Summer Learning Program

Best Brain Foods for Kids

Best Brain Foods for Kids 645 385 admin

Summer gives students a well deserved break. It’s a great time for them to play with friends, enjoy the warm weather, and stretch their legs after a year in the classroom.

With all that fresh air, be sure they’re eating healthy too. Don’t let your child’s brain grow hungry this summer by feeding them these seven brain boosting foods:

1. Eggs

The protein and nutrients in eggs help kids concentrate. Choline, found in egg yolks, also helps with memory development.

2. Greens

Spinach and kale make for great brain foods as they are linked to a decreased risk of developing dementia later in life due to the abundance of folate and vitamins. Kale is also a superfood packed with antioxidants, promoting the growth of brain cells.

3. Fish

Fish is a great source of vitamin D and omega-3s, which aid in preventing memory loss. The more omega-3s the brain receives, the better it functions and the better your child can focus.

4. Oatmeal

Oatmeal is an excellent source of energy for the brain in the morning that keeps the brain functioning at full potential throughout the day. Loaded with protein, fiber, and vitamins, oatmeal keeps heart and brain arteries clear.

5. Berries

Berries promote high levels of antioxidants, especially vitamin C. Studies have shown that the extracts of blueberries and strawberries have shown improved memory. Typically, the more intense the color, the more nutrition the berry has.

6. Milk & Yogurt

Dairy foods are rich in protein and B-vitamins which are essential for the growth of brain tissue, neurotransmitters, and enzymes. These brain foods also provide protein and carbohydrates – the preferred source of energy for the brain.

7. Summer Learning Programs

In addition to these superfoods, you can outsmart brain drain by enrolling your child in a summer learning program. Elementary students with high levels of attendance (at least five weeks) experience benefits in math and reading.

It may not be brain food, but the ThinkStretch Summer Learning Program will surely keep your child’s skills sharp. ThinkStretch is designed to encourage kids to maximize their education during their months off. Simple to start and easy to use, our workbook is equipped with everything you and your student need to make for a successful transition back to school in the fall. To kickstart your child’s summer curriculum, download a FREE info kit here.

7 Educational Summer Activities for Kids

7 Educational Summer Activities for Kids 1000 667 admin

When kids finish up with school, summer can feel long and boring. If you don’t have a whole slew of educational activities to keep children occupied, their brains could fall into the clutches of summer learning loss! That’s why we’ve put together this list of seven educational summer activities for kids to keep their minds sharp all vacation long.

1. Visit a Local Museum

You don’t always have to travel far to find some history. Many different areas have a museum to celebrate the local history. Take the kids to check it out and learn about the interesting past of where you live! You can even turn your trip into a game of eye spy! Challenge the children to look for places or things they recognize from around town in the displays from the past!

2. Create an Outdoor Puppet Show Theatre

Sometimes a blanket over a table and some socks with googly eyes can be exactly what kids need to keep entertained. Ignite your kids’ arts and crafts skills by helping them assemble a makeshift theatre and cast of sock puppet actors. If their imagination isn’t enough to fuel a skit, give them a picture book or two and tell them to reenact the books with their puppets!

3. Visit a Petting Zoo

Often local farms or parks will hold petting zoos for children to come meet animals they may have never encountered otherwise. This is a great chance to learn about different types of animals, how they live, where they live, and how to take care of them! Before you leave, ask what their favorite animal was. Head to the local library to pick up a book on that animal, so you can learn even more about them!

4. Backyard Camping

Pitch a tent in the yard and enjoy the sounds of nature – or the city – for all their glory. Make s’mores in the oven or microwave, eat hot dogs and hamburgers, and don’t forget the bug spray! See if you can identify any plants or animals around your campsite. When night falls, take that time to look up at the night sky and see if you can spot any constellations! Camping is fun wherever you do it!

