By Sylvia Hannah, Reading Consultant

Should Summer Be A Catch-Up Time for Your Child?

I’ve often spoken with parents who have been informed that their child is behind his/her peers academically.  They wonder if they can catch their child up so that he/she will be able to easily handle the next grade in the fall.

I think that my usual response likely seems discouraging.

I tell parents that this is probably not a very realistic goal for their child’s summer. If their child is making less-than-expected academic gains when he/she is attending school full-time, I don’t think it is reasonable for parents to expect their child to make greater-than-expected gains during his/her summer vacation.

  • That puts a lot of pressure on their child.
  • That adds stress to parents’ lives.
  • No one needs undue pressure and stress during the summer.

Expect that you and your child’s school will plan an appropriate academic program in the fall.  I also hope that you and your child’s school have already worked out satisfactory academic placement for your child.  (See my article on “Split Grades”.)

Summer Be an Enriching Time for Your Child

If your child is struggling academically, of course you want to help.  And you can help, but not necessarily by trying to duplicate the school experience over the summer. You, as a parent, have so many more hours with your child during each week than a classroom teacher ever has.  You can choose wonderful, enriching options for your child, ones that build relationships, experiences, background knowledge and confidence.

Here are some ways to support your child:

  1. Engage A Tutor

If you can manage, you might choose a summer tutoring experience. When I ran a private educational clinic, many parents chose this option for the summer. Some parents called it “summer school camp”! Regularly scheduled teaching/learning sessions helps your child maintain his/her knowledge and interest in learning.

Summer work is particularly helpful if it focuses on your child’s underlying learning difficulties, rather than on merely going through workbooks and worksheets. At my educational clinic, for instance, we developed phonological awareness with students who had difficulty learning to read and spell accurately. We also developed comprehension and writing, using imagery and organized sketches.

Parents often find that using another person to help teach their child takes the pressure off the family. The one-to-one relationship between tutor and child sets up an emotional bond where the child feels confident and secure, and there is no comparison with classroom peers.

  • Join Your Local Library

Community libraries are very helpful to families during the summer.  They organize weekly group story time activities. If your community doesn’t have a library nearby, you could set up a weekly neighbourhood story time. 

Perhaps several families could join in. Each family could select a story-of-the-week.

  1. The first day, the children could go to one house to listen to a new story, e.g. “The Three Billy Goats Gruff”.
  2. During the first part of the week, children could make hand puppets and re-tell the story with their parents.  Children could also make dioramas of the setting.
  3. During the last part of the week, children could meet to act out the story.
  4. Each night, parents could tell (or read) the story at bedtime.  Insert your child’s name in the story and add new adventures, to engage your child.

A travelling library van could come to your community.  They might offer weekly book activities, as well.

  • Read to Your Child Each Day

You might wonder why I even mention this, because it seems obvious. Parents are always encouraged to read to their children. This establishes a closeness between parent and child. It also exposes your child to language which is more like school language, more literate and less conversational.

The wonderful routine that you’ve set up during the school year might disappear during vacation time.  Try not to let this happen!  Remember that most everyone loves to listen to stories, no matter how old they are!

  • Travel

Travel in and around your community or farther flung adventures allow the opportunity to talk with your child. Travel exposes your child to new vocabulary and experiences, creating essential background knowledge.  You can keep a travel journal that both you and your child write and/or draw in. Taking photos of the experiences and creating a photo journal is also a way to document your adventures.

  • Enroll Your Child in Summer Activities

Most community parks provide free summer day activities where your child can have organized fun. Your child will continue to learn how to play with peers, and will engage in group songs, crafts, sports, etc. Other activities, like day camps, sports camps, music camps, art camps, swimming, etc., will likely charge fees.  Check out something that will excite your child.

I can remember the busy summers I had with my two girls, as we explored a range of events each summer. Over the years, they had numerous opportunities to find out what they really liked doing, and this ultimately guided them in selecting high school options and making career choices.

  • Talk!  Talk!!  Talk!!!

A number of years ago, I met an educational researcher, Gordon Wells, who wrote a book called “Collaborative Meaning Making”.  In it, he describes how parents can best help their children understand the world.  They can do this by acknowledging what their children are interested in, and by extending their children’s knowledge a little bit, each time a conversation takes place.

