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Educational activities for the summer break to beat boredom and learning loss

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It’s important to keep your kids occupied during the holidays, not just for your sanity, but also for their education.
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Catherine Attard, Western Sydney University

Christmas is over, the novelty of new toys has worn off, and the holiday chorus of “I’m bored” is echoing in households everywhere. What can you do to stop the boredom?

First, it’s important to understand why children feel bored. According to the literature, boredom signals a person’s need for physical or mental activity to keep him or her occupied and to vent energy, just like needing food to satisfy feelings of hunger. Apart from the constant nagging, having bored children can lead to negative behaviour, and that’s the last thing parents want during the long summer holidays.

What’s wrong with kids being bored?

Apart from maintaining the peace, there are other important reasons to keep your children from being bored. The long summer holiday period can result in what’s called learning loss. That is, children who aren’t kept mentally and physically active during the long school holidays can lose some of the skills they learned during the school year.

The phenomenon of learning loss is well documented in research, and studies have shown that often schools have to spend several weeks bringing students back to their pre-holiday learning levels.


Read more: Should Aussie kids go on US-style summer camps?


At best, children learn little or nothing during the summer holidays, and at worst, they can lose weeks of learning. The greatest losses occurring in the area of mathematics, and then spelling. The children most at risk of learning loss are those from low-income families, because of the differences in holiday experiences and activities of children from high-income families.

Regardless of income, there are many ways to stop children being bored, maintain their learning and keep them busy and happy during the holidays.

Activities at home

Art can be a good activity for kids during the break.
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Home is where you can get back to basics with your children.

Encourage your child to read a book. Research has proven that reading for pleasure improves reading attainment and writing as well as general knowledge, and community participation. Reading also provides insight into human nature and decision-making. If you don’t have books at home your child is interested in, take a trip to the local library and let them choose.

Play games with your children. If you want to help maintain your child’s mathematical learning and keep them having fun, there are lots of simple games you can play. All you need is a deck of cards, a set of dominoes or some traditional board games such as Monopoly, Guess Who or Yahtzee.

If you want to help with spelling, try playing Scrabble or teach your child to do simple crossword puzzles. For those who like a challenge, chess promotes important problem-solving skills.

Get messy with some creative art. If your child is feeling creative and you don’t mind a mess, let him or her paint, build, sculpt, design or invent. Creative art has been found to assist in children’s learning and promote well-being.

Digital activities

Play fun and educational video games. If traditional activities don’t do the trick, there are always the digital alternatives. Research has found playing video games can have cognitive, emotional and social benefits. But it’s important to choose carefully.


Read more: Why digital apps can be good gifts for young family members


Rather than choosing games that promote mindless violence or require little or no thinking, there are many educational games and apps that can help your child continue learning over the holidays such as Minecraft, Pick-a-Path, or MathDoodles. Many good apps are free and even if they’re not designed to be educational, they often involve problem-solving skills important in developing critical and creative thinking.

Outdoor activities

Children should get outside during the holidays for their confidence and their physical health.
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Take your children to the local park or playground. Recently, the NSW Department of Education announced over this year’s summer holidays it will trial having the playgrounds of 40 schools open to the public. This is aimed at providing access to outdoor spaces for families who don’t have backyards for children to play in.

The benefits of outdoor play during the summer holidays are significant. Science says holidays often result in weight gain among adults and children but there are also social benefits like improved self-confidence to be gained from interacting with other children.


Read more: Will you gain weight this Christmas?


If you want to add educational benefits to outdoor activities, play games that involve keeping score to help children maintain their mathematics skills. Younger children could go on “shape hunts” or “number hunts”, or you could play a game of I Spy to ensure there is mental and physical activity happening.

There are lots of other low-cost activities to support your children’s education. Going shopping can help your kids learn about financial literacy. Going to a museum or going hiking can teach children about history and nature.

The ConversationMost importantly, all of these activities will keep your kids’ minds and bodies active, keep you sane and stress free, and stop the kids from saying “I’m bored”.

Catherine Attard, Associate Professor, Mathematics Education, Western Sydney University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 

Mathematics, technology, and 21st Century learners: How much technology is too much?

