Making the Most of Summer in NYC with your Child

 
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It’s finally summer! Can you feel that heat and the outdoors beckoning? These two months can mean a much needed break from the stress and rigidity of school and a chance for students to let loose and be creative. 

While it is important for kids to have fun, that doesn’t need to come at the expense of their learning! If your child is not heading out of town this summer or will be spending a few weeks in the city, it can be difficult to figure out what he or she can do to keep their bodies active and their minds engaged. But don’t despair! New York is an incredible playground for kids to have fun and learn at the same time.

Here are some great ideas to keep your kid's mind engaged and body active this summer:

Arts

Take a Photography Class: Encourage your child to take up a new skill like basic photography. Most classes for beginners don’t require any fancy equipment in the beginning. It is a great way to see if a passion turns into a profession as they grow older. Check out the teen offerings at Photo Manhattan and Photo Uno

Children's Museum of the Arts: Most of the amazing original sculptures, paintings and multimedia creations at the Children’s Museum of the Arts are made fresh everyday by the artists...which are actually the visitors. Little ones from across the city and around the world convene at this kid’s museum to let their imaginations and creativity run free as they take part in the daily workshops and studio activities.

Queens Museum: Your child can make his or her own piece of art at The Queens Museum, which offers free art activities on Sundays.

Wave Hill: Your little one can get their creative juices flowing at the beautiful Wave Hill Garden and Cultural Center in Riverdale. They have a variety of forest and woodland programs as well as its weekly Family Art Project. Head over on Saturdays and Sundays from 10am—1pm to participate in the craft extravaganza. Although the class itself is free, admission to Wave Hill is $2 for children 6 and up.

Shakespeare in the Park: Get your kid excited about Shakespeare in the best way; The Public Theater offers free plays and big stars every summer at Shakespeare in the Park, one of the city's most beloved cultural events.

Theater Walking Tours: If you have a child interested in theater, they will love the Broadway Up Close tour of the Theater District, where guides not only share stories about the iconic stages and their actors, but also can get into the behind the scenes fun and history of the real life Alexander Hamilton, with a trip downtown for the “Hamiltour.”

Free Museum Days: Museums in NYC are filled with awesome exhibits, and many museums offer free entrance on select days and times. Expose your kids to as much arts and culture as possible, for free!

MoMA Art Lab: The Art Lab, one of many family-friendly programs at MoMA, is an all-ages space that encourages hands-on experimentation, play, and creativity through activities directly connected to the MoMA collections that mom and dad love to look at. Art Lab visitors—ranging in age from toddlers to teens—get to touch anything, make a mess and even be artists themselves.

Whitney Museum of American Art: A great experience for parents and kids, at the Whitney Museum you can enjoy private tours of their most popular exhibitions, led by Whitney Teaching Fellows and Ph.D. candidates. On Saturdays and Sundays, kids can even use inspiration from the galleries to make a masterpiece during Open Studio For Families.

Science & Math

Liberty Science Center: The Liberty Science Center lets kids be their best scientist selves at over four floors of exhibits. At their MakerLab, they offer hands-on classes with LSC educators who will show your kids (age 10 and up) how to use the latest programming and fabricating tools; Make a costume, saber, wand, Minecraft model or even your own, original video game. There is also an IMAX studio, which includes features on robots, humpback whales or the Hubble telescope.

G.O.A.L.S. for GirlsG.O.A.L.S. stands for Greater Opportunities Advancing Leadership and Science, so if you have an 8th or 9th grade daughter who's really into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects, then this is for you: participants will engage in field studies, workshops, and hands-on STEM activities. The program runs for six weeks in July and August.

Robofun – This coding camp  is great for absolute beginners and middle school kids, RoboFun teaches Game Design and Lego Robotics for young aspiring coders.

Launch Math & Science Centers – Students in first through eighth grades can learn computer programming with Scratch, Python, and mobile apps. Summer camps are available at the UWS location, plus two satellite locations during the summer.

Science Saturday at Hudson River Park: On June 2 (at Pier 45), July 14 (at Pier 84) and Aug 11 (at Pier 25) from noon–4pm, families can experiment with hands-on activities at Hudson River Park. Hudson River Park’s Estuary Lab backs the programming, so you will get an ecological-focused itinerary such as touch tanks, performances from Mad Science and catch and release fishing, among other activities.  Dates: June 2 (at Pier 45), July 14 (at Pier 84) and Aug 11 (at Pier 25) from noon–4pm

Rose Center for Earth and Space: The American Museum of Natural History houses the Rose Center for Earth and Space, a glass enclosure that houses the 87-foot-diameter Hayden Sphere. Families can explore the 13-billion–year history of the universe, pick up cool facts about planets, stars and galaxies and watch space shows. The Museum collaborates with NASA to keep all of its visual maps up to date.

