The Mommy Rush

Learning, Exploring, Creating, and Growing.

Archive for the tag “summer”

Minds in the Making: 6 Tips to Engage Your Kids This Summer

Last week, I had an idea, one that I think has the potential to be a great idea. Since October of last year, I’ve been self-employed which doesn’t really tell you much except that I have an awesome boss. In my case, I’ve spent the last several months splitting my time between consulting work (emails, phone calls, and reports) and research for a book project on how to improve the American education system (emails, phone calls, and writing). So, really I could be considered a ‘professional communicator’. If it weren’t for the fact that I am generally talking to some pretty amazing teachers and school leaders, who are at the helm of some extremely innovative education initiatives, I might just lose my mind. In truth,the last several years of my unusual career have given me the opportunity to work with and learn from programs from around the world that are having an amazing impact on kids.

So, what is this idea? Since this year is all about balance, and it is the first summer that I will have the luxury of sharing a good portion of it with my littlest kiddos (Little Son-8 and Baby Girl-4), I decided I wanted to try out some of what my research is telling me about how best to engage kids through informal learning experiences. I imagined sort of “home-brewed” summer camp. As I began to think about how I might be able to engage Little Son in a project, I immediately had a vision of him throwing a fit because he would much rather hang out with his friends! LIGHTBULB… Why not create a camp for Little Son AND his friends to engage the group in some informal learning experiences? And the spark was lit…

It took me less than an hour to put together an email that clearly articulated the idea and I sent it out to the parents of the friends of the Little Son. Within 3 days I heard from 13 families who were interested! The responses were pretty consistent, with an approximate 2:1 “brilliant to crazy” ratio, which made me think I may be onto something. So, I set to work coordinating calendars and came up with about 4 weeks where there were enough kids interested and available to plan a local DIY summer camp!

If you’re looking for ways to engage your own children this summer vacation, here are some tips to help nurture their curiosity through informal learning experiences. These techniques are all derived from educators around the US who are using interest-based learning, place-based learning, project-based learning, and service-based learning to ignite students’ natural curiosity about the world around them, to empower them to take control of their own learning, and ultimately to build the skills necessary to be successful in the global economy.

  1. Assess their interests and learning styles. What are they naturally interested in and how do they learn best? Research tells us that when a child is engaged in an activity that falls into their “interest domain”, they are more motivated to learn. It is this intrinsic motivation that has the greatest impact on a child’s abilities and achievements. Find out what interests them – it is the key to their motivation! (I’ve developed an Interest Assessment for use with K-5 grade level, feel free to access and use to help identify interests and learning preferences for your own kids)
  2. Get outside and explore! I recently posted on my own experience recognizing my disconnection with nature. My experiences with Nature University as well as conversations with teachers have convinced me that Nature has a unique power to fully engage your senses and to inspire creativity. I recently interviewed a teacher in Massachusetts who manages the Eco-Explorer program for elementary teachers. One of their techniques for teaching with the outdoors is a “10-minute field trip”, which is just enough time to sketch a flower, test some soil, or clear your head for that next great idea.
  3. Play lots of games (yes, including video games) and create new games! I am not a huge fan of video games, but I will admit my kids do enjoy playing them. And I tend to agree with the research that tells us that Games are NOT the enemy, despite the fact that so much of the world’s problems are blamed on video games. It’s hard to imagine there could be anything good about having our children spend hours staring at a screen and plotting and strategizing about how to reach the next level of Super Mario Brothers. But research tells us that process of learning how to play a new game actually develops the very skills we hope kids will hone by the time they reach adulthood. I am of the philosophy that if playing video games has some benefit, then designing video games must build useful skills as well. The fact is that there are few activities that will provide more training to solve real-world problems than designing a video game. Give kids a chance to play games and use the experience to create something new!
  4. Explore your community. A couple months ago, I spent some time talking with an amazing teacher in San Diego who took this approach with her science students; they spent one day a week out of the school building. And the results were astounding, kids made discoveries about the world just from observations in their own backyard. But even more important,this helps kids to understand what it means to be a part of a community. How are we all connected and how can we contribute to our community to solve a problem or serve a purpose? No matter where you live, there are rich experiences available to introduce your kids to different perspectives.
  5. Ask questions, research, and learn. Do people ever read a newspaper anymore? Well, in our community they do, though information overload is a very real problem and one that our children need to know how to manage. Access to information is no longer a luxury. For kids growing up today, digital natives, the critical issue has become how to cut through the overwhelming amounts of information to determine what is important, relevant, and accurate. Spend time reading and looking for information through available resources and build experiences around what you find. These experiences are building a foundation for lifelong learning, a skill that is necessary in the fast-moving economy we live in.
  6. Learn about another culture. Last summer , our family took an extended vacation to a small-town in Mexico. Instead of staying in a big resort, where we would have met lots of people from places just like our hometown, we rented a home in a small fishing town and attempted to integrate our selves in the local community. I can’t put into words how powerful it was to watch my children adapt to a new environment with a different language, different foods, and different challenges. Although the stay was only 2 weeks, it was long enough for all of us to appreciate that we are just one piece of the global puzzle, and it sparked a desire in the kids to learn about cultures different from our own. Travel is a wonderful way to do this, but it is not the only way, there are organizations and institutions everywhere that are dedicated to sharing their culture with the public. Take advantage of these opportunities for you and your children!

