Introducing Ask Amy | A BLOG for Inspiration & Information

"If you would like to discuss all things concerning parenting and academics, please send me an email with a question or comment by clicking on the Ask Amy button below."

Amy Reed-Ferguson is an Early Childhood Educator and

PBS KIDS Early Learning Champion 2021.

As an unschooling mom of two grown children and a life-long learner, Amy has many interests (from sewing to Permaculture), life experiences, and a strong desire to facilitate exploration and learning. She has a deeply held belief that people learn when they are intrigued, are with others who are passionate, and are able to have the freedom and time to “peel” through the layers of a subject. As a PBS KIDS Early Learning Champion, Amy partners with PBS KIDS and KBTC Public Television to help support families in their educational journeys because parents are a child's first teacher, and they should feel empowered to engage in their children’s life-long learning.

When I meet with families at the beginning of the school year, they are quick to tell me that they "didn't do anything educational over the summer". I smile, nod, and then ask them if they did any of these things with their children.

Played cards

Helped cook or bake

Planned a meal

Budgeted with their allowance

Checked the weather

Listened to music

Worked on a jigsaw puzzle

Read together

Wrote emails or letters

Cleaned or did chores

Took a walk in nature

Pretended during play

Made a podcast or Youtube Video

Of the 13 activities on this list, most families will say they did at least 10! Their children were most definitely engaging in education over the summer.

As a society we have been taught that the most important learning is done at a desk, in a classroom, with an educator in charge. Certainly, there are situations where that is absolutely true,

much of what needs to be learned in childhood can happen organically, with one’s community of family and friends.

Why and how are these 13 activities important moments of engaging education?

They allow children to explore concepts like math, literacy, science, engineering and problem-solving in a safe way.

When a child is encouraged to practice skills we hope they will learn in an educational setting at home, there is no pressure to “do it right” and no self-comparison to classmates. This allows the process to be fun and risk-free.

So, planning a meal, cooking, and budgeting can become a vehicle to develop literacy and math skills. Checking the weather and taking a nature walk encourage scientific observations and questioning. Playing board games, building with blocks, working with jigsaw puzzle pieces, and painting help a child develop spatial awareness and problem-solving skills.

All these skills are important for the growth and development of children, and into adulthood.

My families are always concerned that they aren’t doing enough to prepare their children for the “rigors of life”. My job is to help them see that none of us were truly prepared for the rigors of life. The best that they can do is to engage their children in fun ways and encourage skill-building so that when life becomes difficult, their children will have had a bit of practice and the knowledge that their family is always there to support and guide them.

Because the best education is not found in a classroom, but in the supportive embrace of those who love us the most.

Updated: Jul 19

The Summer Slide. Have you been affected by it? Have your kids? Believe me when I tell you, that you most certainly have not, at least not in the way you might imagine! In fact, the “summer slide”, as you know it, does not exist. Let me explain.

Let’s start by defining “summer slide”, or summer learning loss. This term is used to describe how a child “slides’ backwards when not attending school and not being in a constant state of academic consumption. In other words, kids forget what they have learned if they are not in a school environment.

This idea began to be widely accepted after a study regarding summer learning loss called the “Beginning School Study”, which started in the fall of 1982 with 838 first graders in the Baltimore City Public Schools was published. The students in the study were tested twice a year, in fall and spring, so researchers could tell how quickly they were learning during the school year and during summer vacation. The students ranged from the beginning of first grade to the end of eighth grade, with the learning gap growing more each year, primarily through the summer months.

The test scores seemed to be clear evidence; student academics suffered by ninth grade due to summer learning loss. The United States education system took the results as gospel and structured summer schools and the beginning of each new school year to reflect said loss.

The thing is, they were wrong.

In the 40 years since the “Beginning School Study” was conducted, many more studies have been tried to replicate the findings. They have not been successful. What the modern tests have shown us is that learning is complicated and there are so many variables that a blanket term like “summer slide” is erroneous and dangerous for those students who base their abilities on the results. If a child believes they are unintelligent, and standardized tests say they become even less intelligent during the summer, how well will they likely perform in school the following year?

