summer learning loss equals about 1-2 months of learning in reading and 1-3 months of learning in math. Evidence shows that parents and schools can take steps to reduce the summer slide by encouraging students to stay engaged in learning throughout the summer, so that students can maintain and improve their knowledge.
Most Canadian teachers would probably agree that though the last year and a half was generally successful - there will be negative impacts to student learning. Indeed, students may have “slid” even further than they would over the summer thanks to a learning environment in which kids could freely indulge in all the distractions of the internet, easily misunderstand or miss out on teaching due to the complications of an online format new to both teachers and students, or simply feel disempowered to self-advocate. It will take months of observation in a regular in-person environment to understand exactly what the impacts are of the pandemic - while some children thrived, there will surely be kids that regressed.
Whatever the case may be, it is clear that kids can only benefit with summer learning, despite parents/guardians’ preferences to let their kids have a full summer of play away from the indoors. Thankfully, with a little planning and investment from their families, kids can engage in both classic summer fun and the work needed to counteract summer slide and pandemic schooling. Let’s start with social and emotional development.
Start with Social and Emotional Development
In addition to academic learning losses, Canadian students may have also lost valuable opportunities for social and emotional learning. School is not just a place where kids learn curriculum - it is a place where kids make lifelong friendships, practice social skills, develop teamwork and leadership skills, and engage in creative expression. From running for school prime minister to being captain of the basketball team, school helps us develop those soft skills that serve us well into adult careers and endeavours. And let’s not forget the major milestones that occurred in schools - graduations, proms, dances, and field trips are events that most adults reflect fondly on when they think back on their education. Even daily events as simple a recess can be the first moments a child experiences some degree of independence.
With all of these opportunities for social and emotional development noticeably absent in the last year, parents should not feel surprised if they feel worried about the mental health of their kids. Without a healthy mind and social life, it can be hard to focus on academics. Here are a few of our top tips for supporting the social and emotional health of kids this year.
Summer is here and the pandemic school year is over. Find out how to keep your kids learning through outdoor learning.
Get Professional Help
Seeking professional guidance from a family doctor, therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist is critical if you notice your child has symptoms of anxiety or depression. It has been reported that an increasing amount of parents this year have sought help for despondent children who have spent way too long indoors, staring and screens, and cut off from extracurricular activities. Start by visiting your family doctor for a referral, and make sure you are aware of all the best options and strategies for care.
Check-in with Your Kids Regularly
Talking with your kids regularly about school, friends, and how your kids are feeling every day is a simple but underestimated strategy for gauging your child’s mental health and day-to-day lives. A quick chat over dinner, an after dinner walk, or even a car ride can lead to important conversations that tell you plenty about how your kids are doing. So much is happening on the internet, and while we don’t actually see those interactions they are just as real and impactful as the real life scenario. If you have younger kids that don’t engage in online social media, then ask them what they would like to do more of - visiting friends, cousins, joining a safe game on the internet with friends, or even virtual playdates might make them feel less social isolated.
Help Your Child Build an Active Social Life
As we have already mentioned, many interactions and friendships have been interrupted or completely stopped during the pandemic. Making new social connections is so important for kids, not to mention a fun and meaningful part of every child’s life. When we connect with others, we feel invigorated and happy, supporting our mental health.
Parents and guardians of young kids play a key role in their kids’ social lives, and are essential to helping their kids develop social skills in the absence of in-person schools. While many parents may have the contact info for kids to engage in virtual or outdoor playdates, another solution might be to check out in-person summer camps or one-day workshops where kids can make new friends.
Why Summer Math Learning is So Important
While staying aware of your kids social and emotional development, you can also focus on much needed summer learning for your kids to avoid the summer slide or summer ‘brain drain’, particularly in math.
Math learning over summer can support your child in maintaining the numeracy skills they will need to be successful in the future: addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts are most useful when we can perform those operations mentally. For older kids, practice calculating things like perimeter, surface area, volume, circumference, as well as quadratic equations and other algebraic expressions can make a big difference in readiness for middle or high school. Not only will a study of math help your child for next year, but it will add some structure to your child’s summer days. Grab a summer math workbook, like Jump Math, Math Smarts, or Brain Quest, or any other math workbook that aligns with your child’s grade level, and set daily goals when the kids aren’t on vacation or at camps. It’s a great way to start the morning, or during the slow hours of the afternoon - establish a routine as soon as you can, and eventually it will become a normal part of the day. Of course, don’t forget to reward your child with a streak of good work - a favourite meal, a trip to the pool, a video game, are a few easy easy to celebrate a job well done.
If pushing independent study sounds like too much, consider getting your child into a math camp. While summer school can feel like a drag, camps are filled with hands-on activities, games, and small group interactions that actually make learning fun. There are no grades, so kids don’t have to worry about the pressure of performing. Many camps offer coding workshops where kids can be creative with technology while still engaging with curriculum based content. Coding camps are also offered remotely, which can be helpful if you prefer your kids to stay at home or you live in an area with less access to camps.
