Q: My daughter, Caroline, is a top student who hates to see school end. She's a rising fifth-grader, reading at a high-school level. What can I do to keep her challenged until school starts? We can't afford camp.
A: You're smart to make challenging her a priority. Summer learning loss is real, even for highly intelligent kids, if they simply "veg out" for weeks on end.
According to the National Summer Learning Association (summerlearning.org), if students do not engage in educational activities to keep up their skills in the summer months, many can lose up to two months of grade-level equivalency in math during that time; in addition, many students will typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning.
Start by celebrating the year Caroline just spent in the fourth grade, says Bill Laraway, a fifth-grade teacher at Silver Oak Elementary in San Jose, Calif.
"It's a milestone and a good time for reflection," he says. "The last day of school can be more important than the first for students."
Discuss what she accomplished in fourth grade that will help her in fifth. What did she achieve? What is she especially proud of?
"You want Caroline to remember the year's total accomplishments -- not just the great report card," says Laraway. "Together, create a document -- scrapbook, video, or time capsule -- to cherish for years to come. Include her best work, titles of favorite books, photos and other mementos that reflect the year's highlights. Let the things she's most excited about guide you to summer activities she enjoys."
Next, tee up activities that will help develop her interests. If she likes a certain book series, check them out from the library. Search for online courses in topics she might enjoy. Give her real tasks to perform around the home such as researching products you might buy, analyzing comparative cellphone plans or checking the grocery list for the best prices. Search garage sales for certain items, such as kits and books she'll like.
Use summer projects to boost planning skills. "There's a big difference between fourth and fifth grade," says Laraway. "There's less hand-holding and more emphasis on becoming independent learners. Build up your daughter's organizational skills by having her help plan summer events. Teach her how to 'backwards map' what needs to be done for each event well before the day arrives.
"She'll need those skills for projects and other multiday assignments come fall."
While she is too young to be hired, you might be able to find her a worthy mentor who'd welcome her into the workplace to perform interesting tasks. That way, she can learn about and contribute to a work environment.
Don't give up on camp. "Many school districts and colleges understand that our brightest kids need summer school, too, and offer a range of free or low-cost enrichment programs," says Laraway. Check with your district and the National Association of Gifted Children site (www.nagc.org) to access its summer camp directory.
Before she enters fifth grade, make sure that she gets every resource your district offers its gifted and talented students.
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)