Summer Learning


Sand, surf, sun, sky, summer. ‘S’ starts so many splendid summery words. Two ‘esses’ that rarely make that list, however, are ‘student’ and ‘school’, unless we’re talking about remedial class. Summer is about playtime, holiday time and free time.  It’s never too soon to think about summer!

From an educator’s perspective, this couldn’t be more true–with one caveat: It’s never too soon to think about summer learning loss.

In the past, summer holidays were essential to largely agrarian societies, where kids helped out on the family farm. But times have changed and statistics show that summer should indeed include more high quality learning, and that summer learning loss is a major obstacle to student success across North America. Studies conducted since the 1970s have consistently shown that summer learning loss is equivalent to one month or more of instruction. The following school year, significant time is spent recovering the loss from the previous year’s learning.

The bad news? Summer learning loss is cumulative. For example, students entering grade 9 have suffered learning loss equivalent to an entire year of school!  According to a New York Times article, this loss “has a tremendous impact on students’ success, including high school completion, post-secondary education and work force preparedness.”

The good news? Students who benefit from high quality summer learning programs do not suffer the learning loss and indeed improve over the course of summer. Research on summer reading programs such as the Teach Baltimore Summer Academy show improvements equivalent to half a grade level in vocabulary, comprehension and total reading ability.

Summer fun is a culturally ingrained part of the Canadian childhood, and it should be! Kids work hard and deserve a break. Fortunately, learning and fun are not mutually exclusive. Kids also deserve the opportunity for stimulating learning experiences all year long. They deserve to continue practicing the skills and retaining the knowledge they worked hard to develop throughout the school year. It’s never too soon to start thinking about summer.

We at Little House certainly are, and look forward to a fun and educational summer 2015! We’d love to be included in your summer learning plans and hear your ideas.



Math + Little House = Fun!

IMG_2511 Little House is a great and rewarding place to work. Whenever I come in for my sessions, there are often students already working away with their tutors, smiles on their faces. The quiet and determined bustle of each group, working together towards a common learning goal is always a familiar and comforting sound.

I recently began working with a student to improve his math skills and comprehension. He hated math. When he first came in, he told me that math was his least favourite subject, and his mother told me that he was struggling with it. He seemed shy the first time he arrived, that shyness and hesitation that is a familiar feeling to any child (or adult) who is about to start something that they’re not entirely convinced that they will enjoy or be successful at.

We started off the lesson that day, and each consecutive week I slowly started to learn about what he enjoys doing and what his strengths are. Throughout our sessions, I could see that he is a smart kid and that he is excellent at solving problems –just the skills one needs to excel at math. Even though he sometimes became frustrated when he was faced with a particularly challenging problem, he persevered. Each week I could see an improvement in his understanding and his ability to complete the problems. Even though a simple improvement is rewarding in and of itself, the most rewarding moment with this student came a few weeks later.

Recently, we were going through the steps of how to do long division. The worksheet we were using breaks up each step of long division, with multiple examples and problems that should be completed to reinforce each consecutive step (without completing the whole problem). We were only doing a couple examples from each step in order to leave some problems that he could practice later at home. However, that particular day he was so excited that he understood everything so clearly, he wanted to do them all right then and there. I had to hide the other problems so that we could move on to the next step and so that he would have more to practice at home. The best moment was when he told me unexpectedly that, “I never thought that I would have this much fun doing math.”

Seeing smiles on student’s faces is encouraging, as is watching them progress throughout the term – but the most rewarding moment is when they start to enjoy learning, and they tell you about it. -Michelle IMG_2512IMG_2516IMG_2514

Learning Outdoors


The sun is shining and it feels like July – at least to this Yukoner! Like Amanda, who has written about our temperate climate for the Little Learner’s blog, I came to Vancouver from a cooler part of our country. When I started marvelling at the blossoms back in January, my first thought was “what activities can I do with my students outside?” I controlled my enthusiasm and waited until the temperature was above 5 degrees and the sun was shining, for which I think my students are grateful. So for the last few months, we’ve taken advantage of warm clear days and taken our learning outdoors.

