Summer learning helps keep children’s minds sharp

Russell Anglin

Clovis Municipal Schools teacher and mother of one, Gwyn Del Toro understands the importance of having her son Matthew hit the books before he starts kindergarten in the fall.

She said Matthew has been an active library patron this summer.

“He likes the ‘I Spy’ books but then we get a bunch of different kinds. He really liked dinosaurs so we pick out some dinosaur books. It just depends,” Del Toro said.

“And Iron Man,” Matthew added.

Gwyn also signed Matthew up for a couple of “kid’s college” classes at Clovis Community College.

“I did it so he would have something to do instead of just sitting at home, really not expecting that it was going to be as educational as it was. He did a volcano class, learned all about the different types of rocks and how volcanoes were formed and erupted,” Gwyn said.

In addition, Matthew has been working on his writing and spelling. Gwyn said she recently took Matthew to the Hillcrest Zoo. When they came back home, Matthew drew a picture of a zoo animal and wrote a sentence about what he did during the day. Matthew regularly writes in his journal to express himself and sharpen his literary skills.

”The thing that we tell kids — and it’s not just me, I’ve heard other teachers tell kids this, too — is to make sure they’re reading,” Gwyn said. “And ultimately it doesn’t matter what the kids are reading as long as they’re reading something. Comic books, the newspaper, whatever. Just whatever interests them.”

Kathie Good, assistant dean of college of education and technology at Eastern New Mexico University, said keeping kids’ minds sharp is as simple as keeping them engaged in the world around them mentally and physically.

“All kinds of research tells us that the body needs to move to engage the brain away from the video games, outside, at the pool, running up and down the street playing baseball – or whatever – helps keep their brain in tune. It helps their brain stay functional,” Good said.

She said in her experiences teaching elementary school in Clovis and Portales, teaching college students to become special education teachers at ENMU and raising foster children with her husband, she has found that kids who return to school from summer break have more difficulty catching up in math than in any other subject.

“Working with numbers is just as important because math is its own literacy. Again, it doesn’t have to be workshops and books. When the kids make cupcakes and they have 24 cupcakes and they want half to be chocolate and half to be vanilla you can do a whole fraction thing right there,” Good said.

She said public libraries are among the best resources available to parents in Clovis and Portales who want a cheap way to keep their kids sharp. Both libraries offer summer reading programs and special events to help stimulate learning.

She said the university also has a state-funded resource for kids called the Toy Library.

“It’s like a lending library where you can come and get educational toys and check them out like at a library, so you don’t have to buy all these great educational toys. You can come here, check them out and take them home,” Good said.

As the summer months progress, some television programs and even video games can foster learning and imagination in school-aged kids, Good said, but it’s still up to parents and caregivers to engage their kids in conversations about what’s on the screen.

“Just putting them in front of the book or putting them in front of a video game is only part of that learning,” Good said. “You’ve got to have conversation around it to make it mean something to them.”