5. Visit a Farmer’s Market

Farmer’s Markets are filled with food and creations from local artists, farmers, and craftsmen. Explore all the different flowers, treats, and crafts that you can’t find at a regular store! Here, you have the opportunity to expose kids to different walks of life and cultures. If nothing else, you’ll get some tasty fruits and veggies out of it!

6. Dig for Fossils

This trip takes a little pre-prep. First, find a spot that kids will be able to dig around comfortably in, like a sandbox or playground. Next, bury various toy dinosaurs, gems, or other treasures for them to find. Give the kids shovels and paint brushes so they can unearth the fossils and clean them like real archeologists! This is a great way to teach them about what archeology is and how we use it to discover things about the past!

7. Check out the Library

As always, a great place to spend your summer is in your local library! Libraries have so many different books for all kinds of readers and interests. You can be an astronaut AND a cowboy in the same day with the help of a good book! Children can also log all of the time they spend reading for our Summer Reading Challenge for the chance to win a FREE Kindle!

Plan Your Educational Summer Activities!

With all of these educational summer activities, your kids won’t have any time to be bored! Constant engagement will not only keep them busy, but keep their brains working hard to stay sharp.

Year after year, summer learning loss tries to hold kids back from reaching their full potential in school. Use these educational summer activities along with our Summer Learning Program to keep the skills your student learned during the school year fresh all vacation long!

Order your child’s Summer Learning Program here.

The Importance of “What did you learn today?”

The Importance of “What did you learn today?” 1000 667 admin

When kids come home, many parents will ask, “How was school?”

While this is a great prompt to see how well children like school, most likely they will just reply, “Fine,” or, “Good.” Unfortunately, students do not benefit from “fine” and “good!” Students benefit from parents and guardians asking a more open ended “What did you learn today at school?”

The Magic of an Open-Ended Question

At first, students will probably reply with a list of the broader lessons. They might mention division or the solar system or the 13 original colonies. Soon, though, something magical might happen: they’ll find something at school that really excites them.

Perhaps, it will be the butterfly unit. This student loves butterflies and now they have the opportunity to learn about them in school! Without a doubt, this student will tell their parent every detail about what they learned about butterflies.

Do you know what just happened there? Not only did they get to relive that excitement twice, once at school and once at home, but this student also just solidified that lesson in their head. The enthusiasm a student has for their learning can act as an excellent catalyst to drive home key knowledge points. It all starts with asking “What did you learn today?”

Creating Good Habits for Students

That enthusiasm doesn’t have to stop at butterflies either. Once a student gets in the habit of providing the details of what they learned at school, they’ll do it with their other favorite subjects.

Ask follow up questions like “Can you show me how that works?” or “How did your teacher teach you how to do that?” Now, this student is not only sharing their knowledge, but showing it in action, while simultaneously sharing how they learn.

Continuing to Learn Outside the Classroom

The open-ended question “What did you learn today?” keeps students engaged after they leave the classroom. Learning shouldn’t end when students walk out the classroom door.

This doesn’t apply just to the school year either, it also applies to summer vacation. Students should remain active participants in their education, so as to not lose the important concepts teachers spend time on all year.

That’s why we also recommend starting a summer learning program at your school to keep students engaged year round. If students continuously practice their skills, teachers won’t need to spend time reteaching last year’s lessons at the beginning of the new year.

Subscribe to our Summer Newsletter to receive exciting enrichment activities to share with students from Memorial to Labor Day.

7 Ways to Close your Classroom Achievement Gap

7 Ways to Close your Classroom Achievement Gap 1000 622 admin

With around 15-30 students in the same classroom listening to the same teacher explain the same subject, you’d think they would learn the same too. That’s not the case.

As teachers, you know the achievement gap exists on a large scale, moving and expanding from year to year. It also exists in a miniature form within classrooms. The performance disparity among students seems inescapable at times, but we have a few tips to close this small-scale achievement gap.

