• Coming Soon: New ThinkStretch Materials!

    By Donna Lasinski on September 16, 2013

    ThinkStretch Brain

    The medals are flying out the door to celebrate all of the students and families who have kept their school year skills over this summer!

    I have been listening to parents this summer who are concerned with how to keep a strong learning environment in the home. Many parents loved the opportunity to have fun with their child while adding a learning component. A few parents have likened it to having a really good food that is good for you too!

    So, after much thought, talking and listening, I have decided to write some more for parents and kids. For parents, I am thinking about a Parent Guide to School focused on building learning into every day and interacting positively with children around school. For kids, I am hearing that they want to see more of Brain. Brain engages them, makes them laugh and understands that the life of child is about learning from all kinds of experiences.

    Is there something you’d love to see as a part of the program? Leave a comment below!

    I need to get to work now! I hope to have some new materials to preview this fall!

  • Success!

    By Donna Lasinski on September 3, 2013

    Throughout that first summer, I hosted summer playground sessions with students twice a week on the school playground. Teachers showed up at nearly every session to visit and cheer on the students.

    Award Ceremony

    When fall came, the workbooks were turned into teachers. Our goal was to have 25% of our Title I population return books. To our surprise and joy 42% of students turned in fully completed workbooks. This meant that our kids had read over 100 minutes per week, completed hundreds of math problems and written 8 journal entries over the summer.

    The first Summer Award Ceremony was wonderful. Students hooted and cheered, celebrating their perseverance. Teachers sincerely thanked students for keeping all of their knowledge intact over the summer. And students of every ability level were rewarded for their efforts – a breakthrough in elementary school awards.

    The following year, other schools requested the books. The name changed to the ThinkStretch Summer Learning Program and I learned basic graphic arts and created original teacher-reviewed math materials. By the end of the second year, all content was original.

    ThinkStretch activity books

    During that time, signs that I was on the right train of thought abounded. Approval came from the parent and teacher community, to start. Then came invitations to present at the Celebration of Innovation and Excellence event sponsored by the Ann Arbor Public Schools Education Foundation, which has given grants to schools to purchase the program. Encouragement from author and 826 National co-founder Dave Eggers soon followed. Eggers listed my workbooks on his Once Upon a School website, which honors innovation in public education.

    I had to make the decision to go big or go home. I was exceeding the limits of personal use for ClipArt and had been served a warning by Microsoft. I decided to go big!

    And so ThinkStretch workbook version three – and my business – were born in December 2008, when I hired Quack! Media to create an animated video, graphics, and characters to attract children to the books. 826 Michigan, the Ann Arbor branch of the national non-profit tutoring and creative writing center, helped me develop engaging writing prompts. And artists at letterform drew the professor and brain themed characters.

    As ThinkStretch has grown, been adopted by schools, districts and summer programs across the nation, I could not be more proud of the support of the community that offered me such a supportive atmosphere to become engaged and involved in students’ education.

    Stop Summer Learning Loss At Your School
  • The First Step: Haisley Summer Learning Program

    By Donna Lasinski on July 8, 2013

    Haisley Summer Learning Program

    Using research, state academic standards, and all of the insights from teachers, parents and kids, I commandeered our kitchen table and began working on the Haisley Summer Learning Program. It was now December and I was determined to have a program ready to roll for May 15 for every student in my childrens’ elementary school.

    Over the next 5 months, to the chagrin of my family, our kitchen was covered in papers,

    drawings, test worksheets and innumerable scraps of paper. Slowly, the grade level workbooks began to evolve. Using grade level content expectations, academic standards, and Microsoft Word and clip art, the first version of the Summer Learning Books was born!

    Kids enjoy learning

    I excitedly tested the books with teachers and students. I incorporated their feedback into the next revision. I shared the books at a PTO meeting and heard loud and clear from parents – We need a summer book too! Back to the kitchen table I went, creating the Parent Guide to Summer. Parents wanted not just extra math, reading and writing activities, but also parent-to-parent tips about summer activities and an opportunity to learn about the impact of summer learning loss on their students.

    Finally, the program was ready. I assembled a booth for the annual Spring Ice Cream Social. With a poster board proclaiming “STOP Summer Brain Drain”, I handed out free Parent Guides and told parents about the workbooks their students would be receiving the last week of school. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Parents were excited and wanted to know how they could come together over the summer to work together on keeping skills fresh. And the Summer Playground Sessions were born! The last week of school, 2009, the Haisley Summer Learning Program was launched to the smiles of kids, with gratitude from the parents, and with high expectations from the teachers.

    Read More Success Stories
  • Doing “Something” About Summer Learning Loss

    By Donna Lasinski on June 13, 2013

    ThinkStretch: Prevent Summer Brain Drain

    Deciding to do “something” about summer learning loss and determining what the “something” should be was an adventure.

    I began by collecting every summer packet sent home with students by teachers that I could find, purchasing every summer review book on the market, and reviewing academic summer programs.

    Next, I held discussion groups with teachers asking what they wanted from students and families over the summer. I hosted coffees with parents and asked what they needed from schools over the summer. And finally, I met with kids to ask what they wanted out of their summer and their back to school experience.

    I came to a couple important realizations:

    • Kids did not want to stop learning – they wanted to learn in a different way over the summer.
    • Parents were very anxious over summer academics and did not want to have to teach new skills to their students.
    • Teachers simply wanted kids to return to the school with the skills they had when the school year ended.

    Combining these realizations with my research, I came up with a set of goals for my program that I use to guide my work to today:

    • Make summer learning activities a regular part of the school year
    • Include EVERY student in a learning community
    • Review mastered skills, not teach new skills
    • Educate and support parents
    • Reward and celebrate summer learning efforts
    • Return students in the fall with their skills intact

    The next step was to design a summer learning program that met these steep goals and was fun for kids!