Stealth learning to avoid the 'summer slide'

From board games to sports, there's plenty of ways to keep young minds active when school's out...

Stealth learning to avoid the 'summer slide'

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With June 30th fast approaching, parents and children are very much on countdown for the summer holidays.

Secondary school students have already finished up for the summer, while primary schools will be closing up over the next week or so.

The practical challenges of lengthy summer holidays are likely very familiar to most parents - but one of the less documented difficulties is keeping kids actively engaged and learning while school is out. The potential for a 'summer slide' is a genuine concern when a child's schedule is interrupted for months at a time.

Inez Bailey, CEO of the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA), spoke to The Pat Kenny Show about some of the ways to avoid such a slide.

She explained: "This is certainly not about giving children any activities that they might even associate with school activities. Rather it is about recognising that there's lots of fun activities that we do with our children all the time that have a great benefit to their learning. It's making sure there's a balance of those going on over the school holidays.

"They are just fun activities that children will love to do [...] but they'll also have stealth learning going on at the same time - kids won't actually know they're doing it, but parents I think will feel a lot better knowing that they're doing this kind of balanced activities."

There are all sorts of options available, but it's not just dry educational activities: traditional games like hopscotch, or board games like Scrabble are simple ways of keeping a child's mind working while offering plenty of entertainment in the meantime.

Inez pointed out: "Children are usually very involved in sport - football, tennis, the GAA. [They are] great ways of figuring out all sorts of mathematics activities.

"You won't be saying to the children 'now we're going to do maths' - you're going to be saying 'we're going to be doing a fun game'."

Offering an alternative

In these days of smartphones and tablets, many fear that children are not reading enough books. But technology should not always been seen as an inherently negative thing.

Inez suggested that while children's literacy is generally on the rise, there are some young people who find reading a book or novel challenging.

"[It's worth] maybe giving them an alternative, which might be a magazine or a comic," she noted. "Or, indeed, if they're very fixated with learning online, using an e-book."

Parents around the country will be receiving their children's report cards as the year winds down, and these days many schools will include recommended tasks to keep kids engaged over the summer break - small little things like continuing to recite the times tables with younger children.

Again, Inez stressed that need not be a boring bit of rote learning.

She suggested: "If you can find an alternative way of doing a little bit of multiplication, that's bedded into shopping or something like that... that's a far better way for the child to pick up a skill."

More learning resources for children are available on the Help My Kids Learn website from the NALA.