No Learning Lost: Keeping Tiny Minds Tuned This Summer
written by JENNIFER COLOSIMO | photography courtesy of JENNIFER COLOSIMO
As a parent of a toddler, keeping up on our times tables isn’t the top priority. To be honest, we’re still learning how to use a spoon. But, as the horizon of educational development looms in our future, I can’t help but be concerned when I hear certain statistics.
For instance, according to studies reported by RAND Corporation, anywhere from two to three months worth of what your kids learn during the school year is lost over that (coveted, cherished, non-negotiable) summer break. In a word, yikes. Without trading your lazy days in the sun, the free time with little ones or the nostalgia for poolside popsicles and summer camp, what’s the answer to keeping tiny minds in tune?
Mathnasium franchise owners, Holly and Chris Lee agree that practice is the key to staying on track, and even to getting ahead year to year. They opened Georgia’s first location in Johns Creek 11 years ago when Chris felt the call to work with kids. He left his desk job, found the math-tutoring brand online and eventually opened three more locations(Suwanee, South Forsyth and San Anselmo, Calif.). Now the Lees have three kids of their own taking full advantage of the family business.
“Working with kids has always been a passion of mine,” he added, citing the Dick Bolles’ book “What Color is Your Parachute?” as a driving force behind the decision to start this new career path. He remembered reading a particular challenge that asked him to list every job he’d ever had, and single out the ones where he was the happiest. The answer was his stint as a lifeguard, coaching swimming.
“It was my sweet spot. I loved being around kids,” Lee said. “So, I knew God wanted me to work with them.”
You can assume that has helped develop a love for math within his own children – sixth-grader Aubrey, fourthgrader Faith and first-grader Hudson. They’ve been coming to Mathnasium since kindergarten and although Lee said he never wanted to push the idea too much, he is excited that all have ended up loving it. He added that while they’re each unique in their abilities, they’re all confident in school and doing great.
FLEXING THE MATH MUSCLE
Mathnasium – a custom enrichment program for students in elementary to high school math – is like a gym membership, but to work your math muscle. Each month, students can attend an unlimited number of times for one-hour, after-school or weekend sessions. Obviously, the more committed a student is, the more noticeable his or her results, but even once a week delivers a strong, positive outcome. In fact, Lee notes that while many students may enroll because they were struggling, many become part of the 40 to 50 percent that are there for enrichment purposes to get ahead of the curve.
That success is in part due to the 40-year-old curriculum on which Mathnasium is based. It aligns with Common Core, reaching the same goals such as critical thinking and number sense development. Plus, the instructors communicate with teachers to help students with current assignments as a part of their custom program.
“We want to make sure their foundation is strong,” Lee said. “Usually, the child isn’t struggling because of the current topic in school. It’s because of what they learned last year or two, three years ago.”
As a result, Lee said they’ve been able to see improvements at an average of 20 percent in the last several years. When the kids come in regularly, the math starts to make sense and their confidence level shoots up overall. Seeing those results drives Lee’s passion even further.
“With any muscle, if you don’t work it regularly, it loses its strength, and the more you condition, the better shape you’re in,” said Drew Moyer, the center director at the Mathnasium of South Forsyth. “For math, or any subject in school, it’s the same. You have to practice – or work it out – to stay good at it, to keep it strong and to get stronger.”
So, when summer days bring a slower pace or an assumed excuse to take a break, it may also result in a dip in confidence when that student who excelled last year falls behind shortly after classes resume. What’s worse is that according to a study by Johns Hopkins University (referenced in a 2011 article by Jeff Smink, titled “This is Your Brain on Summer,” in The New York Times), the learning loss is cumulative, meaning it has a huge impact on a student’s success, including whether they complete high school, post-secondary education and what kind of job they’ll be qualified for in the future. Another, bigger, yikes.
The good news is, according to the National Summer Learning Association, one of the ways you can prioritize summer learning is by finding ways to get innovative and hands-on. Moyer’s suggestion is music lessons. He says that playing the guitar is what helped him understand math concepts.
“I learned the fundamentals behind scales and musical notes,” Moyer explained. “So, now I know why a piece of music plays the way it does. I know what the notes mean, so I can transfer that skill to play different things. It’s more than just memorizing notes. That idea carries over to math – when kids understand fundamentals, and practice putting those to use, they can solve anything we put in front of them.”
While the Lees are still spending their summers like many North Atlanta families – attending camps, playing sports and spending time on Florida’s 30A – they’ll also use games that challenge “the math muscle” like playing cards or just doing 10 minutes of math every morning (or afternoons at Mathnasium) to stay on track for next year and beyond. Vacation never looked so smart.
FAMILY FIELD TRIPS
PHOTOS COURTESY OF WREN’S NEST; LEGOLAND DISCOVERY CENTER ATLANTA; JACK ANTHONY; WORLD OF COCA-COLA
HIT THE BOOKS
If you grew up in the Deep South like me, you’ve heard the stories of Brer Rabbit. Maybe you, too, used to gather ’round the hearth to hear what the briar patch gang would be up to next. For more than just nostalgia, at The Wren’s Nest, the historic home of Uncle Remus creator Joel Chandler Harris, children of all ages can gather on Saturdays at 1 p.m. for a lively storytelling session bringing those beloved (and tricky) characters back to life.