This sounds obvious, perhaps.

I found that knowing the power I had, as a mother, to influence and expand my children’s thinking, continuously affected what I said to my children, and how I said it. We were engaged in collaborative meaning making during every second of every day when I was with them.

Notice what your child is interested in, e.g. cars, beetles, dress-up clothes.  Each time your child says something about what they know and like, add a bit more information to help them understand, for example, how cars move forward, what kinds of wings beetles have, what dress-up clothes you need for each character you want to be. This is important because:

  • You will be allowing your child to be important.
  • You will be developing their thinking.
  • You will be increasing their vocabulary.
  • You will be enhancing their knowledge.

All of these things will make them more confident learners.


The suggestions made are intended to make summer an enjoyable time for your child and for you.  What you do with your child can be fun, and a learning experience for you both. Everything you do WITH your child, and FOR your child, can help him/her to be successful as a learner. 

Ultimately, this will lead to academic confidence when he/she returns to school in the fall.

To learn more about early identification and intervention of literacy challenges in children, visit

Right to Read tag line

How Decodable Books Support Struggling Readers

By Michele Pentyliuk, Registered Psychologist

Decodable books are ideal for children learning to read or those who struggle to read because they include:

  • words with phonics patterns that have been taught.
  • high frequency words that have been taught. 

This allows children to practice reading with spelling patterns and high frequency words they have practiced. Sounding out the word is the only strategy for reading unfamiliar words.

This focus on word reading and letter-sound knowledge develops a habit of reading accurately.

When reading Leveled Literacy books, which are used in most classrooms, children use picture and context clues to “read” words they can’t decode or haven’t memorized. This can lead to a reliance on guessing, rather than reading words.

The goal of reading is comprehension, but until reading fluency is achieved, comprehension is taught through oral reading to students, engaging them in discussion. This is where leveled literacy readers and other literature are beneficial.

To learn more about early identification and intervention of literacy challenges in children, visit

Should My Child Go into a Split Grade?

By Sylvia Hannah, Reading Specialist

A look of panic always comes across parents’ faces when it’s suggested that their child will likely be in a split grade the following year. There are many things to consider, particularly if your child is struggling to acquire basic skills, has difficulty managing the workload, or is easily overwhelmed in a busy classroom. Here’s some things to consider:

  1. Range of Capability

There is always a range of achievement in every classroom.

• In a grade one class I taught, one child was reading at a grade five level and one child didn’t know his last name. In my grade five class, one child read at a grade two level and another at a university level. I have assessed high school students who are reading at elementary school levels.

• So, all grade level classrooms are really split grades! I don’t think that having a child in a split grade will tax a teacher, unduly, because of the range of capability of the students.

  1. Kinds of Split Classes

Schools, usually, have split grade classrooms because they have too many students, or not enough, to fill a classroom with one grade level. They put thought into how they will select children for their split classrooms.

• Sometimes, they’ll pick the independent higher achievers from the lower grade to combine with a smaller group of more needy children in the higher grade.

• Sometimes, they select a smaller number of lower achieving children in the lower grade to combine with a larger number of independent, high achieving students in the higher grade.

• Or, other combinations. By thinking about the combinations, schools are attempting to make the learning groups more workable for the teacher and more manageable for the students.

  1. Grade Level Curriculums

Most parents are worried about whether their child will learn the curriculum in their particular grade.

• Learning is a continuous process. A teacher can “cover” the curriculum, but the more important consideration is whether students have learned what they need to know.

• A child never knows only grade two curriculum, or grade four curriculum, etc. Grade levels are arbitrary. For example, you might say that by the end of grade one, a child should know how to add and subtract up to twenty. By June of grade one, some students know more than this, and some less. The teacher might have “covered” this information but there is always a great range of achievement amongst the children in a grade one classroom.

• In the areas of social studies and science, teachers have a range of topics to choose from. Some are labelled as “grade three” topics, some “grade four”. A teacher could choose a grade five science topic for a grade four-five split classroom, but expect different output from the students, depending on their grade.

• Curriculum always overlaps, but grade levels are arbitrary and lock-step.

• Children’s learning is continuous, sometimes moving faster than day-by-day, month-by-month curriculum presentation, sometimes more slowly.

