As a I teacher I was always a little skeptical of the idea that students needed to work all the time in order to get into a good college—and by all the time, I mean all the time, starting at the age of seven or eight, day and night, without rest. It seemed like too much. I was worried that if my students worked constantly in their childhood, only to enter college where they would work constantly, so that they could get a job where they would work constantly . . . well, then the thing they had been working for, which was, presumably, a happier life, would have been lost. Because, though I value hard work very highly, I also value a little down time now and then—a chance to step back, and appreciate the fruit of all that hard work.
The irony of all this is that one of my main jobs as an educator was with a non-profit summer program called Breakthrough, where underprivileged students could get a chance to catch up on college readiness. We pushed our students hard academically, because we wanted them to succeed. By the end of our six week program many students had covered an entire semester, sometimes even two, worth of learning in various subjects, and we were all exhausted, but also proud.
The non-profit was housed at a private school. Every school year I’d watch the private school students being pushed hard by their parents and teachers to excel, then, when the summer came, I’d watch our students being pushed hard by us. The big difference, I finally realized, between the kind of work that seemed like just a little too much and the kind that seemed just right, had to do with balance.
In our summer program, we began every day by being silly. We would sing chants, play games, and work hard to engage students’ minds every chance we had. We had fun. But we also learned. And by the end of the summer, the fun we’d had and the learning they had accomplished had been fused in our students’ minds into the memory of one single, positive experience.
Granted, every child can’t enroll in a summer program. But finding a balance between work and play is something every parent can help find with their child, and every teacher with their students. If learning is presented as only hard work, then it seems exhausting—for both the student and the person trying to encourage the student.
Find games to play that incorporate math problems. Pretend to go out to eat. How much will everything cost? What will the tip be? Incorporate algebra: if you know how much a meal weighs, and what amount of that meal you might eat, what would be the amount for a different meal with a different weight?
And, of course, sometimes it’s best just to go outside for a while—then you can come back in ready to learn a little more. It’s the balance that’s important!
One way to make learning fun is to use computers in the learning process. Computer programs, such as the automated tutoring program LearnBop, can be one way to shake things up, and help students find a way to work hard at learning while reducing the stress.
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- Click here to read some "Tips for Parents to Help Prevent Summer Learning Loss"
- Click here to learn about LearnBop’s Free Program to Prevent Summer Learning Loss