Dear Dr. Fournier:
My son completed fifth grade last year on a high note. During the year, he struggled completing his math on time. By the end of the year his math speed had dramatically improved. A week ago I asked him to complete a worksheet out of one of his workbooks from last year. He struggled to complete it, and it took him quite a while. I was shocked to see that all of his progress seemed to have slipped away. What can we do now that the new school year is looming? Can we get him back up to par?
When the school year ends, students explode from the front doors of the school as though shot out of a cannon. After all, summer is a chance to relax, do fun things with friends, and be free from scholastic responsibilities. If you have forgotten the bliss you felt as a child during summer, I direct you to the nearest Calvin and Hobbes collection.
Unfortunately, this carefree existence is only available for around three months, and as the new school year begins, children may find that there is a negative to all of the summer fun: Last year’s information has proved hard to recall, and their skills are rusty due to lack of practice.
Unless students have continued to keep their skills sharp throughout the summer, they may stumble out of the gate when they are confronted with the expectations of their new grade.
Many parents expect the schools to “dust off” their children, and most schools do begin each New Year with a review. However, in most cases, the review is little more than a rehashing of concepts that the students are assumed to have already mastered.
The problem for many is that mastery never occurred. Even those who did master skills previously may still struggle with this transitional phase. Whichever category the student falls into, the assumption by the teacher is that the material in question has been adequately covered, and will move on to the new material that will undoubtedly build on the review. Thus begins the development of what I simply call missed learning: An unlearned concept or block of learning that rears its ugly head time and again in cumulative material, foiling the genuine efforts of children from elementary school all the way through high school.
This is the time of year when many students fall behind and can never seem to catch up. Initial low grades are difficult to pull up, and students who experience a rocky transition period run the risk of simply shutting down before the newer work even begins.
This time of year, it is important for parents and students to find ways to make the start of the new academic year productive and conducive to learning. This will lead to an environment that is less stressful and more enjoyable for everyone.
WHAT TO DO:
What I can say would be the best way to approach the problem of preparation is to replicate the type of activity or thinking that will mimic school expectations. This does not mean that you should begin an intensive home schooling summer program, merely look for ways to use daily events as a springboard toward creative learning.
For example, try to incorporate some math into everyday activities. If you are going to the grocery store, have your child come along and help you compare cost differences between items (compare/contrast/estimation/and fundamental math skills, or for higher levels calculating sales tax, percentages and the like.) If you prepare a grocery list and menu in advance, have your child involved in figuring out how much ground beef you will need to buy to make hamburgers for the family for dinner. This does not mean that every time you go to the store that your child had best pack his pencil, paper and a desk, but some little challenges of this nature serve to keep skills sharper, and can masquerade as games with a little creativity.
There are also a number of online options for keeping math and other cumulative skills relevant, while still remaining user friendly and fun.
While thinking and learning activities will help your child will help your child clean out the summer cobwebs, don’t forget that the transition to school involves many other skills as well – getting up on time, morning preparations, knowing the correct classroom to go to, reacquainting oneself with homework, renewing contacts with old friends and making new ones.
You can help with these transitions. Be sure to readjust your child’s bedtimes and internal clock. Reestablish your morning routine for schooldays, reminding your son of what he must complete each day. With many of the early year adjustments out of the way, your son can have a summer to relax and still be ready for the coming reintegration into school.
CONTACT DR. FOURNIER