New York Hall of Science: At this great Queens museum, kids can get hands-on with hundreds of interactive exhibits and activities that bring science, technology, engineering and math to life. Built for the 1964 World's Fair, NYSCI is home to a revolving lineup of displays about light, 3-D printing, outer space and robots, plus the Design Lab, where kids can tackle activities at five stations: Backstage, Sandbox, Studio, Maker Space and Treehouse. Kids can also climb on a rope web and play mini golf at the massive Science Playground and Rocket Park.

Children's Museum of Manhattan: The Children’s Museum of Manhattan’s has two permanent exhibits that activate different aspects of kids’ imaginations: “EatSleepPlay,” where kids can crawl through a digestive system, help pump a giant heart, and burn energy by ducking lasers and balancing on a beam, and “PlayWorks,” for younger kids.

History

Snug Harbor Cultural Center: A quick ferry ride to Staten Island will get you to Snug Harbor, home to a scenic cultural center and the Staten Island Children's Museum. There are hands-on exhibits, interactive song and dance activities and a multitude of craft projects. Also home to the Connie Gretz Secret Garden, here kids can wander through the maze-like shrubs inspired by Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic novel, The Secret Garden. There's even a miniature castle and rose garden at the end of the trail.

Historical NYC Walking Tours: Take your kids on a fun and engaging walking tour, especially for history fans! Learn about New York during the Revolutionary War, or the local history of your neighborhood like Chelsea or the Lower East Side, with the extremely well-informed and engaging tour guides at Big Onion Tours.

The Cloisters: The Cloisters are located on four acres overlooking the Hudson River in northern Manhattan's Fort Tryon Park. Deriving its name from the medieval cloisters that form the core of the building, it presents a harmonious and evocative setting Devoted to the architecture of medieval Europe (and home to the wonderful, “Unicorn Tapestries”), this branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is full of incredible medieval artifacts and indoor-outdoor gardens. Within the museum, you can view jewelry, sculptures, paintings, metalwork and furniture. After, go for a walk overlooking the Hudson or the Fort Tryon Park.

American Museum of Natural History: The American Museum of Natural History houses one of the most impressive collections of dinosaur fossils in the world. While the dinosaurs collection is certainly awe-inspiring, make sure to also take your young science and history enthusiast to visit the Hall of Ocean Life, the Hall of North American Mammals and the Hall of Biodiversity.

Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum: At this museum, you will get to climb aboard this former aircraft carrier, which fought in World War II, the Cold War and the Vietnam War, and survived five kamikaze attacks. You can also board the Bell 47 helicopter, navigate the interacting submarine, and steer an airplane in the Exploreum hall. Make sure you visit the Space Shuttle Pavilion, which houses the giant NASA orbiter Enterprise. In 2018, visitors can explore the history of USS Growler through "A View From the Deep" to learn about the world's first nuclear submarines.

The Tenement Museum: At this Lower East Side museum, kids can see how their ancestors and New Yorkers who came before them lived on a one hour tour of the former tenement, which covers in great detail how the German-Jewish and Irish families struggled to find their way in their new country through tough labor and living conditions. You also get to taste how these immigrants ate, with a sit-down meal of various foods that were sold around the neighborhood with a tasting at the tenement. If you plan well, you can introduce your kid to a costumed interpreter playing a past resident of 97 Orchard Street!

Brooklyn Children’s Museum: This big yellow-roofed Crown Heights museum, which opened in 1899 was one of the first museums in the country geared specifically to kids. It has permanent exhibits that pay homage to the borough, such as “World Brooklyn,” a mini cityscape where kids can shop at fake Mexican bakeries and international bodegas, or “Neighborhood Nature,” which explore the creatures and plants found in everyday Brooklyn backyards. There are also daily free workshops where kids can learn and get crafty.

New York Transit Museum: At this museum, true to its name, your child will learn fascinating facts about our city’s transit system, in an authentic 1930s subway station. The museum uses pictures, models and vintage cars, which you can ride, to tell the fascinating story about how New York got its underground tunnels and subway system.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art: While the Met can be overwhelming and it is hard to know where to start, for your history buff kids, start by walking through the Temple of Dendur in the museum’s Egyptian Wing, visit the Sphynxes, the statue of the Nile crocodile and even check out the coffin of Khnumhotep, where you’ll see a real mummy

Outdoors Activities

Adventure Course Sunday series: For older (and braver!) kids, they will love this outdoor zip line and elevated adventure course (all for free) on Sundays. This year, the Adventure Course Sunday series runs from May 6–Oct 18, and each event is free and available to kids ages 8 and up.