Track Student Progress

By keeping up to date on each student’s progress through the year, you’ll know exactly when one starts falling behind. Tracking data will show you exactly when you need to intervene. This could mean taking extra time to check in with that student and ensure your method of teaching addresses their best method of learning.

Set Goals with Students

Similar to tracking student progress, setting learning goals with students allows them to be active contributors to their learning. Knowing their own goals helps them better understand when they begin to fall behind. Then, they can alert you and work with you to find their way back on track.

Reflect on Lessons

Building a culture of self-reflection in the classroom gives students the chance to become aware of their mistakes so they can work to correct them. Self assessment is a powerful thing when it comes to remembering what exactly they learned and how. A great place to start is simply going over last night’s homework.

Get the Family Involved

The National Education Association recommends creating a relationship with students’ parents. This creates an environment where parents feel welcome to participate in their child’s education, and thus are more likely to do so. Depending on the local community, creating a partnership with parents could require picking up the basics of a new language in order to fully open the line of communication.

Make Learning Personal

Personalized learning ensures that every student can learn in the way that best suits them. Each student works at their own pace, with the right amount of challenge, towards a bigger academic goal. Independently or collaboratively, students each have their needs addressed in their education. Varied, effective strategies have a greater chance of reaching every learner.

Incorporate Students’ Cultures into the Classroom

Diversity is an asset. Create opportunities to learn about and embrace each student’s culture. With a little creativity, cultural education can mesh right into regular curriculum. Use books with characters that look and live like your students, or create writing prompts to learn more about students’ families.

Make Closing the Achievement Gap a Priority

By making it important to you, your students already benefit. Help other teachers learn how they can close the gap in their classrooms. Make it a school wide movement. This will make it easier to find and allocate resources for students falling behind, and keep every student on the same footing. This may involve creating extended learning opportunities before or after school, and into the summer with a summer learning program.

The classroom achievement gap, though smaller in scale, hurts each student just as much. It is a game of equity, not equality. Not every student needs the same instructions and materials to reach the same finish line. There are invisible obstacles at work — like race, gender, and socioeconomic status– that set students ahead or behind right at the starting line.

As their teacher, it is your responsibility to ensure children learn and grow under your advisement. Each student deserves the same shot at success. Give them the greatest gift: that chance.

What Administrators Can do About Summer Learning Loss

What Administrators Can do About Summer Learning Loss 300 200 admin

As an administrator, you work hard to provide the students in your school or district the best possible chance of success through learning opportunities, great teachers and a well-spent budget. Therefore it can be hard to watch them walk out the door and into the summer sunset knowing they face the possibility of huge learning losses before they return the following year.

Not only do kids face losing mathematics and spelling skills, reportedly the first to go when kids are away from school for any stretch of time, but low-income students are likely to slide on reading skills as well.

While some groups have argued for making school year-round and others point out that American kids spent significantly less time behind their desks than competitors in Europe and Asia, you can’t do much about the length of the school year at this point. So what can you do?

There Is An Answer

Luckily, there is one thing you can offer to help stop summer slide, and that’s a high-quality option for summer learning.

According to the RAND Corporation, programs during the summer months have the power to reverse these losses and help students enter their next year in the same or better shape than they left the last one.

Their 2011 report Making Summer Count: How Summer Programs Can Boost Children’s Learning explains, “A review of the literature on Summer learning loss and summer learning programs, coupled with data from ongoing programs offered by districts and private providers across the United States, demonstrates the potential of summer programs to improve achievement.”

The Best Form for Summer Learning

Most savvy administrators know, however, that the bulk of the responsibility for halting Summer learning loss will still rest on parents’ shoulders, no matter how motivated teachers are to step in. The question becomes how to offer a viable program that will benefit kids but that won’t tax parents and in which those driven teachers can play a role.

ThinkStretch is the answer. It’s a comprehensive summer review program, specific to grade level, that helps ensure kids are ready to start learning new material in the fall, rather than relearning what they’ve forgotten over the summer. Complete with educational workbooks, parent guides and ideas for family engagement, it’s fully set up to help the whole family focus on summer learning.

