Friday, June 15, 2012

Summer learning comes in many forms

From today's Briefing:

I realized last week that I have unwittingly been depriving my children of an all-American classic. I corrected the error as soon as possible, and I feel certain that long-term damage has been avoided.
My children are now bona fide fans of The Brady Bunch.
The sitcom was a summer staple for my sister and me. We were too young to discover it in prime time, so we watched multiple syndicated episodes daily.
With the power of the DVR, Cooper and Katie have already watched some essential episodes, including the three-part Grand Canyon story arc and the one in which Peter breaks Carol’s vase (perhaps best known for the oft-repeated line, “Don’t play ball in the house!”).
If I had a do-over on some of those summers of yesteryear, I might have spent a little less time draped across the sofa and a little more time doing something productive. I can rationalize now that children of the 1970s didn’t have as many resources at their fingertips.
Today’s kids have no such excuse. In addition to having access to hundreds of television channels, some of which actually offer valuable content, they can tap into incredible learning opportunities with help from technology.
Here are some of my family’s favorite resources — both online and offline.
BrainPOP ( One of our summer nighttime traditions is to read a chapter from a book together, followed by a quick BrainPOP video and quiz.
The animated videos are about three minutes each. They cover science, social studies, English, math, engineering and technology, health, and arts and music.
We don’t pay for the service (we use the free app on my iPad) so we’re limited to the free video of the day — often tied to a holiday, current event or historical anniversary — and a few in the archive.
Recent topics have included Anne Frank, nutrition, Sally Ride and tropical rain forests.
Online access to libraries: I’ve recently set up my iPad to download e-books, and now I’m wondering why I waited so long.
Our public library’s electronic collection is too small yet to completely replace trips to the actual building, but logging in from home is a nice supplement.
I can check out seven books at a time, each available for two weeks. I need that much time for novels, but Katie spins through some of her choices in less time than it would take to drive to the library and back.
We’ve also set up Cooper’s Nook tablet for borrowing books, including access to our school district’s library system.
Most library websites offer detailed tutorials on how to configure devices for borrowing.
Story Starters: Three summers ago I bought Story Starters for Cooper, an avid reader but reluctant writer. It’s a thick, richly illustrated book that he hasn’t yet exhausted.
Karen Andreola has written dozens of stories without endings. She purposefully leaves students in the middle of a conflict or predicament and then instructs them to complete the tale.
For example, in The Alligator, the narrator describes a harrowing scene in which his father is trapped by a South American alligator.
Then the reader is prompted to write how the father frees himself and is encouraged to use vivid verbs from a suggested list.
“Describe the alligator by showing with words what he looks, smells or sounds like. Describe the struggle that took place. Tell about the surroundings.”
Cooper still doesn’t love writing, but he prefers these stories to the simpler writing prompts found on standardized tests.
Elenco Snap Circuits: A small box of these circuitry construction sets can lead to hours of hands-on experimentation.
Katie has watched her big brother long enough that she can now piece together the plastic modules on her own. Projects increase in difficulty, from turning on a light bulb to activating a fan to creating electronic games.
We have the “extreme” kit, but the “junior” kit is significantly cheaper and will keep most kids busy all summer — when they’re not catching up on 40-year-old television shows.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. She can be reached at

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