Making the most of summer break

What should children do with two months off? Sheryl Bennett-Wilson asks the experts

The summer break is the reward for studying hard during the school year, says the director at Turnbull School. “They do need a break,” says Gareth Reid. “They’ve earned it. I know the summer is long but there are ways to keep brains active.”

Getting a child into reading is a great way to keep them stimulated. “Make trips to the library from an early age and get books that interest them,” says Reid. “Many libraries offer fun programs that engage young minds.”

Gareth Reid. Photo Courtesy Turnbull School

Other courses and programs, although not necessarily academic, provide skills that require learning and use different parts of the brain. “There are so many options available,” says Reid. “Like swimming lessons, or taking up sailing, [or] lifeguarding is an excellent skill for an older student or maybe a pottery class at your local community centre. It’s all enriching.”

Parents should set the standards and if needed, make the limits on screen time and video games, says Reid. “Get your child to help around the house a bit.”

Is a camping trip in the books? Then take along some nature books on birds and bugs. “Or if you are visiting a city, look up some historical facts,” he says, adding that even rainy days can be subtle learning opportunities. “Board games teach strategy, card games are fun and social, and the cottage puzzle can be a challenge for everyone.” Developing a love of reading for pleasure not only helps them learn, but it’s enjoyable, says Reid.

“Put school on the shelf,” says Kristy Larose. Like Reid, the principal of Blyth Academy says that kids need a break from learning. “Many students have a great deal of anxiety about school,” says Larose. “Enjoy the summer with great experiences. You’d be surprised how much they’ll remember, and it helps stimulate different parts of their brains.”

Kristy Larose

There are many interesting and engaging places to have those experiences in the city, Larose says. “The Museum of Science and Technology has tons of hands-on displays. So does the Museum of Nature. Or get outdoors at the experimental farm with plants and animals.”

Larose stresses that getting outside in the fresh air is really important. “Get outside every day,” says Larose. “Go for a bike ride, do some physical activity and just disconnect.” Larose says that, when possible, limit screen time on computers and phones. “Hanging out with friends and socializing is healthy too,” says Larose. “And get your child reading—whatever they want.  That really helps with literacy and it’s a great way to relax and be un-busy.”  

What if you want your child to hit the ground running when they get back to school in the fall? “Sometimes, all it takes is 20 to 45 minutes a day,” says Sally Kader, owner and instructor at Kanata South Kumon Centre. “Yes, younger children need good play time and should get out and exercise and have fun. However, stepping completely away from any intellectual activity for prolonged periods can have consequences. Children learn quickly, but they also forget quickly. This especially true for older students, especially high school students when it comes to math. Devoting a bit of time to some extra learning can be helpful for the next school year.”

Since high school is semestered, students might do a math course in their fall term but not the following term. “That can be a big problem when it comes to subjects like math and science,” says Kader. “So, if having an academic activity for less than an hour a day can keep you up to speed in those higher grades, it can be worth it.”

Kader also says it helps instill some good work habits that will help when students get to university. “Admissions for university are more demanding these days,” says Kader. “Often, students are competing with international students who have come from educational institutions with [curricula] that are more rigorous. Having good habits in place from a young age can be an advantage.”

Kader says that if you want that extra for your child over the summer, Kumon is not the only option available. Let the teachers do the teaching, she says. “You be the parent, and make sure that even for your older student, that you be the one to have fun with, get outdoors and do family activities. Let the experts deal with the learning challenges.”