Grand Forks parents engage children through summer assignmentsIt’s possible Jenna Rambo wouldn’t be on a path to becoming a teacher if her mother hadn’t given her reading assignments every summer as a kid.
By: Pamela Knudson, Grand Forks Herald
It’s possible Jenna Rambo wouldn’t be on a path to becoming a teacher if her mother hadn’t given her reading assignments every summer as a kid.
“Yes, it definitely fostered my love of books,” said the UND student who’s working on a master’s degree in English and plans to teach at the high school level.
“I was really little — maybe 6 or 7 — when mom first took me to the library. She introduced me to the magical land of books.
“It was really empowering, a really cool moment,” she said.
Growing up in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Rambo had reading assignments from her mom that occupied her mornings or evenings.
“We’d go over my reading, and she’d ask me questions,” she recalled. “I’d read to her, and she’d read to me. It was a special time that I shared with my mom.”
Season of opportunity
Parents around the area are choosing to use the summer months to maintain or strengthen their children’s learning habits.
Faced with what could be lazy days without structure, some are setting aside specific times for kids to explore subjects such as math, reading, art, spelling and science in hopes of keeping the flame of inquisitive learning burning bright.
“Reading is part of our routine every day,” said Casey Berberich of Grand Forks.
She and her husband, Jason Berberich, have four sons, ages 6, 5, nearly 2 and 9 weeks old.
“We spend at least a half hour reading to them, or they read to us,” she said. “For the rest of the time, we’re picking up on their signals and their interests.”
For example, if her sons show interest in the garden, she’s quick to join them with questions like: “What do the plants need to grow?” She may offer books on gardening or have them prepare produce for meals.
“Summer is a great time for them to see — especially if they show an interest in something — that learning can happen anytime and with anyone.”
Spot and nurture
“Kids are just so naturally curious,” Casey said. “It’s just an opportunity for us to answer some of those questions they’ve got bouncing around in their heads.”
She and her husband are alert and responsive to their kids.
“We really try to follow their interests, and keep our eyes open for opportunities for things that would be useful for them,” either through experiences or products, she said, “especially in ways that we wouldn’t be able to necessarily teach.”
They have found that a “dragon box” iPad game helps her son learn algebraic equations, and science experiment kits offer lessons on color and the characteristics of water.
Her two oldest boys are drawn to reading, science and math.
This summer, her oldest son attended STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activities at the Grand Forks Public Library. He also took part in a class on poetry and authors’ writing styles — he even wrote a commercial.
Casey sees summertime learning as “a fun way for him to explore, to dabble in things,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to exercise their mind.”
The typical school year is so busy, she said, that teachers may only be able to touch on a topic that kids are really interested in.
“We can expand on it in the summer,” she said. “They can find out if they’re good at something.
“My son can learn at his own pace …. And he’s not doing it because he has to.”
It also opens the door for her children to develop life-long interests and become successful learners.
“It feels good to learn (and) to accomplish things,” she said.
“Learning isn’t just what people tell you. It’s finding out things on your own because you’re curious, interested and seeking things out,” she said. “And if you run into problems, you have the problem-solving skills you need.”
Nicole and Adam Derenne set aside time every morning for their girls, Marie, 7, and Sophie, 3, to read, study math and spelling, write and work creatively with art projects.
Even their 4-month-old, Adrienne, is involved in the “reading program.”
“She just loves it,” said Nicole. “We read one-on-one with each child every day.”
The family also heads to the library once a week to “load up on books,” she said.
Nicole, who teaches art history at UND, said she and Adam want to create “a culture of learning” in their home.
Marie, who’s going into second grade this fall, works on reviewing lessons learned last year to keep her skills sharp. Sophie is focused on number recognition and other learning activities.
“We feel that if they don’t do some of this, they’ll lose the skills. It really helps. They love it,” Nicole said. “And we really have a great time doing it.”
While the children concentrate on their assignments, Adam may be working nearby as part of his job as a UND psychology faculty member.
“I’m there to offer encouragement, feedback and answer questions if Marie’s struggling, but I don’t hover,” he said
He sees his role as modeling good work habits for his children.
Although he may draw from principles of learning in his field of study, Adam said his approach with his children is “not from some deep insight in psychology — these are just some things we do that make sense to me and seem to work.”
He and Nicole’s intent “is not to turn the girls into little Einsteins,” he said. “We just want them to do well.”
They ask their oldest daughters to do a little more than they’re ready for, in order to grow intellectually.
“There are times when they’re frustrated, and times when they’re delighted and joyful,” said Adam. “Overall, it’s more positive than negative.”
Their approach “is not extraordinary at all,” he said. He points to his own childhood when his mother spent time teaching him with Flashcards.
“You grow with certain things, and you end up doing many of the same things when you become a parent.”
This summer, Marie will be heading for science and art camps, Nicole said. “We want to keep her involved and with kids her own age.”
Of course, the Derennes could not say what the girls would be if this type of learning was not part of their upbringing.
“Maybe, they’d be inattentive or there’d be behavioral problems,” Adam said.
“We certainly love our girls, and we’re so thankful (for) how they’re turning out. They get along with each other, and they get along with us.”
As for the possibility that they may be pushing their children too much, Adam said, “People may question if (the girls) are getting enough free play or independent play. I’m sure they’re right; those things are important.”
The Derenne girls spend most of their day in play, he said.
“It brings up the notion of what balance is optimal — if there is one. Parents have their own situation and their own demands.”
For his family, “there’s no grand plan” guiding their approach to learning, Adam said. “It seems like the right thing to do.”
Reach Knudson at (701) 780-1107; (800) 477-6572, ext. 107; or send e-mail to email@example.com.