• I want parents to not worry about whether their children will miss some curriculum if they’re in a split grade classroom. What is more critical is how their child is progressing, as a reader, writer, and mathematical learner.

• Being in a split grade classroom, in itself, will not likely impede their child’s progress.

  1. Teacher Organization

All teachers need to be organized. They need to know:
-what they’re going to teach
-how they’re going to teach it
-have their students learned
-how each student is progressing
-what they need to do to support each learner.

• All of this takes thought and work. I do believe that teachers of split grade classrooms need to be even better organized because there are more things to be done in a multi-age, multi-grade classroom.

• Parents need to know if their multi-grade teacher is highly organized.

  1. Student Organization

All students in classrooms need to learn how to work independently, and there’s always some degree of noise and movement.

• Students have to complete work on their own because a classroom teacher has many students to serve.

• In split grade classrooms, the teacher will expect students to learn how to “ignore” instruction that’s being given to students in the other grade. By ignore, I mean, to keep working on their own while the teacher is busy with children in the other grade.

• In a single grade classroom, this independence is required, as well, but it may be a more obvious requirement in a split grade classroom, and parents will need to consider this expectation carefully.

  1. Level of Split Grade (Early Elementary)

I think that the most difficult grade to teach is grade one. There are several reasons why:

• First, there are now curricular, grade level expectations/requirements placed on the teacher and on the students. The lock-step system has begun.

• Second, this is the grade where children are “supposed” to learn to read. And they’re supposed to learn to read at a certain rate.

• The pressure is on teachers, parents and students.

Sometimes, schools combine a kindergarten and grade one classroom, or a grade one classroom with grade two. This can, and does, work. But, as a reading specialist, I’ve always had some concern about those children who are experiencing difficulty with learning to read, and spell, and write. If your school is suggesting either of the above split grades for your child, ask the following:

o How many students will be in the classroom?
o How many students are at each grade level?
o Does the teacher have any classroom aide support?
o Does the teacher have school resource room support?
o What if my child appears to be learning to read at a slower rate?
o Does the teacher know how to teach children who are learning differently?
o Does the teacher have time to teach children who are learning differently?
o How will my child’s progress be monitored?
o When will my child’s progress be assessed?
o Will I be kept informed?
o Will we have regular progress reports and conferences?

In summary, split grade classrooms require a good deal of teacher skill and organization, and while they may benefit some learners, they may present challenges to others. A split grade classroom, one that is organized to meet the varying needs of children in more than one grade, may be more flexible and could provide your child with learning opportunities directed to his or her unique needs.

Sylvia Hannah is a Reading Specialist, and one of the founding members of the Right to Read Program.

To learn more about early identification and intervention of literacy challenges in children, visit

Coping strategies during the pandemic

                                      Psychological Coping During a Pandemic

Psychologists are experts in stress & anxiety management & we encourage all Albertans to take a deep breath & follow these simple steps to ease your mind, promote your psychological health, & channel your “energy” into more adaptive & beneficial reactions:

 • Maintain Perspective. The virus isn’t under our control but many things are — focus on those.

 • Be Prepared. Follow the advice of Alberta Health, be prepared, & be realistic.

• Informed, not Overloaded. Stay updated only through trustworthy sources & only daily.

 • Create a new Normal. Maintain or develop structure & routines to create a sense of security.

• Relax. Practice anxiety management — mindfulness, mediation, prayer, relaxation, etc.

 • Physical Activity helps reduce anxiety & encourages a sense of well-being & control.

 • Uncover the Positives. Use this time to reconnect with yourself, friends, & family in new ways.

• Learn Something New. Read, practice music, dance, & art engage our creative selves.

 • Lend a Hand. Help out others in your life & remind them that we will get through this together

The idea is to focus on that which you can control & change. We must all practice social distancing, & perhaps self-isolation, but we get to decide how we spend that time & what we choose to dwell on.

Still struggling? Professional help is available. Psychologists are still practicing today – many now via telepsychology.

Subtle signs of depression By Carolyn Barker

Typically, we are physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually equipped enough to face the challenges of day to day living. When the challenge recedes, we can bounce back and enjoy the good times. Occasionally, however, we can become overwhelmed by the number of challenges we have to face or the nature of the challenges, making it hard to bounce back and making joy elusive. This could be a sign of depression. To read more about the subtle signs of depression, see