Some Good Things for Teaching and Improving Literacy: Summer Fun That Keeps the Mind Sharp

by Brian D. Sadie

Summer isn’t just a name. It’s also a fun time for kids and teens, but they can pay for not keeping sharp when school begins again. The cumulative loss of academic skill over vacation called summer slide waits for many unable to enjoy themselves and keep pace at the same time, but the dog days don’t have to leave a student howling at the moon or feeling zombie-like when crisp air and leaves take wind because even learning can be fun during summertime. So take a bight out of brain-loss by engaging in a few enjoyable activities while the sun rides high and nights are short. Some great ways to enjoy summer vacation and keep prepared for school include playing games, reading, drawing, and watching movies. You’ll all be happy you did and the kids’ll be ahead in class.

Teaching and enabling kids to enjoy themselves with engaging material and activities typically results in some inspirational moments and work. Technical innovation has provided things that, when used with a range of other materials and varying formats and styles, hold kids’ interest.

Pencils (and brushes and clay) are lovely. The change from digital and typing to holding these historically and developmentally significant tools has immediate effect, both conscious and unconscious. The feel and texture are unique and vary according to manufacture. The less-colorful abstract palette of pure graphite and charcoal pencils helps kids develop or formulate ideas that cross easily into the literary world. Both writing and drawing with hand-held implements facilitate improved memory function and overall performance by engaging multiple areas of the brain. Writing, especially using cursive letters, reinforces memory on all fronts with more highly developed motor activity and creative impulse. Full memory, inspired critical thinking, and improved control often result. Actors rehearse their lines and movements for similar reasons. Other fine art activity, including painting or playing with clay, stimulates the mind and, during vacations, keeps brain loss at bay. These activities not only fire imagination, playfulness, and experimentation, and often with great emotion, but they also strengthen and assist logical functions.

Reading does, too. Reading for pleasure is marvelous. Reading for school – well, it can be fun but is often more like work. So how can your children enjoy the summer while not losing their recently gained intellectual edge? Suggest they read a varied range, from low-level potboilers, political thrillers, and detective stories to great classic literature. Have them read a real newspaper, too, but thoughtfully: The different types of information presentation, storytelling, language, perception, and meaning will come to light while, for those inclined, developing emotional awareness and stirring creativity.

This approach to reading keeps the mind flexible and up on both historical and current events. It also helps your children learn to appreciate and like history by showing them a use and application for their knowledge of it. Just think of the worst school history books and how they presented information: famous or significant people and events were dully indicated and seldom more. Now think of a letter, story, or novel that fleshes out the human. Most of us are made for more than simply memorizing facts – it is the emotional and intellectual connections that bring us to life.

Remember, too, that holding and reading a book is a fundamental organic activity and therefore irreplaceable. The experience and act itself demands greater attention from the participant than many might be used to today. Reading a printed book has an effect similar to that of writing by hand and should be respected, promoted, and treasured. Flickering images on any screen are perceived differently by the brain: we don’t respond the same to online reading as we do to material read from a printed book. We also tend to spend more time becoming involved with physically tangible items, even those we read. Memory and thought work differently with these things and nicely augment film and online experiences.

This brings us to another wonderful activity: watching movies. Films are historical treasure-chests, cultural stores of images, sound, and story. They keep you going, too, whether they’re old black-and-white classics with fast-talking proto-feminists and cynical toughs sparring and flirting in deep, subtle shots or something for a suburban multiplex or college town art-house. The language of film requires attention and observant, thoughtful viewers are often rewarded on multiple levels and in different ways. After viewing, and less as a teacher or parent than a lover of films and life, talk with your kids and listen to them: know where they’re coming from and what they’re thinking about what they’ve just experienced. You’ll enjoy yourselves and the experience can lead to far-ranging and far-reaching discussion about anything and everything that will remain in your children’s minds, inspiring and helping them later, if they, and you, are lucky. The films and your discussion may even lead to your doing something together that you might otherwise not have thought of or done.