As for your teachers, who want to stop Summer learning loss in its tracks? They can become coordinators, helping to educate parents about the program and leading the awards ceremony for partially and fully completed workbooks in the fall.

Ready … Set … STOP Summer Learning Loss

You can do your students a huge favor simply by making ThinkStretch available in your school. With teacher support and parent enthusiasm, you can make summer learning a reality for many children, benefiting them, their families and your school or district.

Why wait? Explore your options for boosting summer retention and learning today.


Stopping Summer Learning Loss is a Team Effort

Stopping Summer Learning Loss is a Team Effort 300 200 admin

Parents want to learn with their children.  They want to be able to answer homework questions, help their child read a difficult sentence or book, or share a new discovery.

Yet, for many parents, this is not an easy thing to do. They are not comfortable with the schoolwork or familiar with many of the easy tips and tricks that teachers use to help students build their skills. In reading in particular, parents have many opportunities to ask simple, repeatable questions that can improve their student’s reading and understanding of what they read.

A recent article in the New York Times highlighted the issue of parents’ supporting student learning over the summer. The positive experiences and outcomes highlighted in the article by engaging parents directly in maintaining literacy skills over the summer parallel the success ThinkStretch has had by including parents directly in the summer learning experience.

Back in 2009 as a parent at a Title I school, I developed the ThinkStretch summer learning program as a gift for my children’s entire school. As I built the content, I spoke with parents who told me “I need a Summer Learning book” to help them help their students. So I wrote the Parent Guide to Summer with plain spoken, parent language to help parents select books, talk about reading, and have fun reading and writing with their children. In addition, I built a Parent Education Night that spoke directly to parents about how to support their children over the summer.

And I learned something important as ThinkStretch spread across the country: parents want to help their students keep all the skills they have worked so hard to learn over the school year. Sometimes, we simply need to give parents tools and tips, in a personal, simple, straight forward format. Techniques that seem obvious to educators, may not be intuitive for busy, stressed and loving parents.

I commend the attention that the New York Times, Tina Rosenberg, and SpringBoard founder Alejandro Gac-Artigas are bringing to the issue of engaging parents in summer learning successes.

Why Does ThinkStretch Have a Theme Song?

Why Does ThinkStretch Have a Theme Song? 150 150 admin

Kids like to understand why they are required to do something – especially “homework” over the summer.

Rigor and relevance are the adult words to describe meaningful work done with a purpose. ThinkStretch explains the concept of maintaining school year learning over the summer using an animated cartoon in the best tradition of School House Rock. With a theme song, clever and humorous story telling, and a clear message, the ThinkStretch Student DVD entertains, educates, and creates enthusiasm for summer learning for every student.

The ThinkStretch theme song is a great way to catch kids attention.

ThinkStretch is focused on making summer learning attractive to kids.  We want kids to read, write and practice math over the summer.  We want kids to explore and learn while having fun.  And we want kids to understand why it is important to keep learning all summer long.  So we looked at the learning videos, songs and animations that we remembered from our childhood.  The ones we remembered best had a theme song and clear message delivered with humor.  Remember the Bill, sitting there on Capitol Hill?

Music uses different parts of the brain. 

Summer is a unique time for learning in different ways than a structured school day typically allows.  Summer is also a time when critical skills can be lost.  At ThinkStretch, we understand that telling a child that summer learning is good for them is different than singing that message to them accompanied by a mumbling brain.  We are betting that the child will remember the message from the catchy ThinkStretch theme song and the mumbling brain better!

Read, think, laugh, grow!

Why Are ThinkStretch Covers So Simple?

Why Are ThinkStretch Covers So Simple? 300 258 admin
There is no “advertising” on the ThinkStretch workbooks. 

