School's out for the summer, but that doesn't mean learning has to stop. In fact, learning absolutely shouldn't stop.
Schoolteachers and administrators say children who stay intellectually stimulated during the summer retain more of what they've learned and don't have to be retaught as much come fall. "Usually the whole first month they're back is review and catching up," said Peggy Lundberg, reading coordinator at Liberty Elementary.
Lundberg, who taught first grade for 17 years, said that, unless children — especially young children — go to the library and keep reading, they lose a lot of what they learned over the past year. She stresses summer reading programs, such as the Salt Lake City Public Library system's summer reading club for children and weekly activities at various library locations.
Other educators also emphasize reading as the most important "educational" summer activity.
JoAnn Neilson, president-elect of the Utah PTA, said parents should read with their children and make reading fun. "Whatever they choose to do, they have to read," Neilson said.
While reading together may work for younger children, older children aren't as anxious to sit down for story time. Ray Reutzel, director of the Emma Eccles Jones Center for Early Childhood Education at Utah State University, suggests recommending a book for an older child to read and then talking about it after both parent and child have finished it.
Reutzel said another way to get children reading is to get them interested in a book about a movie they've seen. When his family saw "Pearl Harbor," it sparked the interest of his children, who then read books and visited Web sites about the historical event.
He suggested parents get children involved in a personal research project about something they are interested in. "Kids are curious about stuff all the time."
Al Church, curriculum director for the Murray School District, said reading and going to the library are definitely important during the summer but that a lot of learning can be unstructured and fun. "I ask parents to look beyond the content-driven quiz-show curriculum," Church said. "There's much more to intelligence than retaining facts."
Children should expand their awareness in the arts and nature, as well as participate in physical activity, said Church. "These things do enrich a child's ability to handle what can be a tough school day."
He advises parents to let their children talk about what they really like to do and to do some in-depth focusing on what's interesting to them.
Church also suggested letting the community be the classroom during the summer. Have children study things that affect them, like the weather in the Salt Lake Valley. Before going on a vacation, have children learn about the destination. Before going to a cultural event like a play or opera, children can learn about the event's background or history.
Children can learn a lot by just walking around the neighborhood and asking questions about the things they see, said Church. There are also several places in the community where parents can turn for a more structured learning experience.
Daily activities that are fun can reinforce the learning that takes place in the classroom. Neilson suggests having children help in the kitchen, using their math by measuring things.
Reutzel said children tend to lose the most ground in mathematics, and working on simple building projects together can keep those math skills fresh.
Educator Dorothy Rich developed Summer Home Learning Recipes for the National Education Association to help parents keep academics alive during the summer. "It doesn't all have to come out of a textbook. What are the activities of everyday life that have within them the academics?"
Rich's recipes, on the Web at www.ed.gov/pubs/Recipes, include increasing a young child's vocabulary by teaching him the names of each item of clothing as he dresses and introducing older children to the newspaper, to keep reading skills sharp and learn about current events.
The University of Utah offers a variety of educational camps through its youth education program. From language to acting to first-aid, children of all ages can gain knowledge in something that interests them. The Children's Museum of Utah has exhibits on everything from Barbie to colors to Nine Mile Canyon. Both the Utah Museum of Natural History and the Utah Museum of Fine Arts have exhibits and programs for youths.
Programs and exhibits are hands-on, and they keep exploration, imagination and creativity going all year long, said Jamie Creola of the University of Utah's youth education program.
Also year-round are some schools in Utah. Principal Patti O'Keefe said Whittier School in the Salt Lake District went to the single-track year-round schedule to keep students from losing information during the long summer breaks.
O'Keefe said it's a great schedule for both students and staff because the teachers are more rested and have more time to alter their curriculum if needed. And students get a six-week summer break and two three-week breaks during the year.
Even with shorter breaks, if children are left to their own devices or set in front of the television, learning can dissipate, O'Keefe said. "The longer they're away from routine, the longer the re-learning time."
O'Keefe said there is a lot that parents can do to keep children learning, but it's not just for the summer. Out-of-school learning can go on all the time. "The non-school environment is a wonderful place for learning. Kids are trying to learn as much about life as they can."
On the Web:
Salt Lake City Public Library System: www.slcpl.lib.ut.us
University of Utah youth education: www.youth.utah.edu
Children's Museum of Utah: www.childmuseum.org
Dorothy Rich's summer home learning recipes: www.ed.gov/pubs/Recipes
Utah Museum of Natural History: www.umnh.utah.edu
Utah Museum of Fine Arts: www.utah.edu/umfa