In a neighbor’s kitchen last summer, I noticed a couple of colorful handwritten checklists, each with about 25 items, which her two kids had posted on the refrigerator door. In big letters at the top they had printed, “Things I want to do this summer!”
Those dreams were filled with energy and exploration—from “make $ to buy a new bike” to “sleep out in a tent.” Okay, some were pretty clearly daydreams, but others could be carried out with only modest parental time and resources.
And if the right supports are there, it’s plans like these that make summer a time of enormous opportunity for growth and learning.
But with youth programs getting the ax and summer youth employment at an all-time low, by this week plenty of parents are worrying about what their kids are doing during these long hot days.
Camp, enrichment programs, or summer school aren’t in the schedule for three out of four schoolchildren nationwide, according to a new study by the Afterschool Alliance—even though more than half of their parents would send them, if they could.
We parents have seen for ourselves the consequences of a summer spent sleeping late and whiling away the lazy hours with television or video games. And the research backs that up: Without effective summer learning opportunities, most students fall more than two months behind in math between June and September. Low-income children also lose two to three months in reading every summer—so that by the end of fifth grade, they are nearly three years behind their high-income peers.
Part of the solution for worried parents is to push national, city, and school district officials to prioritize high-quality summer opportunities for students. A bill is now stalled in the U.S. Senate that would provide $1 billion over ten years to fund 350,000 summer jobs for teenagers and young adults ages 14 through 24.
But parents can’t wait to solve the immediate problem that faces them over the next seven or eight weeks. Over my next several posts, I’ll propose some practical activities that can keep kids active and stimulated, learning and growing, on their own or with others.
Step 1: Sit down with your kids to brainstorm their own list! If you listen with interest and don’t put down their ideas, at least some of their dreams will intersect with real-world possibilities. The goal: By summer’s end, they’ll be able check off at least some of the items they post on your refrigerator door.
Watch for the suggestions coming up in my next posts. Meanwhile, leave your own ideas in the Comment column! I’ll send you a complimentary copy of Fires in the Mind if yours is one of the best suggestions received!