If you’re looking for ideas to keep your kids busy this summer, with worthwhile activities that will allow them to continue to grow, this should get you started. And stay tuned for more information about how to develop your own DIY Summer Camp with your kids!


8 ways to kickstart your family’s summer reading …

It’s summertime!  And with summer comes… the summer doldrums; when kids seem to have forgotten how to entertain themselves and resort to the infamous complaint, “I’m bored!”  That phrase is like nails on a chalkboard to me and so this summer I am instituting a mandatory Summer Reading Plan for the entire family.  It doesn’t hurt that there are plenty of technology options out there that can encourage even the most reluctant reader to engage their mind in a story.  Here are some of the tools I’m employing this year as part of the Rush Family Summer Reading Plan.

Technology for Readers:

1.  Amazon Kindle:

Last year on my birthday, my husband bought me a Kindle, which was one of the more perfect gifts I’ve received in my lifetime.  At the time, the Kindle was the leading e-book reader out there and really the only service that had any sort of variety in books available.  So I dug right in and have since made great use of the very portable device.  Somewhere in the Summer of 2010, I discovered the Amazon Kindle app on my iPhone, which allowed me to access my Kindle library directly from my phone.  This was a huge leap for me, because it allowed me to cram in little bits of reading during normally wasted time when I might not have my Kindle in hand – i.e. in line at the grocery, during my lunch hour, etc.  I especially like the fact that my bookmarks, highlights, and last page are stored in my account regardless of the device I use as my reader.  So when I pick the Kindle back up, I am reminded that I have read to future page on a different device and am given the option to begin reading at that page.  The downside of the Kindle is of course, not all titles are available yet, but Amazon is making great strides in alerting publishers of titles its readers are requesting and I have no doubt that in the near future, I’ll have no limitations to the titles I can read on a Kindle.  The Kindle Store boasts 950,000 titles and counting.

 2.  Audible membership:

I recently fell in love with this service because of the lack of time I have to actually sit and read a book.  Because I find myself doing mindless work around the house – laundry, dishes, etc – in the past I have used my iPhone and earphones to listen to podcasts to keep me from dying of boredom.  But at the suggestion of a fellow reader, I tried the free 14-day trial from Audible (Their current offer  is 3 months for $7.95/mo).  In one weekend, I completed 2 books and within a week I upgraded to a 2 year membership which allows me to download up to 24 books within 24 months.

