‘Keep their minds and bodies engaged in wonder’

By Joe Nathan

“Keep their minds and bodies engaged in wonder during the summer months when they are not attending school.” That’s what Julie Olson, director of elementary education for the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan Public Schools recommended last week. She was one of 39 education leaders who responded to my request for suggestions about what parents could do to encourage continued learning during the summer.

They described a combination of community, school and family activities that can produce a summer with happy memories and student growth.

Olson continued: “I encourage parents to provide their children with opportunities for experiences that help them discover more about the world around them, and then have conversations around those experiences. Talk with your children, not just to them. Read with your children and make sure they see you reading. Have your children write and make sure they see you writing. Children can journal about their trips or experiences, make lists, write notes, letters or email messages. Provide variety for your children. Get them up, out of the house and moving, but also provide them with quiet time.”

Bloomington Superintendent Les Fujitake wrote: “Parents can search for summer learning programs in their communities that combine academics, enrichment and physical activity. Parents can also make it a value to engage in a wide variety of experiences with their children.”

Carl Schlueter, executive director at charter Beacon Preparatory in Bloomington, explained: “We’ve encouraged students keep their brains and bodies active in their communities by having our teachers list two to three enrichment opportunities on their classroom Web pages for students to take advantage of over the summer. Teachers emphasize learning opportunities that are local, accessible, and free – and activities range from reading logs and travel diaries to museum exhibits and rec centers to board games and gardening ideas.”

Burnsville Superintendent Joseph Gothard recommends that families use the public library system, which provides hard copy and online resources. “For ELL learners, a wealth of online ideas for summer learning can be found at blogger Larry Ferlazzo’s website, http://larryferlazzo.edublogs.org/ – give it a try to encourage reading and writing practice and skill development.”

Duane Berkas, director of teaching and learning in Columbia Heights, wrote: “To students: Spend time reading every day. Read what interests you but be disciplined about reading every day for at least 30 minutes. Then get outside and ride your bike or go to the park; enjoy time being active with your friends and family. To parents: Have more conversations with your child; find more space and time to be together.”

Ric Dressen, Edina superintendent, “would encourage families to reflect on various family happenings they plan to enjoy, whether it is a vacation, movie, special event and/or activity, and encourage the child to complete some new learning to enrich the family’s experience. The child can complete the research from guided family questions on the specifics of the identified happening and then share the new learning with the family. Summer is great time to blend life experiences with real-life learning opportunities.”

Hopkins Superintendent John Schultz explained: “It is my hope that students take time to read and pursue and learn about their passions and how they can impact the future. It is also my hope that they spend time with their families and other community groups learning together. Learning is accomplished in community, and I hope all of our students have the opportunity to learn in the many communities in their lives.”

Barb Wornson, director of charter Main Street School of the Arts in Hopkins, wrote: “I would encourage parents to reinforce the school year’s learning by providing as many real-life examples as possible: theater, music, dance, gardening, nature, science museum, history museum, to name a few. Talk to them about their experiences; encourage creativity (write a song, create a neighborhood play). This is the time to make learning real and fun, while creating lifelong family memories.”

Dennis Peterson, Minnetonka superintendent, explained: “Minnetonka offers several options through Community Education to appeal to (students’) interests. There are options available for students of all ages, and some can actually earn credit through our online program. We also have a new Summer Academy that provides several courses for motivated learners.”

Lynn G. Peterson, executive director of Cologne Academy in Cologne, wrote: “The best advice I can give families to encourage learning throughout the summer is to keep reading! Children can read informational brochures on places they would like to visit, they can also read about places they are traveling to on the Internet and/or activities they are interested in participating in. Parents should continue to read aloud to their children and of course, there is no substitute for a book for students to read.”

Westonka Superintendent Kevin Borg wrote: “To keep children learning over the summer, families should establish a routine that dedicates time for reading. Community education offers a variety of summer programs that meet your child’s interests and abilities – from cooking classes to competitive teams. Lastly, summer creates important opportunities for children to learn healthy habits and traits from their families. Capture as much family time as you can.”

Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota, the state’s teacher union, wrote: “For students in elementary and middle school: Read! Students should read books all summer (not too easy, but not too hard). Give children daily opportunities to read (maps, newspapers, even recipes) and give children a chance to read aloud. For students in high school: Read! Also, find opportunities to grow life skills, like meeting deadlines and personal responsibility through part-time jobs, volunteering and service projects.”

Gary Amoroso, executive director of Minnesota Association of School Administrators, urged families to consider programs that districts offer: “These activities can include academics as well as arts and crafts. This is a great way for a child to continue the learning process throughout the summer.”

Finally, Steve Allen, director of the Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs, pointed out: “Summer programs often come in the form of applied learning opportunities that tend to really engage and/or motivate students. I’ve seen students really become encouraged about their learning after a summer of relevant and meaningful activities. Another reason that I encourage students to continue with summer extended time activities is that it continues to reinforce good study habits. Particularly with potentially at-risk students, it is beneficial to keep them in the routine of going to school. Finally, some of the best programs I’ve ever run have been summer credit make-up programs. Students may fail one or two classes along the way. If you can make those credits up during the summer, students don’t get overwhelmed and ‘give up hope.’ If a student gives up hope, we all lose.’”

Modeling from families is key. That along with helping youngsters set and work toward goals, plus encouraging reading, exploring and talking, are great ways to spend the summer.


Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher, administrator and PTA president, directs the Center for School Change. Reactions are welcome at [email protected]