SIKESTON - Just because school is out doesn't mean learning has to come to an abrupt halt.
And it shouldn't, according to local educators who say it's important for parents to make certain there is no gap between school dismissal and the start of school.
"I'm saying this on behalf of all the local schools," said Charles Reaves, southeast region youth specialist for the University of Missouri Extension Office in New Madrid.
"Traditionally, if you test students in May and you come back in the fall, there's a regression," he said. "This is also documented by the fact that all of our schools start out the new grade and basically spend the first few weeks reviewing skills that were taught in the previous grade. Students are out of school and there is a loss if we do not continue to work with them."
Learning and education don't stop in May and begin again in August, stressed Sharon Gunn, assistant superintendent of special services for elementary education for Sikeston Public Schools.
"Children's brains are like sponges, soaking up their environment and experiences," she said. "Think about anything you do. If you leave it for two to three months, are you as efficient and effective with it when you use it again?"
Reaves reeled off a number of summer learning activities parents can do with their children, emphasizing those that involve reading.
"Consider enrolling children in a summer reading program at the library," he recommended. "While there, get the child a library card and allow him to choose a favorite book. Take turns reading the book with your child. Every child needs to be read to at night before they start reading, and continue reading to them."
"Reading a book can take a child to places and experiences that otherwise would not be accessible," added Gunn. "Reading is great entertainment whether the child reads, listens to books on tapes or listens to an adult read a story."
Kathy Sturgess, principal at Southeast Elementary, describes learning as a never-ending process. "Parents can take advantage of everything they do to help their children continue to learn, such as travel, setting the table, playing games, etc."
Chuck Mayes, Lee Hunter Elementary principal, suggested including children in activities around the home during the summer. "If you have more than one child or visiting children from the neighborhood, allow them to do as much planning as possible. Step in only when absolutely necessary with guidance. Since academic concepts are used in many real world situations, children will practice these skills during the activity."
"Anything the parent is doing can be shared by the child in an age-appropriate manner," remarked Gunn. "If the parent is watching a program on television, the child and parent can discuss it or plan a different ending. As the commercials are on, the parent and child can talk about what is advertised, how it is used, how else could it be used. The parent may want to do some yard work. The child could pull weeds, water flowers, put outside toys away, etc. Whatever the parent is doing, a child can have a modified part of that activity. The key is to talk with your child about what the parent is doing and/or what the child is doing."
And don't shrug off a child's declaration of being bored, Gunn said. Consider it an open invitation for new learning experiences. She said it is important for adults to recognize that children are curious and questioning.
"What the child learns in the formal educational setting must also be learned to be applied to real life," said Gunn. "This is much easier to show to the child when he or she is swimming in the pool, playing miniature golf, visiting a famous landmark, etc. Seeing, experiencing and discussing these experiences with adults is a learning technique that builds relationships and memories."
Reaves believes encouraging children to become more physically active has a bearing on the continual learning process. He also pointed out that the computer is a broad source of learning programs as long as parents monitor what their children look at.
Encourage children to belong to groups and good causes. "Anything that they belong to and make a commitment to is a learning experience," Reaves said. "The child who checks in on the elderly neighbor who lives close by to make sure she's taken care of each day, that gives a sense of doing for others. Your Boy Scout and Girl Scout organizations and 4-H. ... So many of your child leadership programs teach to give to others and show it's not always a world in which we are taking but we have the opportunity to give back and make this a better world. There's always something young people can do to learn to give to others."
He agreed children need a break from studying and school work, but that break, he said, can be both fun and stimulating. "It can include activities with mom and the child in the kitchen following a recipe or it could be helping mom or dad doing work on the swimming pool. Everything can be turned into a learning situation and it's so important," he said. "Learning should continue on a daily basis."
Mayes believes summer should be a family time. "Just remember you can have and should have fun and learn at the same time," he said. "Be creative with your educational moments."
Because children are good observers and mimickers, parents are teaching their children when they might not even realize it. A parent's response, reaction or action to a situation will be processed by the young observer and reasoned out as a young mind can, Gunn she explained.
"This is a critical reason why parents must talk with their child to understand interpretation and response to the bombardment of stimuli received each day," Gunn said. "Time for communication with your child can be the best learning tool a parent can offer."