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Expert Insights: Dr. Rebecca Palacios on the Importance of Learning Throughout the Summer Break

July 1, 2013

by Michelle LaRowe
Editor in Chief

The summer months are a time for relaxation and play—as well as an opportunity for exploration and learning in unexpected ways! I recently chatted with Dr. Rebecca Palacios, a teacher from Corpus Christi, Texas who holds a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction, to discuss the importance of summer learning. Dr. Palacios is a National Board Certified Teacher and a Founding Director for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), as well as Senior Curriculum Advisor for the award-winning early education site ABCmouse.com.

In our conversation, Dr. Palacios shared a few ways parents can encourage their children to continue learning in the summer while giving them a chance to follow their natural curiosities and interests.

eNannySource: Why is it important to continue learning over the summer months?

Dr. Palacios: Despite the lack of homework assigned, the summer break is full of opportunities for parents and caregivers to set up environments where learning can happen in a natural way. Just keep in mind that you want to always encourage the child’s curiosity and keep their minds active.

eNannySource: At what age should a focus on summer learning be a priority for children?

Dr. Palacios: Summer learning benefits students of all ages, and is especially important for early learners when development is most critical. Children start learning from the moment they are born—everything they see, hear and touch is actually a learning experience. These experiences form the foundation for all kinds of learning. Think of each experience as a lesson, an opportunity to ask a question, sharpen a skill, or learn something new. And with young children, it is especially important that they experience learning as something they like doing, so if parents want to teach their children academic skills, then it should be done in a way that the child really enjoys.

eNannySource: What are some practical ways parents can keep their kids engaged in learning during the summer?

Dr. Palacios: Environment is tremendously important, as young children learn primarily by looking, listening and exploring in their environments. A lot of that learning will occur naturally, but parents can also help it along. Teachable moments come from the child’s own observations or from things they’re interested in because they’re so excited and curious to learn more.  And there are so many of these that can be found during the regular day—the sun setting after dinner rather than before, a cat shedding or changes in weather. Point out these occurrences and ask your child questions about them.

I have a grandson who loves to count fire hydrants. So while we’re walking and counting, I ask him if he knows what a fire hydrant does, why they’re there or why a firefighter needs them. Teachable moments can be just a few minutes or even a few seconds. The trick is to be aware that the things that we see and do as we go through our days may seem mundane to us, but to our children they are wonders.

eNannySource: How can parents make learning fun?

Dr. Palacios: There are a lot of ways to make learning fun; I like to encourage parents to take an approach that is called integrated learning. Integrated learning occurs when parents encourage learning in a number of subject areas while focusing on one topic. For example, you can create an exploration area in your kitchen where you and your child can look at dry seeds. Young children can learn that plants come from seeds, that seeds come in various sizes, shapes and colors, and that plants need water, soil, air and light to live. Have your child describe and/or label the seeds (develops language and writing skills), sort them by color and size (develops math skills), and talk to them about the plant life cycle (develops basic science skills).

eNannySource: When it comes to summer learning: old school or new school?

Dr. Palacios: I think technology can offer unique learning opportunities to young children that may not be easily reproduced in the real world. When we are using technology for education, we need to keep in mind that children feel empowered when they have an active role in their learning rather than being passive recipients of information.

Parents can ask teachers or do research on how technology can be used at home over the summer to support what the child has learned during the school year. Parents can also talk about what they see when the child uses technology to learn, such as what seems to engage the child and what the child is learning. This way, technology can be both a conversation piece and a tool for communication. It’s a great opportunity for parents and teachers to learn and work together.

That said, technology is by no means the only way children should learn—I recommend a visit to the library once a week, where the child can easily see and select books that look interesting.  It’s always a good idea, too, to provide children with different tools and materials that they can use to make pictures and structures.

But whether the learning experience occurs with a computer, a tablet, a book, a set of paints or moldable clay, what’s most important is that the parent or caregiver participates and talks with the child about what he or she is learning.  It’s those conversations that really help to turn experiences into knowledge.

eNannySource: Tell us how ABCmouse.com can support parents in helping to support learning during the summer months.

Dr. Palacios: ABCmouse.com is an award-winning learning site filled with activities geared towards young children, and is a great way to keep kids learning over the summer months. ABCmouse.com has more than 3,000 activities spanning reading, math, beginning science, social studies, even art and music. The curriculum has been developed with leading early education experts and advisors (such as myself), so even though your kids are out of school, they will still have access to activities and lessons that have been created by educators. Plus, ABCmouse.com is a lot of fun—your children probably won’t even notice that they are learning!

Another great thing about the site is that, unlike most other children’s websites, ABCmouse.com has no advertising, pop-up ads or links to outside websites. Children can learn and explore freely, though I always encourage parent engagement when young children are using technology. Instead of walking away when the child seems to be engaged with a computer or mobile device, parents can use that as an opportunity for increased interaction and communication.

This video provides a short introduction to the ABCmouse.com curriculum. For more information, visit www.ABCmouse.com or www.facebook.com/ABCmouse


Dr. Rebecca Palacios, a Founding Director of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), holds a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction as well as National Board Certification as an Early Childhood Generalist. She has more than 25 years of experience in the field of early childhood education. As a Senior Curriculum Advisor for ABCmouse.com, an award-winning comprehensive and interactive website for early learners, Dr. Palacios helps ensure that all site content and activities are age appropriate while reflecting best practices in early childhood education. 


Michelle’s Review of ABCmouse.com:

When it comes to screen time in our home, it is very limited. We carefully choose what our children watch, what iPad apps they can use and what websites they can visit – and we always make sure to share the experience with them, not simply set them up and walk away.

For the past several weeks I’ve had the chance to explore ABCmouse.com with my four year old daughter and quite frankly, I’m not sure who likes it more!

There’s just so much to do and it feels like we’ve only scratched the surface. From watching new favorite books come to life before our eyes, to coloring images on the screen, to playing math and reading games, the content is age-appropriate, engaging and fun. We’ve learned about animals, practiced patterns and even relearned the forgotten words to some of my favorite childhood rhymes.

My daughter loves earning “tickets” and I love that it is an advertisement free zone. We’ve been using ABCmouse.com as our quiet time activity while my younger son naps and look forward to what we’re going to discover each day. We haven’t been disappointed yet!


A complimentary ABCMouse.com media access code was provided at no cost to me for review consideration. 


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