For children, learning opportunities don't take summer vacation - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Education News

For children, learning opportunities don't take summer vacation

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Posted: Sunday, May 30, 2010 3:00 am

Ah, summer.

As classes end for students around the East Valley, many are likely dreaming of pool time, game time and a bit of doing nothing.

But educators say there should be a little time each day spent on learning — even if the kids’ don’t realize they’re doing it.

Parents can encourage this in several ways, from enrolling students in reading programs and academic camps to taking children to museums, the zoo and the library.

“The brain is wired on patterns. If we don’t add new learning to the previous learning and use the previous learning, we’re going to lose that,” said Mary Evans, a professional development specialist with the Mesa Unified School District and a 15 year-veteran teacher. “You are literally changing your brain as you learn and you are pruning your neural networks as your knowledge and skills go unused. They die off in your brain.”

One idea Evans suggests is to journal with a child. Have a child right down his or her thoughts about each day’s activities. The parent can then write a response, so writing and reading are going on.

Free websites offer reading and math programs as well. Evans likes freerice.com, which also donates rice to developing countries each time someone gets a correct answer.

Just about every public library offers a summer reading program with prize incentives for completing books. Some bookstores are also running programs.

Shari Brown, a librarian at Mesa Public Library, said throughout the hot months there will also be entertaining and informative programs, with visits from the Wildlife World Zoo, scientists and desert critters.

“We want to keep their minds engaged and not spend all their time watching TV,” Brown said. “In Arizona, it’s hard to play outside. Reading is good indoor recreation.”

But if the children are watching TV, Chandler teacher Larry Perdue suggests turning on the television’s closed captioning option.

“The kids will be reading while watching TV. They won’t even know they’re reading,” he said. “A lot of people don’t think about that one.”

Perdue said “informational and environmental” literature is “everywhere.”

“We are bombarded with print in our everyday lives,” he said.

Kids can research information for the family’s vacation, read billboards while driving, calculate the mileage and budget for a trip or read maps.

“It’s right there in front of us. You’re kind of tricking them into reading,” Perdue said.

Children, and teens, should read at least 20 to 40 minutes a day. Perdue tells parents to read the same book as their children so they can discuss a book, such as character traits, which can make the book “more real to them.”

“Ask them, ‘Do you know anyone who is like this character?’ or thinks like a character,” he said. “The key is getting them talking about the book.”

“Read with your child. Read to your child. Listen to them read,” he said.

Younger children should be read to, of course, Perdue said. But older children can also be read to, even in the junior high an high school level because it helps students with comprehension.

“They may not have that knowledge, that background,” about the text they’re reading, he said.

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