Queens County Farm Museum: You don’t have to travel far from the city to get goats, sheep and other farm life! At the Queens County Farm Museum, the the oldest continually farmed site in the state, barnyard animals are available for feeding and petting. You can also take a walk around the 47-acres on a tractor-pulled hay ride, or do it yourself through their beautiful gardens. For a more educational bent, consider enrolling your agrarian enthusiast child in their summer program where they will get hands-on instruction on running a small-scale farm!

LeFrak Roller Rink: In Prospect Park you can find a fun summer spot for biking or roller skating on the 16,000-square-foot roller rink. For those looking to beat the heat, bring bathing suits in preparation for the 20 water jets of the LeFrak Center’s Splash Pad!:

Battery Urban Farm: At this city park, your kids can get down and dirty in garden soil and learn about/take home fresh produce. At Battery Urban Farm, the student farmer-run one-acre educational plot has more than 100 varieties of organic veggies, fruits, grains, flowers and other plants. It also donates its produce to food pantries and local school cafeterias and everyone is welcome to volunteer every third Saturday of the month from 10am to 1pm (register in advance).

NYC Audubon: If your kid loves animals and has a soft spot for birds, the nYC Audobon can open their eyes and ears to hundreds of species they may never have seen before! The New York City Audubon not only protects the birds, wildlife and their natural habitats in the area but they also have fun workshops and school programs to teach kids how to identify their birds and offers hope and tips for caring for the environment.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden's Edible Academy: This branch of the New York Botanical Garden has the goal of immersing children in nature. It offers planting projects, cooking demonstrations or hands-on activity in the greenhouse.

Bronx Zoo: Bronx Zoo is New York City’s biggest zoo, with more than 5,000 animals, including lions, tigers, the World of Reptiles, an outdoor baboon reserve, a sea lion pool and an exhibit dedicated entirely to animals of Madagascar. The zoo is also dedicated to conservation and science and offers daily summer camp programs.

New York Aquarium: This branch of the Wildlife Conservation Society, located off the Coney Island Boardwalk, has plenty of fish, sharks, starfish and the mammals and birds that live among them. Otters, seals, penguins and sea lions show off their crazy behavior and skills in the aquatheater during shows. 

Randalls Island Park: This beautiful island park is on the edge of the East River near Harlem, the Bronx, and Queens, and includes a huge complex for football, soccer, baseball, and other field sports, as well as trails for walking and cycling. 

Must Read Books for All Ages

A great book is an amazing gift - it can teach you something new, transport you to a different world, help you realize you aren't alone in your feelings, and so much more. In today's fast-paced digital world, though, the pleasure of a great book is often forgotten. That's why it is extra important to help your child build a love of reading, and summer break is a great opportunity to encourage your little one to get lost in a book. Here are our favorites for all ages!

Elementary

You can't go wrong with classics like Frog and Toad, the Wayside series, Harriet the Spy, or Charlotte's Web, but here are some of our newer favorites.

   The Notebook of Doom series    This series is perfect for boys who like things a little bit creepy and a lot action-packed. Each book features a new mystery, new monsters, and new problems for Alexander and his friends to solve.

The Notebook of Doom series

This series is perfect for boys who like things a little bit creepy and a lot action-packed. Each book features a new mystery, new monsters, and new problems for Alexander and his friends to solve.

  Zita the Spacegirl series   This graphic novel features Zita, a fearless girl on a journey through another world to rescue a kidnapped friend. Zita is brave, adventurous, and loyal. She refuses to be intimidated and she never gives up. 

Zita the Spacegirl series

This graphic novel features Zita, a fearless girl on a journey through another world to rescue a kidnapped friend. Zita is brave, adventurous, and loyal. She refuses to be intimidated and she never gives up. 

  Ivy and Bean series   Ivy and Bean is perfect for kids who like realistic fiction with a touch of fantasy. These two girls make more mischief than they can handle. The series is a celebration of overactive imaginations and independent girls who can solve any problem.

Ivy and Bean series

Ivy and Bean is perfect for kids who like realistic fiction with a touch of fantasy. These two girls make more mischief than they can handle. The series is a celebration of overactive imaginations and independent girls who can solve any problem.

   Here's Hank series    Hank is an endearing protagonist, always making his classmates (and his readers) laugh with his funny antics and adventures. 

Here's Hank series

Hank is an endearing protagonist, always making his classmates (and his readers) laugh with his funny antics and adventures. 

   Stink series    Readers may recognize Stink as Judy Moody’s little brother. Funny characters, wacky escapades, and sibling shenanigans make this a perfect series for budding readers to dive into.