According to Paul von Hippel, a prominent Summer Learning Loss scholar, what has been made very clear is that true academic gaps, or loss, likely happens by the age of three, with modern tests indicating that most of the eighth-grade achievement gap is already present at the start of Kindergarten.

In fact, the public policy think tank, American Enterprise Institute states,

“School can’t give children an equal opportunity at the starting gate because children’s start doesn’t occur in school. Indeed, a substantial body of science strongly suggests that the foundation for educational opportunity is laid not at age five — or four or three — but beginning at birth.”

So, if it isn’t the loss of time in school that accounts for the achievement gaps seen by ninth grade, what is it? It appears that being successful in an academic setting, like school, boils down to one thing; reading.

Yep, the very thing that you are doing right now is what will determine how successful a person will be throughout their academic career. New research shows the difference between reading to kids at home and not is more than a million words by kindergarten!

Studies show that families who actively read and engage with books from birth through third grade, have children who score higher on tests and are able to lessen the achievement gap by the beginning of ninth grade. Reading aloud to and with, young children not only helps them to be successful at school, it also helps with their social and emotional development.

In “The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction” (HarperCollins, 2019), Meghan Cox Gurdon discusses the latest neuroscience and behavioral research linking reading aloud to cognitive and social-emotional benefits for young children.

“That is all well and good”, you say, “but what if my child is now in third grade, not a newborn? What can I do to help?”

My answer to you is this:

Read to, and with, your child. Take them to the library and help them find books based on their interests. Fairy tales, biographies, how-to books, graphic novels, gardening books, it just doesn’t matter. As long as they have an interest and they chose it, reading that book is what will help them be more successful in the coming school years.

Certainly, if your child attends school, academic success is likely important to you, but it is prudent to remember that engaging with books and applying what was learned from the reading, also helps them to be happier and more successful human beings.


- Work through emotional situations

- Build structures

- Plant food

- Invent contraptions

Reading how characters work through emotional situations may assist your children in creating a toolbox on which they can rely if they find themselves in a similar situation. Reading how characters build structures, plant food, or invent contraptions, allows them to see how they might do those things themselves. Reading doesn’t just allow us to have far-flung adventures, it helps us to imagine a better world for all of its inhabitants.

So, this summer, spend some time as a family at your local library. I have yet to find a library system in the US which doesn’t offer summer reading programs with prizes and activities. Why, right here in Pierce County the library system is offering their program called “Read Beyond the Beaten Path”.

Their website states,

“Reading is an important way to stay engaged during the summer. The library provides reading experiences for all ages to find enrichment and enjoyment in reading, minimize the summer slide, and maintain academic skills. Interest-based reading has been proven to improve school success and it’s also a lot of fun!

Research done by US libraries found that reading just 4 to 6 books over the summer has the potential to prevent a decline in reading achievement scores from the spring to the fall, so even small steps are very beneficial.

Yes, reading to and with your child may close academic achievement gaps and prevent the “summer slide”, but, more importantly, it may be the very thing that ushers in a future where gaps no longer hold anyone back from achievement.

Reading is much more important than negating a “summer slide” or academic achievement gaps. Reading is the doorway by which every person passes through to find themselves listening to voices from the past and viewing images of the future.

A child who reads is a child who holds the reins of their future confidently and with purpose.

When a child learns to read, the world becomes a place that belongs to them and one which they are able to fashion into a more just home for all. A reader becomes an orator and an orator can soften the hearts of humans and create a space of love and understanding.

So, dear readers, I will leave you with these words from one of the most prominent literary women of the 19th century, Margaret Fuller,

“Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.”

Updated: Jun 22

School shootings: We have all had to bear witness to increasingly horrific traumas with each

one. Watching the grisly details unfold over days and weeks on every news outlet. Listening

to the 911 calls and seeing young faces recount the horror of living through such an event.