What about Outdoor Education?
Parents and guardians that want to see their kids off the screen should consider outdoor education as a way of developing and practicing communication skills, physical activity, and geographical knowledge. Outdoor learning is also fantastic for getting kids to interact with others in a screen-free classroom.
What is outdoor education, or outdoor ed? Outdoor ed is the knowledge, skills, and behaviours you attain while engaging with a natural, outdoor environment. Kids learn the connectedness of living things, and learn new things through experiential lessons.
There are various ways you can engage your kids in outdoor ed, and you don’t have to have access to a glamorous Muskoka cottage or an Okanagan lake. You can go as near as your local ravine or park, drive out to a provincial or national park, book a sleepover camp, or simply head down to your home backyard or garden. Fresh air and sunshine are everywhere, and you can do plenty of activities on your own to acquaint your child more closely with the natural world.
Remember the Outdoor Essentials
Before starting any outdoor ed experience it’s important to remember the essentials - sunblock, bug spray, and the appropriate clothing are needed to make any outdoor time safe. Lightweight long sleeves and pants can be helpful for travelling to any area prone to ticks and mosquitoes, and hiking shoes or heavier runners for time on the trails. Water activities should of course be supervised and involve life jackets for emergent swimmers, and water bottles and snacks to keep hydrated and energized.
Use Local Surroundings
In a pandemic, it's not a bad idea to stay close to home or within Canada. For outdoor ed, you don’t have to go further than a local or city park: bugs, flowers, and other wildlife are literally in your own backyard. If you are lucky enough to have a patio or yard, start a mini vegetable garden your kids can take care of with a bag of soil, some seeds, and some planters. You can also take action in your community garden, or drop some wildflower seeds in a vacant area and see what happens.
Hiking is one of the best ways to interpret and explore nature, and Canada has some of the most beautiful trails in the world. Get some spectacular mountain views in British Columbia or Alberta, or explore the tranquil lakes of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, or Ontario. We love Algonquin park - you may even see a Moose! Eastern Canada also has incredibly charming coastal landscapes: you’ll be hard pressed to choose just one.
Don’t forget the sanitizer and the wipes - park restrooms are notoriously rustic!
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Literacy skills are also another important area of learning for your child to maintain over the summer: students use these skills every day, not only in Language Arts but in Science, Geography, History, and Math. Literacy skills include speaking, reading, writing, and media creation, skills we use nearly every day in our adult lives. We read constantly, from contracts to internet articles to ingredients, and consume videos, lectures, and course materials to learn. Critical and digital literacy is also key in today’s information age, where nearly everything is communicated or transacted in an online environment. Not being able to question and evaluate digital media can result in major consequences, from becoming an victim of schemes to being influenced negatively by different political groups. When kids have strong literacy skills, their academic performance and ability to navigate the world will be strong.
Lastly, let’s not forget that English credits are prerequisite to entering nearly every university and dozens of college and university programs. Prioritizing literacy can open up doors to new pathways and careers, making the investment in learning incredibly worthwhile.
Supporting Your Child’s Literacy this Summer
Do you have a reluctant reader at home? Why not try audiobooks - thousands of titles exist on audio on apps like Audible, Libby, Scribd, and Hoopla, where kids can hear their new and favourite fiction, or a novel they are learning in school, quickly and easily. Perfect for walking or listening to while driving, audiobooks take reading to the next level while also working those listening skills.
Summer School or Camp
Summer camps and schools with a focus on literacy are popular for families where child care or new activities are needed. Many day camps or summer schools incorporate Language Arts study through fun, low risk activities - check out your local school board for some great, low budget options. Drama camps are wildly popular and will achieve the same goals of practicing oral communication, reading, and even media study, so do a quick search in your community for some options.
Visit Your Local Library or Bookstore Regularly
Sometimes regular summer trips to the bookstore or library can be the simplest and easiest way to get kids reading. Browsing books is endless fun, and kids can spend a whole afternoon figuring out which books to take home. Public libraries often have other activities prepared for kids, like robotics, lego, crafts, and book clubs. While more expensive, bookstores are also fun resources for literacy. Your child can pick up the latest book in their favourite series without joining a wait list, and parents can grab a coffee while picking up giftware or magazines.
Read our latest article on how to keep your child practicing math all summer long.
Hire a Summer Tutor
Do you feel exhausted already by the amount of planning you will have to do to prevent summer slide? Why not hire a summer tutor?
Summer tutors can focus on any area you wish your child to improve their skills in: specific areas of math, like number sense and algebra are popular, as are areas of literacy like writing. Whatever your child needs help the most, a tutor can support. A tutor can recommend resources for work, or you can choose your own workbooks and have your tutor work through them with your child. Many tutors are qualified teachers, and may be able to develop a program specifically for your child.
Tutors are also convenient and easy to find on sites like Superprof. They can meet you or your child online, a local library, or even in your own backyard at a time that works for your family. Check out Superprof for some local options today!