Stink series

Readers may recognize Stink as Judy Moody’s little brother. Funny characters, wacky escapades, and sibling shenanigans make this a perfect series for budding readers to dive into.

   Franny K. Stein, Mad Scientist series    Franny is a mad scientist who conducts experiments in her attic bedroom. Though her experiments often get her into trouble, she always manages to fix the problems she creates. 

Franny K. Stein, Mad Scientist series

Franny is a mad scientist who conducts experiments in her attic bedroom. Though her experiments often get her into trouble, she always manages to fix the problems she creates. 


Middle School

Your child is bound to love classics like the Chronicles of Narnia, the Indian in the Cupboard, anything by Judy Blume or Roald Dahl, or Harry Potter or Percy Jackson if those are still on his or her reading list, but here are a few newer favorites just in case!

   Fish in a Tree    Sixth grader Ally struggles with school and is considered "dumb" and a "pest" by most teachers — until she gets in Mr. Daniels's class. Her life turns around when this teacher realizes she struggles with dyslexia and brings out the best in her.

Fish in a Tree

Sixth grader Ally struggles with school and is considered "dumb" and a "pest" by most teachers — until she gets in Mr. Daniels's class. Her life turns around when this teacher realizes she struggles with dyslexia and brings out the best in her.

   Goodbye Stranger    The story centers on three seventh graders, Bridge, Tab and Emily, who are dealing with typical middle school issues — taking selfies, liking boys, staying friends when your interests start to diverge, divorced parents — but this story takes it a few layers deeper. 

Goodbye Stranger

The story centers on three seventh graders, Bridge, Tab and Emily, who are dealing with typical middle school issues — taking selfies, liking boys, staying friends when your interests start to diverge, divorced parents — but this story takes it a few layers deeper. 

   Middle School, the Worst Years of my Life    Rafe just started middle school, and it’s … horrible. To survive days at school and problems at home, he comes up with Operation Rafe where he earns points for breaking oppressive rules like running in the halls and pulling the fire alarm

Middle School, the Worst Years of my Life

Rafe just started middle school, and it’s … horrible. To survive days at school and problems at home, he comes up with Operation Rafe where he earns points for breaking oppressive rules like running in the halls and pulling the fire alarm

   Doll Bones    Zach, Poppy, and Alice have been best friends forever, playing one long game of make-believe centering around the Queen, an old china doll. But now that they are in middle school, they are starting to drift apart, but a great adventure might change that. 

Doll Bones

Zach, Poppy, and Alice have been best friends forever, playing one long game of make-believe centering around the Queen, an old china doll. But now that they are in middle school, they are starting to drift apart, but a great adventure might change that. 

   The One and Only Ivan    This winner of the 2013 Newbery Medal celebrates the transformative power of unexpected friendships. Inspired by the true story of a captive gorilla known as Ivan, this illustrated novel is told from the point-of-view of Ivan himself.

The One and Only Ivan

This winner of the 2013 Newbery Medal celebrates the transformative power of unexpected friendships. Inspired by the true story of a captive gorilla known as Ivan, this illustrated novel is told from the point-of-view of Ivan himself.

   Counting by 7s    Holly Goldberg Sloan’s beautiful novel about being an outsider, coping with loss, and discovering the true meaning of family will move readers of all ages. 

Counting by 7s

Holly Goldberg Sloan’s beautiful novel about being an outsider, coping with loss, and discovering the true meaning of family will move readers of all ages. 


High School

Here are some of our favorite recent works of fiction!

   The Book Thief    Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich in Nazi Germany. Her life changes forever when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her foster father, she learns to read and her books help her and her neighbors through the war.  

The Book Thief

Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich in Nazi Germany. Her life changes forever when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her foster father, she learns to read and her books help her and her neighbors through the war.
 

   The Kite Runner    The unforgettable story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant, caught in the tragic sweep of history,  The Kite Runner  transports readers to Afghanistan at a tense and crucial moment of change and destruction.

The Kite Runner

The unforgettable story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant, caught in the tragic sweep of history, The Kite Runner transports readers to Afghanistan at a tense and crucial moment of change and destruction.

   Looking for Alaska    Miles Halter is fascinated by famous last words—and tired of his safe life at home. When he heads to boarding school he finds clever, beguiling, and self-destructive Alaska Young, who will pull Miles into her labyrinth and catapults him into the Great Perhaps.

Looking for Alaska

Miles Halter is fascinated by famous last words—and tired of his safe life at home. When he heads to boarding school he finds clever, beguiling, and self-destructive Alaska Young, who will pull Miles into her labyrinth and catapults him into the Great Perhaps.