This time, in Texas, we learned that an 11-year-old child covered herself in blood and played

dead, six children survived by hiding under a table that was covered with a table cloth. Parents were handcuffed and pepper-sprayed as they tried to rescue their babies, and 19

armed law enforcement officers stood in a hallway and did nothing to help the living children who were trapped inside two classrooms with dead classmates and teachers.

I am a teacher. As a teacher, society expects me to wear many hats for my students and

families. These expectations include educator (in-class & online), pseudo parent, mediator, nurse, counselor, psychologist, social worker, and now, I am expected to become a human shield to bullets. Some politicians are suggesting that I keep a gun in my classroom and become a sniper, as well.

Educators make hundreds of decisions each day.

- Assess students all-day

- Pivot lessons to fit classroom needs

- Answer staff and parent emails during lunches and breaks

We often feel frazzled with the number of decisions that must be made in an instant. I am a thinker, I like to consider all angles of a situation before I decide, but most days, I don't have that luxury. I believe that is why I keep having nightmares about the six children who hid under the table with the tablecloth.

Someone, likely a teacher, made the decision to cover that table with a piece of cloth that

saved six young lives. It was probably a quick decision, one of the previously mentioned

hundreds a teacher makes in a day. I keep asking myself, Did she weigh the options about using the tablecloth (spills, etc.), or did she just quickly cover the table with it and move on to the next thing that needed to be done? Was it part of their end-of-year celebrations? Did she always use this tablecloth?

These questions haunt me because if she had decided against the tablecloth, six more families might be burying their babies.

I have asked myself over and over if I would have used the tablecloth that day. I can’t say for

certain about that day, but, for the rest of my life, the answer will be, yes. I will always use a

tablecloth at any event where one is an option. I will remember that a tablecloth was the only thing that was able to protect six children as they hid from a madman with a weapon of war. The teacher who decided to use a tablecloth that day saved six lives and knowing that I might not have made the same decision brings me to tears.

In the wake of every mass school shooting, we find parents struggling to explain to their

children that they will be safe at their school and that it won't happen to them. In my family, I am also struggling to explain this to my children. Instead of explaining that they will be safe, it is that I will be safe.

But my children are in their 20s and they are not as easily convinced as younger children.

Instead, my children listen to my fears, I listen to theirs,

We brainstorm together ways that I might be able to protect 19 kindergarten students and myself in the event an angry young man shows up at my school with a weapon of war.

We realize I would not be able to. Then the conversation turns to who to contact about my life insurance policy and I remind them, again, which friends and relatives to call about my death, and what I want them to do with my body. It is not an easy conversation for any of us.

This time, it was different. This time, I reminded them that they only must worry about me

being killed at school for only a short while longer. I will not be returning to the classroom next year. Instead, I will be answering parent questions about home education and working to help families find the best path for their children's educational journeys.

Even without the ongoing threat of an active shooter, school settings don't work for every

family type or every type of learner. The irony of my becoming a public-school teacher after

my children left home for college is that traditional schooling didn't work for my own family.

Both of my children were educated at home from day one. They never had to worry about

becoming a statistic for school policies or mass shootings. I want to combine our experience with home education with my experience teaching in public schools, and my degree in understanding how humans learn, to create options for families who desperately need them.

Please understand, I am not asking anyone to pull their children out of school due to fear. I am not asking anyone to make any decisions at all. I am asking you, dear readers, to listen to your intuition and consider what is best for your child and your family.

What type of journey do you want to experience with your children as they learn to navigate the world? If school is the best option for you and your child, great! If, however, you aren't sure and you would like to talk about it with someone who has been on both sides of those locked doors, reach out to me.

The idea of being responsible for your child’s education may seem scary or daunting. It was

for me, but with hindsight, I can honestly tell you that home education was the best possible choice for my children.

And I am happy to say, they completely agree.