During the summer, kids may fall behind academically — but they may learn self-reliance.
By LAUREN POLINSKY
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
Will your kids fine-tune their smarts this summer vacation, or let what they’d learned the previous school year drift away?
There’s debate over whether kids should be given free time to stimulate their minds and bodies, or be put to tasks that hone fine-motor skills and basic judgment.
The Public Libraries of Youngstown and Mahoning County offer more than 200 programs this summer by the library to keep kids active, and to reinforce concepts learned in school.
For example, the “Sci-mobile” was at the Austintown and Boardman libraries recently, showing kids how to uncover the mysteries of science. The Sci-mobile program was conducted by Pam Oviatt, author of “Early Learning Science Content Standards.” She explained science experiments to children.
The kids helped by blowing air into plastic bags to demonstrate how airplanes use air circulation to fly, and rubbing their hands on the handles of a bowl filled with water to make the water vibrate so that sound resonated.
Enthusiasm in the room was high. When Oviatt asked questions, the children immediately shouted out their answers; and when she asked for volunteers the kids waved their hands in hopes of being picked.
There is no consensus among experts and parents about whether activities like the Sci-mobile are the best way for kids to spend their months off.
Some think kids need structure and activities that imitate concepts learned in school, while others believe summer should be a time of spontaneity and self-learning.
Vielka McFarlane is the founder of Celerity Educational Group, a nonprofit organization that provides alternative schooling to underserved communities in Los Angeles. She believes parents need to motivate and stimulate kids minds and bodies by “providing opportunities to expand on the classroom knowledge they gained during the year.”
“The best way to keep a kid busy is to get them absorbed in a task and to almost trick them into learning,” she said in an interview.
McFarlane recently developed six tips parents can do to keep their kids active during the summer and get them “primed for the school year.”
Her tips include things such as building a kite to improve children’s fine motor skills and playing chess to refine math and sequencing skills. She also suggested crowning your child chef for a day because cooking utilizes reading skills, math skills and basic judgment.
McFarlane said that even though these ideas may seem basic, they are key activities that will preoccupy a child’s mind.
Randy Hoover, professor of education at Youngstown State University, said he believes the opposite of what McFarlane preaches.
Hoover said kids do not need to be given activities — but instead should be given their own free time so that children will learn to stimulate their own minds and bodies.
“Parents overschedule their kids. Parents over-train and over-emphasize [education] at the expense of allowing kids to learn on their own and make decisions on their own,” he said.
Hoover reminisced about what it was like when he was a kid, and how he would wake up in the morning and not know where the day was going to take him. In going out and exploring, Hoover was able to learn about his peers and about self-knowledge.
“That interaction we get without immediate adult supervision is how we learn about self discovery,” Hoover said.
Parents try to “adultify” kids by scheduling their lives for them and in turn, kids grow up to be passive adults with a bad sense of making their own decisions, he explained.
Hoover said the bottom line in the debate between kids and summer is that childhood has been ripped away from kids. “We have to give summer back to the kids.”
Stephen Holter and Lynn Vittorio, both of Boardman, have children that actively participate in the programs offered by the Youngstown and Mahoning County libraries. While they both have slightly differing opinions about what their kids should be doing in the summer, their attitudes fall in between those of McFarlane and Hoover.
Holter’s son is 5 years old and was dressed from head to toe in a Spiderman costume at the “Sci-mobile’s” presentation. Holter said that while it’s important let his son make his own choices, it is also important to be structured.
“During the summer, you want to keep kids stimulated, especially at a young age, because they are always learning,” Holter said.
Vittorio’s son is 9, and she said most of the things he does are spontaneous. She thinks kids need a break from the routine life of school, and summer is a good opportunity for kids to be exposed to things that they do not have time to explore during the school year.
“Kids should be kids in the summer and have more time to relax — like we did when we were younger,” Vittorio said.
The programs that the library offers over the summer focus on literacy and are based on the concept of free voluntary reading, according manager of children’s services Jo Nolfi. This is the idea that if kids read what they are interested in, they will tend to pick harder books and finish them at a quicker pace.
Nolfi said that kids who read less during the summer return to school reading at a lower level than when the summer began. “For each month they don’t read, they are behind that many months when they go back to school.”
The goal of the library’s program is to help kids improve their reading skills but disguise it as fun. This is the first year it has added early content learning programs like the Sci-mobile, but Nolfi said she is hoping to see more of them in the future.