I’ve associated curiosity and experiential learning with nature since I was elementary school-aged (though I’m sure I wouldn’t have used such terms until recently!) One can easily associate science with being outside; applications of botany, ecology, and zoology are observed even in an urban neighbourhood. With a bit of thought and creativity, one can learn, practice, and reinforce other literacies in an outside environment.

As a math subject specialist tutor, I enjoy finding ways of incorporating numeracy into fun outdoor activities which engage multiple senses and thought patterns. My goal as a math educator is to both facilitate understanding of mathematical concepts and encourage the enthusiasm and satisfaction that arises naturally from such comprehension. The sidewalks, playgrounds, and parks around Little House, with a little sunshine sprinkled in, allow us tutors to embrace our creative (and perhaps goofy) sides to connect more deeply with students and their learning styles as we are inspired by the natural environment.

So that sounds great… but what does it actually look like? For homeschooling or alternative-schooling students, it means taking our science “class” to the streets. We spend time following our curiosities, prompted by a thought or query such as “What is the difference between living and non-living things?” We take along a notebook and catalogue characteristics of objects we observe: seagulls (and is that an eagle?) circling high above, buds just peeking out, serrate and trifoliate leaves emerging from the hedges, sleepy insects looping about, hard concrete… being there. We find squirrel dwellings and ponder the possible differences between tree trunk and daffodil petal cells. We return to Little House to connect our discoveries about the necessities for life with the microscope images in the textbook.

For elementary math students, getting outside means taking a bag of chalk to the sidewalk. We create hopscotches, number lines, and collect pebbles with which to compose equations. We jump, sit, draw, colour, move, and recite to engage multiple senses as we reinforce the concepts of counting, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. (We may also draw a rainbow or two.) For more advanced math students, taking a walk to the park provides an opportunity to create personalized word problems involving distance, direction, and quantity. Questions arise, such as “how many meters are Vancouver’s city blocks?” We discuss and practice problem solving techniques with a notebook at a park bench.

Math in particular can seem abstract and removed from everyday life, and taking it outside provides concrete examples of what math is and means to students. While some problems are certainly contrived to illustrate particular curriculum, incorporating real examples into our sessions helps students create positive associations with math while also building a strong foundation.

I challenge you to take a moment to notice the math and science embedded in your environment today. Enjoy the sunshine!



A Reason to Celebrate


For winter-hardened Canadians (even lucky Vancouverites like us), spring is truly a reason to celebrate. The arrival of spring is something of a holiday up here! The birds are chirping, the flowers are growing, the temperatures are climbing and the promises of longer, brighter days whisper joyfully of new life and fresh beginnings.

Speaking of holidays, I would be interested in reading a survey of favourite holidays per age group. For many Christians and secular celebrants alike, it’s pretty certain that Christmas tops the bill. However, as an adult it is easy to forget that Santa’s little buddy the Easter Bunny and his Easter egg hunt scores top marks in the imaginations of chocolate loving children. Happy Easter to you all!

Jewish children celebrating Passover enjoy the thrill of the hunt as well, as they search for the hidden Matzoh. The Passover Seder is undoubtedly the most exciting and important holiday in the Jewish calendar. Happy Passover! Chag Sameach!

What are your spring rituals? Whether they involve a deep spring cleaning or a family holidayover Spring Break, we hope your plans put a “spring” in your step! Please share with us your favourite things about spring. We’d love to know!

The Little House Top 10 For Spring

  • 10) The moment the allergies end…
  •  9) Easter
  •  8) Birds Chirping (and the return migration)
  •  7) Gardening
  •  6) Long Walks
  •  5) Spring clothing
  •  4) Spring Break!
  •  3) Longer, sunnier days and fresh air
  •  2) Tulips
  •  1) Cherry Blossoms!

Here’s a collection of crafts that our Little Learners made to welcome spring and prepare for Easter! Enjoy. :