   The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao    Oscar is a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd who—from the New Jersey home he shares with his old world mother and rebellious sister—dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and, most of all, finding love. But Oscar may never get what he wants. Blame the fukú—a curse that has haunted Oscar’s family for generations, following them on their epic journey from Santo Domingo to the USA.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Oscar is a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd who—from the New Jersey home he shares with his old world mother and rebellious sister—dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and, most of all, finding love. But Oscar may never get what he wants. Blame the fukú—a curse that has haunted Oscar’s family for generations, following them on their epic journey from Santo Domingo to the USA.

   The Perks of Being a Wallflower    The story follows observant “wallflower” Charlie as he charts a course through the strange world between adolescence and adulthood. First dates, family drama, and new friends. Sex, drugs, and  The Rocky Horror Picture Show . Devastating loss, young love, and life on the fringes. 

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The story follows observant “wallflower” Charlie as he charts a course through the strange world between adolescence and adulthood. First dates, family drama, and new friends. Sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Devastating loss, young love, and life on the fringes. 

   Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time    Christopher John Francis Boone, the 15-year-old autistic narrator of this widely lauded novel, is a brilliant and sensitive kid who feels a kinship with animals more than people. So when Wellington, a neighborhood dog, is mysteriously killed, Christopher is compelled to figure out who did it, documenting all his findings despite the discouragement from those around him

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

Christopher John Francis Boone, the 15-year-old autistic narrator of this widely lauded novel, is a brilliant and sensitive kid who feels a kinship with animals more than people. So when Wellington, a neighborhood dog, is mysteriously killed, Christopher is compelled to figure out who did it, documenting all his findings despite the discouragement from those around him

Meet a Student: Lizzie

What is your favorite book?

My favorite book is The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I love this because of Katniss’s bravery and courage. She took a big risk to save her sister, and I think that is very admirable in a person.

If you were a teacher, what subject would you teach?

If I was a teacher, I would teach English. I love reading, and I enjoy reading and analyzing passages from books, and especially poetry.

What have you learned about yourself as a student since you started with tutoring?

Since I started with tutoring, I have loved learning about my challenges with learning, and learning about my brain and how I best obtain information.

Outside of school, what do you like to do for fun?

I love theatre. I have been a competitive dancer since the age of 3, and I have been in school productions such as Mary Poppins, as Mary, and The Lion King, as Rafiki.

What is something you have done or accomplished that are you most proud of?

I am proud of the steps I took to make the National School Walkout on March 14th happen.

What is your favorite word?

My favorite word is whimsical. I think that the definition perfectly matches the emphasis and way you say the word.

What is one goal, big or small, that you have for the next year?

I would like to get a good part in the school production next year:)

Here is Lizzie's letter she wrote to make her case for the school walk out to protest gun laws.

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Meet a Tutor: Trinity

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Tell us a bit about yourself! Where are you from originally, and what brought you to New York?

I grew up on the Texas coast, where I spent nearly every weekend swimming at the beach.  I lived in North Texas after college, where I taught high school English and coached softball and volleyball.  I moved to New York in 2014 to get my master’s degree in poetry at The New School.  

What was your favorite subject in school? 

My favorite subjects were English, Art, and Spanish.   

Is there a particular lesson or concept that you remember learning very clearly, either because of the way that it was taught, the way you came to understand it, or the way it changed the way you look at the world? Tell us about that experience. 

When I was twenty years old, I moved to England to study at the University of Leeds. I was a young American poet, and I wanted to prove myself.  Though I wrote a lot, I was hesitant to call myself a writer.  I thought I had to earn the title by being published, winning awards, and having a little fame.   

My new friend Beth challenged my idea of success.  She was a writer and artist who spent all her time (gasp!) writing and making art.  She wasn’t concerned with making the right impression on the right people; she considered herself a successful writer because she wrote every day.  

We spent a lot of time together then, poking away at old-fashioned typewriters and printing little chapbooks of our own poetry.  Thanks to Beth, I learned to take ownership of my dreams, instead of waiting for someone else to give me permission to be the writer I knew I was.  

What is your favorite book?

My favorite fiction book is The Secret History by Donna Tartt. It was recommended to me by my high school English teacher (she was a genius, but that’s another story).  The first time I read the book, I swear I didn’t look up from the pages once. It’s dark and fascinating, and the characters are artfully built.  

My favorite book of poetry is Reconnaissance by Carl Phillips.  I’m astounded by the leaps he makes in poetry; it’s like watching a magician conjure a miracle.  I don’t know how he does it, but I’m glad I’m in his audience.  

What’s one piece of advice you’d like to give to every student reading this?