The nice thing about the service is that with your membership you are essentially downloading credits which mean you are able to purchase audiobooks at a fraction of the suggested price.  The downside I found with the monthly memberships is that you are limited to only 1-2 books a month, and if you go over you are charged for the full price of the book (less 10%).  For those of you who are only reading at bedtime – 20-30 minutes per day – this may be fine.  But for those of us who consume books like water, I need a bit more flexibility and so I went for the 2 year deal – which allows me to purchase up to 24 books for an effective price of $9.50 each.   My next plan is to download some Young Adult titles to our iPod Touch for Big Son N to listen to during our summer trips.

3.  Nook Color (by Barnes and Noble):

My mother-in-law, an avid reader, recently found herself in Barnes and Noble store taking the Nook color for a test drive.  That day she announced that she must have a Nook Color.  Dear hubby and I weren’t as familiar with the device as we both read on our iPhones – me with Kindle and he with iBooks.  But, with her birthday just weeks away, I found myself at Barnes and Noble purchasing a Nook Color.  I haven’t spent much time with the device, but my mother-in-law is just smitten with it.  She is not the most technologically savvy consumer so this tells me that BN got many of the features just right for the late adopters, taking advantage of the market feedback that came out of the Kindle innovations.  The nice thing about the Nook, besides being in color, is that it has a very simple browser that allows web-surfing, something that is not as streamlined on the first generation Kindle.  I don’t think the library for Nook is as vast as the Kindle, but it seems to suit Grandma just fine.

4.  Leapfrog TagJr.

Baby Girl N received the Tag Jr. from Santa this past Christmas and I am just loving the fact that she is able to sit and “read” books on her own.  Granted, the number of available books for the device is VERY  limited; I think there are only about 20 books available, anywhere, and only about 6 at local retailers.  But as Baby N is only 3 years old, she is taking advantage of reading the same books over and over again. And I’m grateful they all cover topics  she should be learning anyway, such as colors, number, shapes.  This has been a life saver on our long plane trips this spring and we intend to keep it with us for our summer travel as well.

Summer Reading Programs

5.  Barnes and Noble Summer Reading Program:

Nothing motivates Middle Son E like Free Stuff.  And Barnes and Noble is smart enough to build that into their summer reading program.  They are offering kids a free book after they read any 8 books.  They even provide a journal for kids to record their read books that can be turned in for a free book at any B&N location.   E is a bit like me, he devours books. So, I have no doubt he will complete this challenge many times over before the summer is over.  B&N has not forgotten about Parents and Teachers; they provide activity guides that help adults to engage kids in fun activities related to reading.

6.  Borders Double Dog Dare Reading Challenge:

Much like the B&N program, Borders is offering a free book for kids who read, in this case, 10 books over the summer.  The difference is that they must choose the free book from a list of eligible titles.  Not a problem, in our case, as the list is varied. And it is another way for E to benefit from his “Free Stuff” obsession, in a good way!  Oh, and this program is only for kids 12 and under.

7.  Pizza Hut BOOK it! Program:

Even Pizza Hut is encouraging kids to READ!  The Book It Program is designed for schools to manage, but parents can register as a home-school locations to request the kit be sent to their home.  Even without the kid, however, the Book It program website has many helpful  resources to encourage your kiddos to pick up a book.

8.  Local Library Summer Reading Program:

Chances are, your local library has a summer reading program that is designed for kids in the local area, complete with rewards and recommended reading lists.  We are lucky enough to live in a city that have 3 different county library systems, and all of them have a comparable reading program for the Portland kiddos.

Multnomah County “Get in Gear” Summer Reading:

Clackamas and Washington Counties “One World, Many Stories” Reading Program:

No excuses!  Get out there and READ!  Please post a comment if you know of other Reading Tools or programs that I missed.

My next post will include the Rush family Summer Reading Lists with recommendations for all ages…  Stay tuned!

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