Summer Learning Can Happen Anywhere

David Farbman, Director Gateways Center for Professional Learning

Teachable Moments in the Summer

 As educators, we know that the long summer break may not be ideal for promoting academic progress. Certainly, research confirms this. But we should also realize that we can take steps to ensure that the summer does not pass as a period empty of learning. We can enable learning to extend through those days when children are not in formal schooling, but are, nevertheless, ready vessels for growth and development of cognitive capacity. Simply put, just because school is on break we need not permit our focus to slip from children’s learning.

One way to frame this aspiration is to think of “teachable moments,” as ever abundant and present in our daily lives. Typically, we think of teachable moments as those times when events seem to conspire to lend a sense of drama or connection to history to what we see happening around us. The riots in the wake of the Rodney King trial or the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage or even “smaller” stories like a community coming together after a natural disaster all seem to assume a certain import that we should (or even must) call our children’s attention to the lessons we can draw.

But I tend to think of teachable moments far more broadly, and without the kind of pressure for learning that these more dramatic events confer. I see teachable moments happening in the grocery store when a mother explains to her child how to add up prices or check the nutritional value of certain foods. I see teachable moments when a grandfather reads his grandson a story, continually prodding about what the pictures show. And I see them happening when a camp counselor demonstrates to his campers how to play games more fairly. In other words, teachable moments are simply those countless times each day when we take deliberate action to inform or describe to others how things work, so that they can deepen their own understanding of the world.

And, of course, with this framing, it becomes much easier to see how summertime should really be no different from the rest of the year in discovering and taking advantage of as many teachable moments as possible. In the garden, on the beach, relaxing on the front porch on a long summer evening – the teachable moments are all there, waiting to be seized.

In fact, Judaism’s central Torah passage – the Sh’ma – may be the originator of this beautiful idea: “You shall teach them thoroughly to your children, and you shall speak of them when you sit in your house and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise.” Quite simply, we are obligated in sacred trust with G-d to pass along our wisdom at every possible opportunity. In this spirit, we, at Gateways, wish all our educator friends a restful summer filled with teachable moments large and small. 

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