Find a kind of creative practice that makes you happy, something that sends you into the zone where nothing else exists.  Maybe you like to write, draw, dance, make films, sing, make puppets, sew, tell jokes— the possibilities are endless— but make regular time for that in your life.  I think nothing satisfies human beings like the act of creation, and no matter what happens in your life, relationships, careers, you can always have that little zone for yourself.  

What’s your favorite word? 

This is a difficult question for a poet.  I keep a running list of words that interest me in my notebook, so I’ll lift my answer from that:  plum, notch, coin, pillowslip, la boca (spanish for mouth)

How do you spend your free time?

I write, read, swim, bike, doodle, cook, watch Texas Rangers baseball, and look at Doug the Pug’s Instagram. 

What does learning mean in your life?

Learning means all the doors are open and I can do anything. 

Smarter Summers

It's hard to believe, but the summer countdown is on. Sure, it's only May and the break won't officially begin until June, but as the flowers bloom and the temperature rises, and as finals are scheduled and camp packing lists go out, summer feels like it's around the corner. It brings a sense of relief for all of us - sunny days, weekend adventures, more time to spend with family, and happier, less stressed kids (and hopefully adults too)!

At the same time, as an educator, I also look at the summer break as a valuable time for learning. While kids deserve a break, it is important for them to not totally check out. Most students lose about two months of grade level equivalency in reading and mathematical computation skills over the summer months – what educators and researchers refer to as “summer learning loss” or “summer brain drain.” However, by keeping kids more engaged over the break, we can help to ensure a smoother, more confident transition into the new school year. For elementary students, this means building a stronger foundation for reading, writing, and mathematical growth. For middle schoolers, this means learning how to think bigger by making meaningful connections between academic skills and the greater world we live in. For high schoolers, this means planning ahead for their many very real and very big next steps - honors and AP classes, internships and volunteer opportunities, test prep, and college applications.

May's blog posts are all about how to avoid that summer slump and make the most of the break. We offer suggestions, programs, and support for students of all ages over the vacation. For more information on our group classes or individual tutoring you can visit the Smarter Summers page, or email me at mara@smarten-up.com.

 

Smarter Summers: Elementary

For so many kids, the end of the school year is synonymous with a total break from learning. Sure, they may (and should!) read books over the summer vacation, but math is out of the picture, writing is forgotten, and spelling is given little to no consideration. However, this lack of engagement can have a serious impact on growing minds. Studies show that students on average lose 2.6 months of math skills and two months of reading gains when they check out over summer break. With this in mind, here are some tips for keeping your little one engaged.

Be a book worm!

- Take lots of trips to local libraries or book stores so your child can continue to consistently explore new books, just like they do in their classroom and school library.

- Read with your children! Chances are they are interested in books that are a bit too complex or challenging for them to read on their own, but with your help, these stories become accessible. Plus, these higher level books will include great vocabulary words for your child to learn.

- Have your child keep a journal of her summer adventures. Not only will serve as a great way to continue writing, it is also a really nice way to encourage creative story telling through a combination of words, pictures, drawings, mementos, and more. Plus, they'll have an incredible book of their own creation to look back on to remember their super fun summer break!

Don't forget about STEM!

- Building math fact fluency is central to later mathematical success, and luckily there are tons of great apps to help kids master their facts. Some of our favorites include Operation Math, Sushi Monster, Number Run, and Marble Math

- Legos and puzzles are a great way to develop visual thinking and problem solving skills. Let students work on their own creations, or give them a challenge to solve.

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Learn with Smarten Up!

We will also be offering a two-week elementary academic workshop for rising 1st and 2nd graders this summer. We want our students to return to the classroom with confidence, feeling excited to show off all that they’ve learned, and eager to learn even more! Our carefully planned half-day program is designed not only to prevent learning loss, but to actually keep kids moving forward with the important skills that will help them excel in school. We target foundational reading, writing, and math skills using research-based programs within the context of a fun, game-based learning experience.

For more information visit the Smarter Summers section of the website, or email mara@smarten-up.com.

Smarter Summers: Middle School

The academic calendar as we know it is largely a relic of the past, and many educators—as much as we may love the long break—recognize that the extended summer vacation can impede learning. Studies suggest that, on average, students lose about a month of progress over the summer because of their relative academic inactivity. This phenomenon even has a name: the “summer slide.” But if we can capture the potential of these ‘lost’ summer months with just a few targeted projects, we can turn this loss into a gain. Used properly, summer is an opportunity for students to set themselves up for academic success in the fall —and this progress doesn’t have to come at the cost of fun!