Don’t dismiss all goofy or limited movies, though! A great bad movie can be perfect, and serious laughter is fantastic. Sometimes it’s the best thing. Generally, though, better films are best. Don’t believe me? Although feelings about it will vary over time, watch 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s probably the thinnest screenplay in recent film history. There are few words and limited dialogue spoken between the characters, especially for a two hour, twenty-minute film, but every word was deliberately included and relates, directly and indirectly, to a suggested meaning underlying the film’s structure and images used throughout. And don’t forget the music: Kubrick cued every phrase of it himself. He wanted you to hear it at that moment. As my then-fifteen-year-old son said after watching it for the first time, “I liked it. It’s slow for today, but beautiful, and there’s a lot there. You don’t forget it.”

So it is that preparing intellectually and technically for tomorrow’s world is fun, and there are different ways to do it. Just as audio-visual material reinforces learning and excites students, web-based literacy programs can also engage kids as they navigate the highly sophisticated world of language arts. As with foreign language instruction, the best online platforms provide comprehensive tools for instruction in the finer points of language, writing, and editing. Remember, though, that editing on the printed page results in better correction than only doing so online and in a hurry. Like it or not and despite the ability to disseminate things almost immediately, reality continues to prove that, while inspiration might seem to strike suddenly, time is essential for refinement. Stepping away from one’s work makes for better development and results in clearer, more enjoyable communication later. When online or with a computer, people tend to feel they must hurry. Even if they needn’t they demonstrate far less focus and discrete attention to detail than otherwise. So do yourself and everyone else a favor: Take a break! Writers, even those who blog, and those who read will – subconsciously, at least – be thankful.

Creating and viewing both relax and stimulate and the summer may provide sufficient time for many unfamiliar or unable to work at either the time to do so. Drawing, painting, sculpting, or any other fine art activity can fire imagination, stir playfulness, and lead to enlightening experimentation. Painting, akin to drawing, is a phenomenal experience, the effects of which remain little understood but are universally acknowledged as invaluable for many reasons and on many levels. Camera work is enlightening and relaxing, too.

Asked by an interviewer how he maintained creativity and found new inspiration, the hugely-successful commercial photographer Peter Turner answered, “Plane tickets.” Well, for those without reservations, something else suffices. For another change, go outside and do something, or even nothing, but do even nothing outside sometimes. Sport does wonders, as will a walk in the nearest copse of trees or, if you’re lucky, woods – that uniquely clears one’s head and helps every aspect of memory, understanding, comprehension, and problem-solving. If woods, fields, water or a beach aren’t around, a walk somewhere different or new will do.


After months of hard work, help your kids avoid the fall in summer by mixing these things into your break. Some of you might also find something helpful at, the National Summer Learning Association’s site promoting Friday, June 21, 2013 as Summer Learning Day. It’s their national day of awareness about the importance of summer learning in helping close the achievement gap. You might meet others at NSLA events and share ways to help young learners enjoy themselves while learning during the vacation months.

For more information about online resources and platforms see Summer Learning, Happens So Fast posted May 29, 2013 by Alison Anderson, at EdTech, Learning, Online & Blended, Partners, PreK-12, Also visit for ways to work on writing with younger children.

Hope this helps and that you all experience a wonderful summer. Enjoy!


About Brian D. Sadie / eloquentb

Brian D. Sadie is president of the film company Eloquent Bastard Productions. He was formerly Executive Director of The Joseph K. Foundation: On Privacy and was recruited and hired as an analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency. His writing appears in publications as diverse as The Economist, Boston Book Review, TeenLife, and Informationen der Gesellschaft für politische Aufklarüng. Mr. Sadie is often a featured contributor to educational and Ed Tech entities about education and literacy. He graduated with honors from Harvard University in History and Middle Eastern Studies and was a Pew Fellow at Boston University at the Institute of Culture, Religion and World Affairs. He is an ardent sports fan and equally ardent critic of the business of sports.
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