By Scott Scanlon
It’s only been a few days since your kids finished the school year, but how many times have you already heard this?
Maybe you grew up in a household where the reply from your parents went something like, “It’s not my job to entertain you!” But you probably also understand that it will benefit you – and your children – if you can help them line up some interesting things to do this summer, things that will keep at least part of their brains tuned in to learning while they decompress from their more structured school lives.
“With changes going on in schools right now, there’s so much focus on academic skills – passing tests, meeting standards – and those things are important, but the whole child is important, as well,” said Mary McVee, director of the Center for Literacy and Reading Instruction at the University at Buffalo.
Summer can be a time to help develop a child’s physical, mental and spiritual health, McVee says, as well as fuel a healthy curiosity all the way to next school year. It can be hard to keep a kid away from the TV or video game console, but here are some things McVee and other educators encourage you to consider as you help build a more meaningful summer for your children.
1. Open their eyes: “An easy thing parents can do is make use of the resources at the public library,” said McVee, who has two teenage sons and a 10-year-old daughter. Our libraries are one of our best resources and oftentimes underused.” These days, with technology, “you don’t even have to go to the library, the library can come to you,” she said.
More than 250,000 eBooks were downloaded last year from the Buffalo & Erie County Library system, which has free Wi-Fi in its 37 branches. Books and music can be downloaded from the e-Content section on the system’s homepage at buffalolib.org.
2. Expect literacy: Reading and writing shouldn’t be encouraged, it should be expected. But be flexible. “I’m a big advocate in letting children read and write what they want,” McVee said. “That’s hard for parents sometimes, because we want children to love the books that we loved ... but it’s kind of like, ‘Eat your vegetables, they’re good for you.’ ” Give your child a variety of options, she recommends. “It doesn’t have to be like summer boot camp all day long and it shouldn’t be too much like school.”
3. Set a routine: “Whether it’s a set time – like after lunch we’re going to read – or setting non-electronic time, if that’s an important goal, whatever is set up is good,” McVee said.
At the Ziegler-Smith house in Williamsville, that means “No electronics Sundays.” This strategy has helped 13-year-old daughter Bridget get through nearly two books since the end of the school year, with plans to start reading “The Great Gatsby” soon, says her mother, Kelly, the Closing the Gap program site facilitator at Frank A. Sedita Elementary School No. 30 on the West Side.
Parents also should know when not to be taskmasters, McVee said. “If grandma is coming to town for a week, it’s probably unlikely we’re going to keep our same schedules.”
4. Relax: “Sometimes when a parent is home, they feel they have to do everything for their child,” McVee said, but an older sibling, grandparent or other relative can help a younger child with reading. “There’s also no shame in using some of the workbooks or summer supplement guides out there. They have them for math, for reading, other content areas,” she said.
5. Summer camp: Know your expectations for camps. Are you looking for academic enrichment, something more social or recreational, or a combination? For specifics on summer camps, visit BuffaloNews.com and type “Listing of summer camps from A to Z” in the search box at the top right of the homepage.
Ziegler-Smith and her fellow Catholic Charities colleague, Celena Barreto, will spend the summer helping students maneuver through summer school. Meanwhile, Ziegler-Smith’s children – Bridget, 7-year-old Charlie and Paige, 11 – will attend a YMCA camp, and Barreto’s kids will attend a camp on the West Side, near the Sedita school.
6. Teach through trips: “Even if you’re on a very limited budget, almost anything can become very educational,” McVee said. Go online to find out more about your local park, and share the information with your kids while you take a walk. When visiting the zoo, science museum or other sites – local or on vacation – ask your kids to put together a video or photo gallery they can post online.
7. Get healthier: Barreto and her sons – Marvin Hardy, 15, Moses Cortijo, 11, and Joelle Cortijo, 10 – live in Cheektowaga, but they like to drive to Delaware Park, walk around Hoyt Lake and then along Elmwood Avenue, where they often grab an affordable bite to eat. It’s family time, with exercise.
8. Be helpful: “While volunteering might not be teaching an academic skill children will use in school, it still teaches a very valuable life skill that orients them toward their communities,” McVee said.
Barreto has been encouraged in recent weeks by the children she sees helping tend community gardens near her school. Ziegler-Smith, her husband and their children will spend the next several weeks hosting an 11-year-old girl as part of the Belfast Summer Relief project. Her daughter Paige also will spend part of her summer getting better on violin, so she can perform at church.
9. Teach life skills: Children can spend some of their summer learning to cook, clean, do the laundry or cut the grass.
“I don’t think it has to be about fun all summer,” McVee said. “Certainly the laundry isn’t fun, but it is essential.”