During their middle school years, students are on the path toward more ambitious academic projects, taking their first steps toward an individualized, personal education with the new element of choice granted by electives and specialization. This is the moment when students need to start learning to take more responsibility for their own learning. It’s also a time when students are beginning to consider the wider world, and think about how school relates to their experiences and interests. 

One way to begin this transition toward personal responsibility, and encourage students to value their curiosity, is to engage with current events. In the increasingly connected and contentious world we live in, students are constantly exposed to the tailwinds of news, from controversies in pop culture and Hollywood to political upheaval and division around climate change or gun laws. It’s more important than ever that students to feel prepared to sift through the media available to them to form their own opinion, and to evaluate the trustworthiness of different sources. As educators, we decided to meet this need with a pair of week-long writing workshops over the summer, in which students split their time between skill lessons in writing and critical reading, and a project where they can apply these skills by researching a topic of interest  and preparing a news article that summarizes their finding. In Week 2 of the workshop, we move from expository to persuasive writing, learning the elements of an argument, comparing rhetorical devices in major speeches from American history, and then gathering evidence to compose a speech that is delivered in a supportive environment at the end of the session. 

The goal of this program—which we have dubbed ‘Smarter Summers’—is to teach important academic skills while also helping students to test the waters with developing a voice of their own, as their awareness of the world around them grows.

Interested? Email mara@smarten-up.com for more information. 

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Smarter Summers: High School

As students embark on the latter half of their high school careers, the prospect of what comes after looms large on the horizon. The college search involves a daunting combination of introspection, research, testing, and logistics that can feel overwhelming even for the most organized student—and it arrives at a time in their academic career when most students are also facing more pressure at school than ever before. That’s why it’s increasingly important to make the best use of summer breaks to get ahead in the college application process. For older students this means focused review for standardized tests, brainstorming for the personal essay, and college visits. Importantly, though, it also means that even students early in their high school years need to take advantage of the summer break to find a passion project, learning experience, service opportunity, or summer job that will spur meaningful growth, offer exposure to a potential area of study or interest, and, as a result, provide them with compelling material to relate during the admissions process. 

These days, more and more students forestall the age-old question: what do you want to be when you grow up? And that’s okay! In a rapidly-changing world where young adults are expected to hold more distinct jobs than any generation before them, flexibility and openness are prerequisites. However, rather than an excuse to avoid reflecting on their future goals, this open-ended world creates an invitation (even an obligation) to explore the possibilities that await. Students will be increasingly responsible for navigating their own way through the thicket of opportunities, rather than stepping onto a career path that is clearly marked out for them from the start. The open days of summer are a first taste of this freedom, which can be equal parts exciting and overwhelming. What students do with the summer months is up to them, but it’s our job to guide them into experiences that will help them to better define their future goals, and to take real steps toward meeting them.

These summer experiences often serve as the source material for a student’s personal essay, which conveys to admissions officers the particular qualities that a student can bring to their school. It also makes sense to use the summer to begin the development of this essay as well, during a relatively slow moment in the year when students have the time to reflect and experiment. That’s why Smarten Up will offer a week-long intensive in the personal essay this summer, developing original and effective essay drafts in a small group setting. Together we will break down successful examples of this type of essay, learning a set of best practices to employ as we also experiment to find the right story for each individual student. The personal essay is a student’s chance to share their unique voice with admissions officers—but ‘be unique’ is, of course, uselessly vague advice. The workshop will focus on the actionable steps in the writing and revision process that will allow this unique voice to emerge. 

Will you join us? Email mara@smarten-up.com for more information. 

Meet a Student: Jamie

What is your favorite book?

My favorite book is “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck. I really enjoyed reading about the struggle of the various characters during the Dust Bowl and how the characters confronted an environmental challenge.

If you were a teacher, what subject would you teach?

If I were a teacher, I would teach math because I love numbers and the fact that there is a procedure to follow to solve each problem.

What have you learned about yourself as a student since you started with tutoring?

What I have learned about myself as a student since I started with Smarten Up is that I am capable of handling the rigors of a mainstream high school workload. This has especially been true with Ben’s support and encouragement. He has motivated me to believe that I am capable of anything to the point that I decided to take AP Environmental Science. Not only has Ben helped me, but Karla and Brendan have supported me tremendously as well. Karla helped me get through Honors Precalculus and Calculus and boosted my math confidence and abilities to the point that I want to take Calculus I in college in the fall. Finally, Brendan helped me to overcome my testing struggles on the ACT.

Since this month’s focus is on productive summer breaks, can you tell us about one summer you’ve had that was particularly impactful?

