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Marcus Boddy practices the piano because music is known to enhance math skills. photo by Renee Landuyt.

June 12, 2014
School's out!

Stash that backpack under the bed. Put the books and papers, tablets and power points out of sight.

"Not so fast," savvy parents say.

They realize brains are muscles and need to be exercised throughout the summer to retain what their children have learned during the past nine months. It is also a good time to introduce new ideas, encourage interests and bolster lagging academics.

"There are many studies that suggest that the average child loses about two month's growth over the summer without some type of enrichment, especially math," said Mary Petersen, a local psychotherapist and mother of a 13-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son.

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Mary Beth Garvey, psychotherapist and mother of three, added, "There is a wealth of research that highlights summer learning loss and educators speak often to the concerns associated with it. Research spanning 100 years shows that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacations than they do on the same tests at the beginning of summer vacation."

Before jumping into a high energy, academic-filled summer, Petersen recommends first checking with the Grosse Pointe schools website or your child's teacher for suggestions, then get creative. Puzzles, cooking, painting or taking an enrichment class are just a few ideas she cited.

A toddler would benefit from swimming lessons, not just for the skill but to learn to follow directions, listen and exist in a structured environment.

"(These are) skills that are imperative for academia," Petersen said.

Seven-year-old Sofia Boddy will be taking swimming lessons at the Neighborhood Club and Rania Routisis' two children also are enrolled in swimming lessons.

Gabriela Boddy, Sofia's mother, said she makes sure both her daughter, and son, Marcus, are enrolled in one physical and one creative activity each summer.

"Summer is the opportunity for us to apply everything that they have learned. We try to mix it up during the summer so they don't get bored," Grosse Pointe Woods resident Gabriela Boddy said. She has a variety of tools to encourage learning, including an app to help her daughter work on math skills and telling time and challenges her friend, who has the same app, to beat her score.

Grosse Pointe Park resident Garvey provided a personal example of how she addresses summer learning.

Her middle-school aged daughter must put a lot of effort into math. Last year, Garvey, on the advice of her daughter's teacher, found a high school student to tutor her daughter two or three times a week. The two clicked.

"She (the tutor) didn't make her feel she couldn't do the work," Garvey said. "She had an older student to look up to.

"It's wise to get them extra support because so much of kids' self esteem is tied to how smart or competent they think they are. It's important to give them the message that you are pursuing this because you know they are capable and they can manage the demands."

Without parental encouragement, Garvey's daughter requested the tutor again this summer.

However, Garvey said she believes there should be a time limit set for summer studies, especially for high school students who are frequently taking tests, writing essays and ticking off books from summer reading lists.

"Preserve summertime to disengage and pursue what interests them," she said.

"Keep in mind the child's interests and talents," Petersen said. "What they want to strengthen, as well as what they should strengthen for their best shot at success. Present it to your child as a strengthening tool, not a sentence."

Both Garvey and Boddy have found social interaction helps cement the lesson, whether it's using a tutor or with a friend using an electronic game.

While there are good electronic learning devices, Petersen, Garvey and Routsis advocate limiting time on them. And Boddy reminded parents to research the app prior to purchase.

Routsis said she has found LeapFrog successful in supplementing academics, as are workbooks and a schedule, pursuing physical activities in the morning and academics in the afternoon. A favorite time of the day in their Grosse Pointe Woods house is the evening story time. Routsis, her son, daughter and husband gather in her son's room to read a book.

Her 7-year-old son, Christos, is enthralled with the Magic Tree House series, which her 4-year-old daughter, Penelope, enjoys, too.

"We do our story time together so all four can have quality time. We take turns reading," she said.

Grosse Pointe Public Library assistant director Kate DeMeester added, "Our programming can be a great way for parents to introduce new hobbies or interests for their kids. We always have materials for kids who want to learn more about whey they just saw. Kids also frequently visit the library to pursue interests they already have and gain a depth of knowledge they didn't before.

"An added benefit of this is that when kids are reading about topics they are highly motivated to pursue, they are practicing their reading and building highly specialized vocabulary skills."

Boddy said her children check out stacks of books.

"Reading is a pleasure," she said. "You don't want to turn something as amazing as reading into a chore. Don't force the aspect with a book list, let them pick as many as they want."

Marina Southers said her two sons look forward to the summer. Travel is one tool their family uses to enhance education, followed by writing about the trip.

The Grosse Pointe Farms family travels both locally and nationally, most recently to Boston.

"We took the train to landmarks to what they were learning and it resonated," she said.

Eastern Market is a local site Southers likes to visit with her sons.

"We looked at the graffiti art in the Eastern Market. (I ask) where do you draw the line of defacing versus edgy art? Is the connotation negative? The Eastern Market is a great adventure. It has great places to eat, but they (also) are experiencing the smell, culture, ethnicity. In their minds they are going for pizza."

Being a fan of the Detroit Institute of Arts, the family takes in classic art, as well.

"You must make it relative to them. Make them find things," Southers said. "Make them think. Contribute by asking, 'Tell me what you see.'"

Encourage students to take a risk, try new things, Garvey said.

Through the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club, Southers' sons are taking sailing lessons from which they will learn how to read the water and wind, make decisions, stay calm in a dilemma and know how to act and react on the water.

"Whether this is a three season (interest) or a life-time interest, it's a life skill and they will feel more confident on the water," she said.

Both psychotherapists remind parents summer is also a time to go slower.

"Let them be kids with some reasonable responsibility," Petersen said.

"Part of the beauty of summer is just seeing what unfolds and ignites our interest, so there needs to be a balance between learning opportunities and good, old-fashioned down time," Garvey said.

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