Summer is upon us and I find myself frequently fielding the single question that I am sure many of you are asking yourself right now: What can I do to help prevent the inevitable “brain drain” that occurs during the summer months? You know what I am talking about. Summer brings with it all kinds of wonderful freedoms—lazy days by the pool, chances to get back to your garden, and extended day light hours to tackle all those household projects you’ve put off. Still, at the same time, the sudden dearth of the intellectual stimulation that the school’s curriculum offered a month ago—coupled with the lack of a “regular” schedule—can sneak up on us. It’s not long until you look over and find your child sitting on the couch, Wii control or TV remote in hand. Again.
For many, the natural inclination of the parents of the gifted is to solve this problem by running out to the nearest teacher supply store and loading up on the next grade level’s workbooks for, say, math. They set aside time every day for a forced “summer school” schedule of sorts—and find themselves sooner or later (usually sooner rather than later) in a series of arguments about what the purpose of summer is. The child rebels, and the parent panics or feels guilty.
The core issue of contention here is not that the parent is offering something for the child to do. (Really, how many times have your kids already claimed they’re bored?) No, rather what is at play is the nature of the activity that the child is being asked to pursue. Demanding that the child work on next school year’s math concepts is a matter of curriculum acceleration—plain and simple advancement of the child’s knowledge of core subjects. For many gifted students this is, of course, an appropriate route to take—but not necessarily the most appropriate during the summer months at the direction of the parent. Here’s at least one reason why: you, the parent, do not know the curriculum as well as the teachers do.
Yes, you can go online and find the state’s learning objectives for any particular grade level. But as a professional educator, the teachers know what they’ll be doing with their students next school year far more intimately than you. They are familiar with the scope and sequence and the pacing guides. They know where students usually need more real-life application of the curriculum in order for it to make sense. They know best which resources to use to cover any of the myriad objectives they’ll have to impart. In short, they are the paid experts, the curriculum specialists. Let them do this work. Should you find that your child does need acceleration of the content next school year, it’s the teacher who will be in charge of that. It will be their understanding and familiarity of the objectives that you’ll rely on to see that your child is offered appropriate challenge. Why make that issue more difficult (or even necessary) for everyone right off the bat in September by covering all of the fourth grade math skills in July and August?
There is an elegant solution here, one which will prevent that brain drain and make you feel you’re doing right by your child’s need for intellectual stimulation. Rather than offering your child acceleration, go for enrichment. Think about adding depth to what your child knows, rather than breadth. Your child has an interest in the planets. Last year, she learned the eight planets (sigh, I still pine for Pluto) and she knows all about meteorites, asteroids, nebulae and comets. Go deeper! Help her learn more about the potential of mining asteroids for minerals. Find out when the next comet will come zipping across our horizon—and why it’s so many years away.
Enrichment opportunities build just as many connections in the brain, and the ability for a student to see connections between content areas only grows as the new information gained is forced to be squared against what the child previously thought she knew. Known as constructivism in education parlance, we know that the brain naturally seeks to build knowledge; it does not simply acquire it. As new information is absorbed, the brain constantly evaluates how that new material forces a change in its previous conceptions. Sometimes new information helps the brain see a larger pattern or an application/connection to something else previously learned a completely different venue; sometimes, the new information forces a wholesale revision of knowledge, showing us that what we thought we understood was really a colossal misconception. Offering enrichment, not acceleration, is a legitimate way of furthering your child’s intellectual growth. With this in mind, here are some resources you can use to battle the summer boredom, brain-drain blues.
You.Yeah, that’s right, you. Never underestimate how much knowledge you can impart as you do basic, everyday tasks. Are you planning to start a new garden in the backyard tomorrow? Invite your child along. Get him off the couch and sweat together. Explain the importance of amending the new ground—and what those little white pellets are in that bag of potting soil. Working side-by-side, you’ll get some help, your child will get some information. Alternatively, ask your child to write down five questions about any topic of interest—and then set aside time to help him research the answers online throughout the week.
Summer should be fun. It should be a chance for you to revitalize and reconnect with your family. But make no mistake, it should not be an opportunity to send the brain into a warm hibernation. It’s your job to help ensure this doesn’t happen.
Enrich, enrich, enrich.