Children are steps away from the finish line after one of the most difficult academic years in recent history. Just as the end is in sight and they can hear the cheers of celebration over their achievement, their well-meaning parents have lined up tutors with a Gatorade in one hand and a stack of worksheets in the other to ready them for the start of next fall.
Just like runners after a challenging race, learners need to rest. The brain is like a muscle. Back-to-back races with no rest or recovery can lead to major injury. Even if you finish, it is unlikely that you will set any records.
There is no question that the inconsistency of learning environments coupled with the huge responsibility of self directed learning will create major gaps in a student’s educational foundation. These gaps created in the past year, however, may not be clearly evident at first and children may experience these consequences throughout the rest of their educational process. It may be impossible to determine and define where their education has weakened them and well-meaning parents all over the country are thinking ahead on how to support their students best. But as parents, we often make the mistake of believing that preventing failure is the best route to overcoming failure. Children will need support over the next few school years to recover from the inconsistencies of this past year for sure, but it’s not the reinforcing of academic skills that will bring the successful outcome parents are looking for. What is crucial to their future success, however, is building the coping skills to navigate the potential struggles that are positioned to be ahead of them.
The first step is REST.
Allow your child some space this summer to relax their brains by engaging in child-centered play. Open-ended experiences like being outside, having a small pod of friends over, riding bikes, going to a park, pool or the beach will be highly constructive in helping a brain rest and recover. Cognitive fatigue will settle down as your child begins to take ownership of their time to reconnect with their interests and joys. Remember that rest doesn’t mean your child is being lazy or unproductive. With this time to relax, the brain can begin to function with better clarity and accuracy again. An overworked brain will display signs of memory loss, incomplete thoughts or tasks and difficulty with attention. Don’t feel the pressure to overschedule now that the world is finally opening back up. Children will need space as much as socialization.
The second step is RECOVERY.
The most important skills that will support your child’s future academic success won’t be found with flashcards or workbooks. While they have their place in retaining information over the break or preparing them for new concepts ahead, the real qualities that create successful student outcomes are confidence, creativity, problem solving, resilience, and love of learning. Finding activities this summer that help reinforce these skills will be the most effective use of their time to meet the challenges ahead.
Reestablishing a love of learning will be crucial to reconstructing an exhausted learner. Speak with your child to discover subjects they are passionate about and incorporate them into your summer plans. Send your child to interest-driven activities like nature camp, coding camp, baseball clinics, swimming lessons, or go horseback riding. Read books or visit museums about topics they enjoy. If your child has trouble expressing themselves verbally, let them find the words artistically instead. Provide creative or musical opportunities for this kind of expression. This supportive energy will help to rebuild their confidence in the learning process.
While it may seem like “just play” and not actually academic in nature, your child will be developing important life skills and lessons through these activities. Resilience develops as a child works through Legos, craft/building activities, board games, or sports by learning to make adjustments, manage frustration, work cooperatively, or see an obstacle they are capable of working around in a nonacademic setting. Opportunities in dance, art, cooking, writing, or other open-ended activities help foster creativity by providing experiences that allow them to have freedom of expression, construct their understanding and be in control of their outcomes. Leadership activities like the Scouts and theater programs develop confidence, teamwork, and the ability to speak up for themselves. Whatever their passion, supporting them as they read, learn, and share it with people will develop a love of learning and confidence again that may have been stripped by the exhaustion of the past academic year.
The final step is REINFORCEMENT.
The best support we can give our students is helping them build the mindset to meet the challenges ahead and know that they are not alone in their journey. It is important that your child doesn’t live in the fear of obstacles and gains the understanding that the shortcoming is from a gap in their education and not a failure within themselves. Model and encourage vulnerability and self confidence to find ways to identify a challenge, discover resources to problem solve and not be afraid to call on others for help. Activities like sports, science, cooking, building, and art can support this message that failure is sometimes an option but also one that can be worked through constructively, thoughtfully, or even as a team. These experiences will be the most critical to develop and reinforce that learning is a process that is not finite but something that can be worked on with help to get stronger.
Providing activities this summer that help your child rest and reconnect to their love of learning will be crucial to their recovery from this challenging year. Learning how to identify challenges, problem solve through them, and knowing when to ask for help will support their future academic success. Summer activities with less anticipatory or executive pressure help these experiences collect in a non-threatening way and create a strong foundation that will guide your child to know how to ask for help when they don’t understand an academic concept later on. This is when a tutor will be the most effective and can be used to help fill in the gaps during the next few school years. Your child will receive the message that it’s okay to have questions and that you and others are there to help them through the process.
Your child may struggle. You may not be able to prevent it. But they will know that they have your understanding and support. In the end, that is the best lesson they can learn from one of the most academically challenging times in recent history.