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Keeping kids in a learning mode

From his days as a teacher and elementary school principal to the last five years he has spent as a county-level administrator working with the district's elementary school programs, Mark Brunner has been known as someone with an intense concern for student learning.

With the end of school rapidly approaching, Citrus Times reporter Barbara Behrendt asked Brunner his thoughts on how parents can keep their children in a learning mode during the summer and why that might be important.

Brunner assembled a group of educators to respond to those questions, including Cathy Brust, Kathy Kopp, Jack Lester, Marsha Griffin, Dana Magill and Judy Fischer.

"A generation ago, there were many more moms at home with their children during the summer. Being a product of that generation, I can remember my mom as well as other neighborhood moms guiding our activities," Brunner said. "The famous phrase comes to mind, "Mark, nothing to do? Let's sit down and read.' Often this was motivation enough for me to quickly pursue other activities, but sometimes I did take Mom up on this proposal, and we did sit down to read together.

"I fondly remember those times."

Brunner acknowledges that parents have different ideas about the purpose of summer vacation. Here are some of his other thoughts on the subject:

Q: Do students lose some of what they've learned when they are away from the classroom over the summer? How much time does a teacher spend each August getting back on track with students?

A: There is a general belief that some children do regress over the summer if reading skills are not reinforced on a regular basis. Time spent remediating in August can be as little as two weeks and as much as up to seven weeks or more depending on the needs of the child. Some students don't necessarily lose the knowledge, but they lose the routines related to formal learning. These routines take time to re-establish.

Q: Summer is supposed to be a time of carefree fun for children. What kinds of ways can parents keep their children learning but in a way that doesn't detract from the fun?

A: For young children, something as simple as painting with water on the driveway can be both fun and educational, not to mention also a way to stay cool. Gross and fine motor skills are also refined through such activities. With a little creativity, this activity can quickly become a scientific study for studying temperature and measuring elapsed drying time and recording observations. Trips to the grocery store and cooking activities are great ways to maintain skills associated with money, addition, subtraction, estimation and fractions. Growing flowers or simple garden veggies _ tomatoes are easy _ is a fun activity that is also a study in science and plant needs. Rebecca's Garden has both a magazine and a Web site,, which are full of outdoor fun activities for the summer.

Q: How can family travel be used as a learning opportunity?

A: Family travel can be less stressful when children are provided with maps which start from home and allow the children to follow the route the entire trip. Trip Tiks from AAA are easy to follow and help children with needed map skills. The destination as well as points along the way can be researched at the library or on the home Web. A family trip can become an interdisciplinary unit that incorporates science, social studies, math and language arts. Pictures, postcards and local history can be incorporated into a book or journal written by a child or the family. On long trips, in addition to aspirin, stock up a variety of reading materials such as books, magazines and even store catalogs. Car reading games can also be fun.