“It’s the only organization in the United States dedicated to preserving this tradition,” said Executive Director Sue Gilman. For less than $10, listeners hear what inspired some of their favorite present-day characters like Bugs Bunny and Peter Rabbit, soak up the importance of oral tradition and be part of the passing down of a crucial part of Southern, literary and African-American history. Accompanied by a guided tour of the historic home, it’s a day full of fun learning for everyone. wrensnest.org
TAKE PLAYTIME TO NEW HEIGHTS
Math and science are complicated enough to teach in the classroom, so finding something that calls on those same cognitive skills in the tangible world can be a real feat. While LEGOLAND Discovery Center Atlanta may not be raw long division, as a destination that appeals to the minds of budding scientists and engineers, it’s one of the best ways to introduce challenges with colorful, creative play. Fifteen attractions spanning the 30,000 square feet inside Phipps Plaza spark motivation to practice problem solving, physics and geometry.
On the LEGO Factory tour, kids can learn how a LEGO brick is made courtesy of Professor Brick-a-Brack’s stage-by-stage display of the creation process. Also, the attraction’s Master Model Builder, Aries Viera, and his team lead Master Builder Academy workshops daily from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., where young Model Builders-in- training learn tricks and tips to celebrate creativity, imaginative thinking and to enhance tactile skills. legolanddiscoverycenter.com/atlanta
DISCOVER LOCAL HISTORY
Being close to a big city usually goes hand-in-hand with easy access to historical places, and in the outskirts of Atlanta, you can step back in time to discover what once made this place run. Or “chug” in Duluth at the Southeastern Railway Museum, where more than 100 years and 40 pieces of authentic railway equipment reside. Dating back to the early 1900s, you can explore the passenger cars, freight cars, tools, paper trails and timelines and even take a caboose ride on their mile-long, full-scale railroad tracks. Plan to spend anywhere from two hours to half a day exploring the museum. And if you’ve got an amateur buff on your hands (ages 4 to 12), sign them up for half-day summer camps and bring the whole family out for this month’s Locomotive Celebration event held the 11th and 12th. srmduluth.org
Heading even farther outside the city limits and into the foothills of The Appalachian Mountains, you’ll find an entire subject’s worth of more local history … and in this case, shinier. The Dahlonega Gold Museum Historic Site is the best place to study our state’s native treasure – gold! Families who schedule their day in historic Dahlonega can soak up the site of the very first gold rush, hear a brief history of the Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears and learn hands-on about native rocks and minerals found in Georgia. They can see rare coins, a hydraulic cannon once used to mine the area, real gold nuggets, the Chestatee River Diving Bell – the only remaining 19th-century diving bell in existence – and watch a short fi lm with vivid pictures and storytelling.
“When you see the historic photos, you get a sense of how massive the mining industry was and how much land it once covered,” said Kim Hatcher, spokesperson for the museum. “Today, many of these locations are subdivisions or businesses, so you can’t even tell they were once mines.”
An added bonus: families with their own history to find have the chance to mine for more than sparkly nuggets at nearby panning locales, as employees at the site can sometimes help research people from the past. gastateparks.org/dahlonegagoldmuseum
Sometimes that lesson in taking care of the planet starts under the ground and there is no better place to see the fruit of strong roots than the State Botanical Garden of Georgia in Athens. Just under two hours from Atlanta, they’ve landscaped the 300-plus acres to highlight plants and nature for study and enjoyment. Every month another in-season organic showstopper explodes with color and visitors can hike through trails, attend festivals, peruse artwork and relax with live music.
The garden’s programs help educate and entertain children and adults while developing connections with nature. That includes programs about indoor and outdoor activities that allow children to explore, see insects, birds and other wildlife and perform scientific investigations that teach the importance of safeguarding the environment. botgarden.uga.edu
GET A GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE
Right in the heart of the city, this family fi eld trip doesn’t require much car time. That perk means more time to sip carbonated curations from around the globe and soak up a piece of history, birthed right here in our own town.
“Regardless of age, there is something for everyone to enjoy here,” said Jacquie Wansley, group marketing manager at World of Coca-Cola. “History buffs enjoy Milestones of Refreshment, where our company’s history is told in chapters through a variety of memorabilia and archival displays. Young fashionistas love seeing how the latest styles have been showcased in Coke advertisements from 1886 right up to today.”
For education-thinking families piling in the car for a fun trip to the museum, the online Teacher Toolkit serves as an outline to exploring its floors in a whole new way, including discovering some hidden secrets. The material is broken out by subject and grade level, making it super easy for those of us not paid to write lesson plans. In fact, it just might make you say, “Ahh.” worldofcocacola.com