On a recent visit to a shopping centre in Sydney, I noticed a new children’s playground had been installed. On closer inspection I was amazed to find a cubby house structure that had a number of iPads built into it. There was also a phone charging station built less than a metre off the ground, for users of the playground to access. The playground had obviously been designed for very young children. So what’s the problem? Shouldn’t playgrounds be meant to promote physical activity? What messages are the designers of this playground sending to children and their parents? Does technology have to pervade every aspect of our lives? What damage is this doing to children’s social and physical skills?

While considering the implications of this technology-enhanced playground, I began to reflect on the ways we use technology in the classroom. Is there such as thing as having too much technology? I am a strong supporter of using technology to enhance teaching and learning, and I know there are a multitude of benefits for students and teachers, particularly in relation to the use of mobile technologies (Attard 2014, 2013). However, there are issues and tensions. How do we, as educators, balance the use of technology with what we already know works well? For example, in any good mathematics classroom, students would be manipulating concrete materials to assist in building understandings of important mathematical concepts. Children are engaged in hands-on mathematical investigations and problem solving, arguing, reasoning and communicating through the language of mathematics. Can technology replace the kinesthetic and social aspects of good mathematics lessons? How do we find the right balance? Do students actually want more technology in the classroom, or do they prefer a more hands-on and social approach?

Often we use technology in the classroom to bridge the ‘digital divide’ between students’ home lives and school. We know this generation have access to technology outside the school, and we often assume that students are more engaged when we incorporate digital technologies into teaching and learning. In the The App Generation, Gardner and Davis (2013) discuss how our current generation relies on technology in almost every aspect of their lives. They make some important points that can translate to how we view the use of the technology in the classroom, “Apps can make you lazy, discourage the development of new skills, limit you to mimicry or tiny trivial tweaks or tweets – or they can open up whole new worlds for imagining, creating, producing, remixing, even forging new identities and enabling rich forms of intimacy” (p. 33).

Gardner and Davis argue that young people are so immersed in apps, they often view their world as a string of apps. If the use of apps allows us to pursue new possibilities, we are ‘app-enabled’. Conversely, if the use and reliance on apps restrict and determine procedures, choices and goals, the users become ‘app-dependent’ (2013). If we view this argument through the lens of mathematics classrooms, the use of apps could potentially restrict the learning of mathematics and limit teaching practices, or they could provide opportunities for creative pedagogy and for students to engage in higher order skills and problem solving.

So how do educators strike the right balance when it comes to technology? I often promote the use of the SAMR model (Puentedura, 2006) as a good place to start when planning to use technology. The SAMR model (Puentedura, 2006) represents a series of levels of “incremental technology integration within learning environments” (van Oostveen, Muirhead, & Goodman, 2011, p. 82). However, the model is not without limitations. Although it describes four clear levels of technology integration, I believe there should be another level, ‘distraction’, to describe the use of technology that detracts from learning. I also think the model is limited in that it assumes that integration at the lower levels, substitution and augmentation, cannot enhance students’ engagement. What is important is the way the technology is embedded in teaching and learning. Any tool is only as good as the person using it, and if we use the wrong tool, we minimise learning opportunities.

Is there such a thing as having too much technology? Although our students’ futures will be filled with technologies we haven’t yet imagined, I believe we still need to give careful consideration to how, what, when and why we use technology, particularly in the mathematics classroom. If students develop misconceptions around important mathematical concepts, we risk disengagement, the development of negative attitudes and students turning away from further study of mathematics in the later years of schooling and beyond. As for the technology-enhanced playground, there is a time and a place for learning with technology. I would rather see young children running around, playing and laughing with each other rather than sitting down and interacting with an iPad!

References:

Attard C, 2014, iPads in the primary mathematics classroom: exploring the experiences of four teachers in Empowering the Future Generation Through Mathematics Education, White, Allan L., Tahir, Suhaidah binti, Cheah, Ui Hock, Malaysia, pp 369-384. Penang: SEMEO RECSAM.

Attard, C. (2013). Introducing iPads into Primary Mathematics Pedagogies: An Exploration of Two Teachers’ Experiences. Paper presented at the Mathematics education: Yesterday, today and tomorrow (Proceedings of the 36th Annual conference of the Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia), Melbourne.

Gardner, H, & Davis, K. (2013). The app generation. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Puentedura, R. (2006). SAMR.   Retrieved July 16, 2013, from www.hippasus.com

van Oostveen, R, Muirhead, William, & Goodman, William M. (2011). Tablet PCs and reconceptualizing learning with technology: a case study in higher education. Interactive Technology and Smart Education, 8(2), 78-93. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/17415651111141803