Developing Critical Skills Outside of the School Year

young woman hiking with back to viewerAccording to Hannah Sycks, a high school English / special education teacher at Dearborn Academy, there are a number of ways caregivers can help students retain the learning they've gained during the school year as they prepare for the coming year.


“When I think about what a student learns during the school day, there are really three pillars to that learning,” Hannah shares. Students are gaining new academic skills – both in terms of their knowledge and also as they relate to executive function, organization and prioritization, self-monitoring and more. The second pillar is that of social-emotional growth, which includes how students manage their feelings throughout the day, risks they are taking and how they are responding to stressors. Then there’s the transitional pillar where students are getting ready for the next step.


Keep Learning

Beginning with academic skills, Hannah suggests that reading is an important way to keep learning while retaining and further developing this critical skill. “Many libraries over the summer will do book reading challenges,” she says, “And sometimes there is a fun reward attached to them.” Caregivers can encourage reading, asking their students what they are reading, asking about the content and even reading together as a family.


Hannah reminds caregivers, “Students are experiencing what they learn in the core content classes of math or English language arts all the time. Every time they send a text, they’re practicing writing. When they help you in the kitchen, figuring out how many cups of flour that certain recipe needs, they’re doing math. Those in-the-moment, authentic experiences are going to help students learn important skills.”


Students also learn outside of the classroom any time of the year through activities like going for a walk in their neighborhood. Caregivers can help students give their hiker a theme for these walks. For younger students, the theme might include looking for how many green items they can name. Students also could go on an alphabet-themed walk in which they try to find items along the route that correspond to each letter of the alphabet. Hannah explains that these activities keep students’ brains busy in a way that is a little bit different from a traditional Sudoku or a word search, which she suggests for older students. 


Hannah acknowledges that asking older students to practice academic skills over the summer is hard. “They think, ‘It's not as cool,’ and, “It's a little bit more of a choice for them,” she says.


She suggests that caregivers encourage their older student to learn more about a topic that really interested them during the school year. For example, if they enjoyed studying geology, they might want to go to the park, collect rocks during a hike and then research more about them at the library. They could even write a research paper that they could show their teachers when the school year resumes. The bottom line for summertime academic pursuits, Hannah adds, is to follow the lead of the student. Let them prioritize what they want to learn.


In addition to academic skills, it is paramount that caregivers help their student, no matter their age, to practice the social-emotional skills they worked on during the school year. “At Dearborn, we serve a population where you are asking many of the students to take a big social-emotional risk just by coming to school,” she explains. Therefore it is important for students to participate in as many social experiences over the summer as possible from going to museums, parks or ballgames to sending a chat or hanging out with a friend. It maintains social engagement and helps students feel connected. “Because, I think, all teenagers and all young students want to be connected,” Hannah says.


Summer Is Short

Echoing advice from all of the staff at Schools for Children’s programs and schools, Hannah advises caregivers to make sure their student uses their summer break to rest, have fun and is ready to start the new school year on a positive note. She says, “As important as it might be to think about summer learning, teachers know that the ‘summer slide’ is a real thing. And we are going to meet students where they are in the fall. We are going to find ways to take care of students when they return to the new school year!”