One summer I had that was particularly impactful was last summer, after junior year. It was impactful because I took an intensive two week pre-college course at Marist College in Environmental Studies. The semester course happened in just two weeks, therefore, we had high school length of classes and a college load of work. The schedule was so structured to the point that it was difficult to complete all of my work, especially the reading. However, I was able to use my studying skills and willpower to finish everything and get to bed at a reasonable time. I also learned how to live in college dorm for two weeks, which was not too difficult since I lived in a dorm for 4 years in middle school. The best part of the experience was that I found an even deeper passion for environmental science, and loved my professor. He took us on trips including going camping, to a water treatment plant, and on an old boat. This set me up perfectly for AP Environmental Science. 

Outside of school, what do you like to do for fun?

Outside of school, I enjoy exercising like going to the gym or for a run. I also enjoy being immersed in entertainment and culture so I can take advantage of all New York City has to offer. I enjoy going to the movies, museums, concerts, broadway shows, and restaurants. I also enjoy the outdoors like going for walks, playing golf, biking, and hiking.

How do you like to prepare for a test?

I like to prepare for a test by making a Quizlet for key terms, reviewing old assignments, notes, and assessments. I also like to rewrite the definitions or say them aloud in order to commit them to memory. I sometimes make mnemonics to remember terms. For math, I usually just practice problems of a particular concept repeatedly until I understand this process. This can be done for studying for any test in order to commit it to memory.   

What is your favorite word?

My favorite word is mashugana, which is a Yiddish expression meaning something that is crazy or strange.

What is one goal, big or small, that you have for the next year?

One goal I have for next year is to become more of an independent learner, especially since I am starting college in the fall and living away from family.

Meet a Tutor: Olivia

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Tell us a bit about yourself! Where are you from originally, and what brought you to New York?

I was born in New York City but I moved to Costa Rica at a very young age and spent my whole life there. My parents run a bed and breakfast and coffee farm in a town called Heredia, near the cloud forest. It was very rural and very fun; I spent most of my childhood with animals: horses, dogs, cats, rabbits and a pet squirrel called Sammy. I came to New York right after college as I was interested in film and theater, and haven’t left since!

What was your favorite subject in school? 

I loved literature, both English and Spanish. I lived in a pretty vivid fantasy world as a kid and reading was always my favorite way to fully inhabit those worlds and make them my own.

Is there a particular lesson or concept that you remember learning very clearly, either because of the way that it was taught, the way you came to understand it, or the way it changed the way you look at the world? Tell us about that experience. 

I had an English teacher in high school who spoke mostly in spoonerisms and never taught what was on the rigid curriculum. At the time, most of my classmates thought that he was a little looney, but the truth is that he was teaching us to think about language in a different way. We were encouraged to read and write in the most creative, expressive way possible and to make up words if they were part of the world we had created. In a system that often teaches language in a very rigid way, having a teacher who talked to us about the meaning of life and used language in a way that demonstrated other means of expression, really opened me up to appreciate literature and philosophy in a way I might not have without him. Mr Goldfinch was indeed loony, but only because he wanted to create a generation of free thinkers and totally unique loony creatives. 

What is your favorite book?

I have so many favorite books but I love anything by the author Wallace Stegner. Other favorites include Justine by Lawrence Durrell, Middlemarch by George Eliot and I have a lot of love for great fantasy novels I read in my youth like, The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman, The Chronicles of Narnia and anything by Ray Bradbury.

What’s one piece of advice you’d like to give to every student reading this?

Express yourself however you can! Whether it is through writing, reading, acting, singing - finding something that is all your own and not dependent on the validation of others is the best way to really figure out who you are and what makes you happy! Spending time coming up with stories, no matter how weird, is also great for your critical thinking!

What’s your favorite word? 

Oh, that’s a hard one! I guess I love the word HALCYON. It sounds mythical, like a half bird-half human… and the word feels warm. I also like LANGUID and SANGUINE; I guess I just miss the slow-moving optimism of the summer (also, I love the sound of those liquid ‘u’s).

Imagine a prominent author has been hired to write your biography: what would the title be? Write us a one-sentence tagline. 

“Living Life Out Loud (and in Technicolor)”

Captivated by the human experience, Olivia has spent her life learning from and exploring a wide array of cultures, mediums and and flavors in an attempt to Live Out Loud!

How do you spend your free time?

I love to act, both in theater and film and I love to write. When I’m not tutoring I am watching movies, dancing, reading, eating and going on auditions for various projects!

What does learning mean in your life?

For me, life is learning - I approach everything I do as learning and in this way am always excited about new experiences, new people and new hobbies. The thought of having a conversation with someone from a totally different background and upbringing is incredibly exciting to me- I want to be pushed to think about things in new ways and to learn about humans across all walks of life.