Like the opening of Aleshia Green’s 2009 summer school article — “When I was growing up, summer school was a bad thing. If you got summer school, it meant you were behind or that you failed a class.” — summer school when I was growing up stigmatized you socially as well as academically. It was a “scared straight” tactic society used to manipulate you into conformity.
This impression of summer school is changing according to Aleshia. More recently, Milton Chen called for a reclassification of summer as the “Third Trimester” — But he is careful to distinguish this third trimester from the first and second:
I don’t mean more of the same traditional schooling and seat-based exercises that many students are subjected to. Not more remedial reading for students who are behind in reading. To paraphrase my colleague Dr. Milt Goldberg, a formerly a senior official at the U. S. Department of Education, a lousy 12-month school year is worse than a lousy 9-month school year. I mean a chance to do more engaged and motivating learning, supported by technology and mentors from schools and the community.
I refer back to Dr. Tae’s video: Building a New Culture of Teaching and Learning. It’s been my favorite source to quote since Rebecca at Kontrary (formerly Modite) introduced it to me. It’s the notion of “Teaching and Learning as Cultural Habits” that excites me. And I think it’s this "habit of teaching and learning” that Milton and supporters of summer learning are trying to establish.
The third trimester could be more than just the prevention of “summer slide” (the loss of acquired math and reading skills over the summer break). The third trimester could be a proactive – instead of reactive – process of study habit formation. And by “study habit” I don’t mean cowering behind a wall of books, memorizing other people’s thoughts and theories (though there will be some of that). By “study habit” I mean an active process of engagement in learning through meaningful, self-directed processes of inquiry — or better yet simple curiosity — about why the sky is blue or how zebras got their stripes.
It’s the retention of that innate curiosity we had as very young children about the world around us (both immediate and distant) that is the key to establishing the cultural habits Dr. Tae speaks about in his video. It’s also what will help the third trimester grow into an expected – if not desired – societal practice like eating a square meal.
A quick search on Bing turned up multiple resources and websites for “preventing summer slide.” So far my favorite has been the post on the Accredited Online Colleges’ blog: 50 Creative Ways to Fight the “Summer Slide.” Personally, my children use the New York Public Library’s Summer Reading program. Happily, they’ve really ramped up their website this summer.
The public library is also a good place to find books that support maintaining math and science skills over the summer holiday. Regrettably, the Bing search results had few math resources. There are many science project books and cookbooks for kids that reinforce fundamental arithmetic and inquiry skills. My children and I have used Just Add Water: Science Experiments You Can Sink, Squirt, Splash, Sail. We did an experiment called, “Why Fish Don’t Sink.” It was an interesting lesson in buoyancy. It was also a lesson in failure. Our first attempt failed but we kept at it until we got it right.
I should add that while most children’s science project books provide instruction using safe materials, all projects require adult supervision. It’s also a meaningful shared learning experience between father and son, parent and child, that will through proper care and continued maintenance form good habits.