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Summer camps may be closed due to COVID, but we offer  fun, virtual options that will help your student better prepare for the school year ahead. 

Our programs are tailored by age group, including Elementary, Middle, High, and College. 

Go to our website and check out our virtual summer programs! 
Starting a Nature Journal!

Like many of you, I scrambled to locate fun, educational activities to work on with my students when distance learning began. With schools significantly reducing the amount of homework students normally received, they found themselves with tons of extra time in their schedules. As I searched through various activities, I found one that spoke to my students' inner naturalist: a nature journal.

A nature journal is exactly what it sounds like. You can either observe an animal in your backyard or on a zoo's livestream if you don't happen to have tigers lurking nearby, and you watch them. Whether it's for a matter of minutes or a half hour, you then write down what you see: how the animal behaves, what it looks like, and what its environment appears to be. After that, you create a list of questions based on your observations. For example, why does this animal have claws? Why does it have short fur even though it lives in a cold environment? The next step is to research potential answers to these questions and jot down what you discover. Depending on how artistically-inclined your children are, you can also have them draw a picture of the animal so that they can refer back to it later! 

The nature journal was a big hit with my younger kiddos, especially those in elementary school. To me, this activity was a great way to work on their attention and critical thinking skills. For many kids with executive functioning weaknesses, sustaining focus on a single task can be a challenge, as they tend to become distracted. Watching an animal, though, was something that they were legitimately interested in, and this exercise allowed them to practice the crucial skill of concentrating. Not only that, the observatory nature of the journal required them to process what they were seeing and think about its larger purpose; instead of just noting that the animal had claws or short fur, they asked themselves why this was the case.

If you're looking for fun activities to do with your kids this summer that promote executive functioning skills, I highly recommend giving the nature journal a go!

Choosing a College Major

You've finished the college application process, you've been accepted to a university, you've hit it off with your roommate...but what comes next? How do you make the big decision of what to study? You've probably heard from several people that choosing the right major will have a huge impact on your life post-school and that if you choose incorrectly, you'll regret it later. With all this pressure, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed, especially when it seems like everyone around you has a clear idea of what they want to do with their lives. 
The pressure is real, there's no denying it. Yet it's crucial to not rush into a major without first giving it a lot of thought. There are many factors that should go into your decision about what to study, and this list is just a small sampling.

July 2020
Why is Reading Difficult?
You are doing it right now without even thinking about it: reading. Many of us don't even remember learning to read, but it is actually a complex, multifaceted skill built upon subskills. If children have difficulty with any one component of reading, they will struggle to keep up with their classmates and may avoid the task altogether. 

There are several subskills of reading that, when combined, enable children to read fluently and comprehend the ideas presented through written language.
  • Sound Discrimination. At the most basic level, children must be able to differentiate the sounds they hear in spoken language. If children struggle with identifying and manipulating sounds, they will have a difficult time matching words they hear to words they read. 
  • Phonics. Children must also decode the words they read, or connect the sounds with letters and letter combinations. 
  • Fluency. Reading quickly and accurately is essential to helping children retain and understand the information they read.
  • Vocabulary. Developing a broad vocabulary is essential for teaching children to grasp the main ideas of a text.
  • Speaking, Listening, and Writing. Oral and written language development influence reading as these forms of communication improve vocabulary and advance skills in using and recognizing varied sentence structures.
  • Attention. Children must be able to focus on what they read to accurately retain the information. 

School systems throughout the country use different methods to teach students to read. According to a recent article in the New York Times, two main schools of thought generally dictate the curriculum. Often presented as opposing viewpoints, educators disagree on which method is best. 
  1. The "Science of Reading"method is a research-based approach to reading that focuses on phonics. There is strong scientific evidence that instruction targeting sounds and syllables and their connection to written language improves fluency. In the classroom, this is often achieved through systematically sounding out different words and syllables repeatedly. In addition to a phonics focus, this school of thought recommends introducing children to challenging texts to improve reading skills. Increasing expectations helps children learn to make inferences and expand their vocabulary. 
  2. Another major school of thought on literacy skill acquisition is the Balanced Literacy Theory.In this method, children are exposed to a variety of texts that appeal to them in order to improve overall reading skills. This method is what teachers are often taught in school when learning to become educators. Many teachers anecdotally report improvements in reading skills with this method and believe that interest in the material being read is essential to motivating and inspiring children to practice their reading skills. This method also focuses more specifically on reading comprehension and analytical thinking.

The Science of Reading and the Balanced Literary approaches are both valid and can improve children's reading abilities. A comprehensive approach to reading is often the most effective. However, every child is different and may require individualized instruction. If your children struggle with decoding words and syllables, make many mistakes when reading aloud, read slower than their classmates, or often mispronounce words (even when not reading), then a phonics-based approach might be the key to improving their reading. There are several strategies you can try at home to strengthen these aspects of reading:

  • Break down difficult words into syllables and sounds. By practicing this, children can focus on learning letter-combination patterns that make specific sounds.
  • Reread short stories or reading passages out loud. Doing so multiple times can help children with any difficult words they encounter. This repetition is known to improve fluency and increases children's ability to recognize specific words and sentence patterns more quickly. 
  • Create rhyming words and read tongue twisters. This can improve children's awareness of sounds within words and their relation to similar words.
  • Make up new words. Turn it into a game by figuring out different ways you could spell these made up words to improve spelling and decoding.
  • Play games. Games like Scrabble, Word on the Street, Zingo! Word Builder, and Bananagrams are a fun way to help children develop decoding and encoding skills. 
Motivation is key for learning new skills and overcoming difficulties. If you feel that your children struggle with comprehension, motivation, and attention, a Balanced Literacy approach may be more helpful. Here are some methods you can use at home that stem from this viewpoint:
  • Pick books on topics your children are interested in. This will help to motivate your children to push through the difficulties of reading in order to learn about something they care about.
  • Ask questions. When reading with your children, ask questions about what is going on and what might happen next. Engaging your children in thinking about the reading can help you determine how well they understand the information; it can also refocus your children on the story if they have difficulties concentrating. 
  • Expose your child to different forms of literature. Poems, newspapers, novels, etc. all contain different styles, sentence structures, and vocabulary that your children can explore. This allows them to find reading material they most enjoy.
  • Visualize. Encourage your children to draw pictures of what is going on in the story to help them build their comprehension and engagement in reading.

At Thinking Organized, we evaluate your children's specific literacy needs and develop an individualized program to improve their reading skills. We offer a number of summer intensive programs that focus on foundational skills, comprehension, and summer reading assignments. Whether they benefit from the Science of Reading or the Balanced Literary approach, our team is trained to help students strengthen their reading skills. More information can be found on our website and on these specific pages: Elementary SchoolMiddle SchoolHigh School, and  College. Summer is the perfect time to develop these skills so that your children will enter the new school year feeling confident in their reading abilities.

If your children struggle with any of the subskills of reading, they may require specific, individual evaluation and instruction to catch up to their classmates. Parents and professionals can join forces to support their children's literacy journey through a number of strategies and activities. Whatever approach your child needs to read better, Thinking Organized is here to help!