John McNamara is working on a pilot project to ensure that kids who struggle with literacy don’t lose all their progress during the lazy summer months.
McNamara, associate professor, Child and Youth Studies, has teamed with Jackie Van Lankveld, manager of Pre-school Speech and Language Services at the Niagara Peninsula Children’s Centre, to develop a program to keep the minds of kindergarten students sharp, even during a season when school is a memory.
The program works with students in Niagara Falls and St. Catharines who will enter senior kindergarten in the fall. For children already struggling with literacy, a reading-free summer is enough to lose what they learned in their first year of school, McNamara said.
“It really is a simple matter of use it or lose it,” he said.
Students who struggle with literacy are referred to the program. The referrals come from the Niagara Catholic District School Board, which is also a program partner. Over the summer, a group of 15 students and their parents meet twice a week for five weeks, where parents learn tips to keep literacy fresh in the minds of their children.
The methods are often simple, McNamara said. Even playing with magnetic letters can improve a child’s ability to recognize the alphabet. But it is a matter of identifying and implementing those methods, he said.
Research in recent years points to the importance that early learning has in early child development, Van Lankveld said. With this project, it is as important to engage the parents as it is to involve the students.
The project, called “Closing the summer learning gap for vulnerable learners: A pilot study” received a Research Development Initiative grant of $24,316 from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. The Niagara Peninsula Children’s Centre received a $26,000 grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.