By Caren Chaffee
As the summer months approach, many youth will be out of school for summer break. However, learning should not cease just because another grade level comes to an end.
There are many opportunities for youth to continue to learn, whether they are enrolled in a structured educational program throughout the warm weather months. Activities that promote learning do not have to be overly structured, expensive or time-consuming. Rather, the best opportunities are often environmental or situational endeavors.
The outdoors provides an excellent opportunity to explore and learn. Nature walks give youth the opportunity to take a closer look at the beauty of the world around them. They may find vegetation that is unfamiliar to them and choose to do some follow-up Internet research to identify it. Or, they may catch sight of a bird or hear a bird call that they had not heard before. Youth with a penchant for creativity may collect a few items and create beautiful art from nature. After dark, youth can view the night sky and learn about stars, constellations and planets.
Parks provide opportunities for youth to grow socially. Children typically gravitate to playground equipment and swing sets. Often, even children who are tentative to make new friends are drawn into imaginative play as groups of their peers explore and create scenarios on playgrounds shaped like castles and pirate ships. Unplanned “play dates” emerge as children who may not otherwise spend time together find themselves embroiled in creating new, fluid story lines which change as the “characters” arrive at and leave the playground throughout the day.
Local parks also offer occasions for pick-up basketball, volleyball or baseball games. While these games are excellent opportunities for youth to hone their athletic skills, even more important lessons are learned: Teamwork, cooperation and turn-taking, which are valuable tutorials that youth can carry with them throughout their lives.
Gardening is a popular summer activity. However, not all youth have an opportunity to tend to a backyard garden. If possible, youth can offer to help a neighbor with his or her garden, volunteer to tend a garden at a local park or provide similar outdoor or landscaping assistance at a senior center. Gardens offer excellent lessons on healthy food choices, but more importantly, help children learn the importance of patience and careful cultivation in helping something grow.
Summer months don’t always carry the promise of good weather. In the event that poor weather prohibits outdoor play and learning, one of the easiest and most significant activities that can encourage youth to continue to learn is reading. Local libraries open a world of opportunity at no cost. Research demonstrates that youth who are proficient at reading are more likely to graduate from school. If poor literacy skills extend into adulthood, they represent a significantly higher risk of living in poverty. Promoting literacy among children and youth is one of the most important lessons an adult can impart on a child. In fact, high frequency reading parents are six times more likely to have high frequency reading children. Therefore, it is important for youth to witness significant adults in their lives invested in reading and literacy.
While the warm weather offers a multitude of learning opportunities in the absence of a structured educational program, adults are a key part of cultivating this learning. Significant adults in the lives of youth must help expose them to these opportunities and encourage them to participate in activities that will further their learning.