Other summer learning books blare “Just 10 minutes a day”, “More Pages than Summer Days”, “Common Core Aligned”, “Best Value”.  ThinkStretch recognizes that none of this means anything to a kid – and the kid is the one who perseveres over the summer to complete the workbook. Everything ThinkStretch designs is made to appeal to the child using the book, from the color choice, to the funky brain character, to the style of text.  We want students to keep up their skills all summer long, so we will do what it takes to keep them engaged – including not turning them off with cliched claims and advertising every time they reach for their workbook.

Most covers are used to sell to the parent, ours are used to attract the student.

The cover of every ThinkStretch summer learning workbook is designed to entice the student.  The brain character is just gross enough to intrigue kids.  The objects in his hands just odd enough to inspire curiosity.  The colors of the cover are just muted enough to draw the child closer to look at the design.  We want the student to open the book.  We want the student to be curious about what is inside.  And when they complete their work, we want them to smile with pride whenever they see Brain on the cover, knowing that he is their strong brain, too.

Why Does ThinkStretch Come With a Parent Guide?

Why Does ThinkStretch Come With a Parent Guide? 229 300 admin
The Parent Guide to Summer was written because parents asked for it.

At the original parent idea sharing meetings, parents talked about how nice it would be to have their own summer learning guide.   Researchers tell us parents have the most anxiety in the summer about keeping kids involved in productive activities. ThinkStretch created the Parent Guide to Summer to share with parents what teachers wish they had time to tell parents and to offer parents tried and true summer activities from other parents.

The Parent Guide is in ‘Parent Language’.

It can be a frustrating experience to have a conversation with your child’s teacher and feel like your are not understanding what the teacher is trying to tell you.  We all have our “work” language.  And teachers are very comfortable using the vocabulary of their profession.  However, as parents we are not as familiar with “Dibble ratings” or “phonetic structures” or even “reciprocal equations.” The Parent Guide to Summer is written for parents, by a parent.  When I was creating the home activities by reading level, for example, teachers were telling me about the different scales to separate young readers into ability groups.  But I reflected on my parenting experience to think about the reading milestones I saw with my child – the move from board books to picture books, from picture books to short chapter books, the first books with no pictures at all, and the intense non-fiction book. I used that experience to translate all of the key information teachers wanted to share into language and experiences that parents could readily understand.

We created a separate summer learning guide for parents! 

We did not put all of that information for parents into the student workbook – because after a long hot summer, who wants to unstick the bubble gum to check the answer key!

How Does ThinkStretch Link Summer and School?

How Does ThinkStretch Link Summer and School? 300 288 admin
eachers give summer homework – not parents. 

Students know what to do when the teacher gives them homework.  They take it home, complete it, and turn it back into the teacher.  Parents are great parents, and teachers are great teachers.  Life can get confusing when a parent starts assigning summer homework that the teacher did not demand. ThinkStretch links summer learning to school at both ends so parents can be parents and teachers can be teachers.

No more “mean mom” or “bad dad” syndrome with ThinkStretch.

When ThinkStretch is implemented as a school-wide program as designed, every student brings home a ThinkStretch summer workbook.  You are no longer the mean mom or bad dad making your student do summer work when “no one else has to”.  You do not have to come up with any crazy reward or punishment systems to get the work done.  All you have to do is do what you have done all year for homework – set aside time and space to get the work done.  The reward will come from the teacher when your student turns in her work. And you will be the hero for helping your child earn her gold achievement medal!

Why can I teach your child, but not my own? 

I love to hear how well behaved or polite my children have been from other adults. What those adults don’t know is that inside my head I am screaming “Why don’t they act like that around me?”  Many families face a similar conundrum when a parent attempts to teach a child.  While that same parent could easily teach a child from another family, their own child often rebels, fusses, and whines. We are our child’s first teacher, so they are also most comfortable testing the limits with us.

That is why ThinkStretch focuses on skill maintenance in the summer and leaves the instruction of new material for the school year.