Preventing the "Summer Slide"
Summer is almost here and I bet your children are already talking about the break from school. Honestly, as a parent, I am ready for the break as well. The summer months are a welcome pause from keeping up with each child’s school schedule, homework, tests, and projects. While I am thankful for the slower pace of summer, how does this 3-month academic break impact your child’s education?
This question has been discussed since school breaks were inserted into the school year a long time ago. Many teachers (and research) can attest that the first couple months of school are spent regaining skills taught the previous year but lost over the summer break. Research has documented this loss of knowledge and skills as the “Summer Slide”. Although the amount of knowledge lost depends on various factors, including family income level (kids from low income families are disproportionately impacted by this skill loss), the Summer Slide can result in 1 to 3 months of learning loss, with more skill loss in math than in reading.
As parents, what can we do? What has been found to be helpful in minimizing the summer slide, or even help your child continue to grow academically?
Below are some action steps you can take to help prevent the Summer Slide in reading and math, as well as possibly help your child continue to progress with their academic skills over the summer. Pick a couple, have fun, and prevent that slide!
(Note: You may notice that I don’t discuss educational apps or games. These can be very helpful in small doses. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 1 hour of screen time a day, and research supports that more than 1 hour of screen time can negatively impacts behavior and attention. Screen time adds up quickly, so while there are many helpful apps and games, these tips are intended to provide alternatives to screen time.)
Ask your child’s teacher what areas will be helpful to keep up with over the summer. Ask if your teacher has extra worksheets that your child struggled with, or found challenging, over the school year.
Make a schedule for your child to complete some work every day. This doesn’t have to be a significant commitment, but 1 math worksheet and 20 minutes of reading a day will provide your child a great benefit at keeping up with the skills they gained over the summer. If your child gets used to a routine, such as completing a worksheet after breakfast and taking a 20-minute break from playing after lunch to read a chapter from a book, they will be less likely to resist this than if they do not know when to expect the activity, or are asked to interrupt a more enticing activity to complete work.
Simply providing access to new and interesting books may be enough to help avoid the summer slide in reading. Visit the library on a weekly basis and keep the fresh supply of interesting books flowing. Some of the quietest times in my house are the hour or two after we visit the library, when my children are engrossed in these shiny, new (in their eyes) books.
Find out your child’s current reading level from their teacher and match that level with books that hit your child’s interests. It is important to not only provide access to books, but have a good portion of the books at their current level so they can read independently, with little frustration, and good comprehension.
Provide books that are slightly below their reading level to work on reading fluency. Similarly, encourage your child to re-read books, as that can also help improve reading fluency.
Reading makes better readers and writers. To work on comprehension, ask your child to tell you about books they read in detail. Try to include skills in inference, comparison and other analytical thinking skills taught in school. This can be done in a conversational way. For example, in a younger child, you can act like you missed important parts of the story, such as “What was the name of that Mouse? Larry?” For older children, ask them to tell you about their favorite parts of the book, favorite characters, or what changes they would have made in the story. Act interested, and not like it is a quiz about the book.
Make a summer reading bucket list and provide fun rewards when the child reaches predetermined points. Many libraries have summer reading programs that provide a reward for completing a reading list.
Make reading (and learning) fun. Studies show that when kids are having fun they are more likely to learn new things and maintain what they learned after the activity is over. Anything that you can do to create a fun learning environment will improve your child’s chances of maintaining knowledge.
The summer is full of fun, interesting ways to engage your child in reading. For example, the fourth of July is a great holiday to get kids of all ages engaged in history with day trips to areas George Washington visited (the Pittsburgh area has some!), check out children’s books that examine parts of the revolutionary war, make an age appropriate science experiment such as how to make fireworks in milk (google it!), go the art museum to see art work from that time period, listen to some exciting songs from the musical “Hamilton”. There are many ways to engage in reading and history that are fun for the whole family, and not at all boring! All of this is more fun as a team!
Tackle both numeracy and literacy with reading math stories. Amazon has a good selection of these story books to practice reading and math, as does the library.
Math worksheets are a summer staple. There are many worksheets available for free online, or you can ask your teacher to help you identify any areas that would be especially useful for you to keep up with.
Everyday activities are full of math. For example, cooking and baking utilizes measurement and mathematics. Include your child in your summer cooking and put them in charge of measurements, calculations, and portion sizes.
Put your child in charge of math-related aspects of your vacation travel. Print out a map for your summer trips, have your child chart your route and determine the amount of miles traveled, how may gallons of gas will be needed, how much money is needed for tolls, and other math related travel activities.
Similarly, make a summer theme. For example, in my family, we are going to try to see as many waterfalls in Ohio as we can this summer. I am leaving some of the planning up to the 6-year-old, with the “help” of the 4-year-old. So far, we bought a map and are plotting out Ohio’s waterfalls. The 6-year-old is in charge of figuring out a logical plan to order our excursions, determining how much money we will need for these trips, how much gas is needed, the distance and time to hike to the waterfall, as well as fun things such as learning how to use a compass, how to identify poison ivy, oak, and sumac (yuck!), and any dangerous animals we may encounter. He is really excited about this, and is using many skills he has learned in school this year.
Learn to play chess with your child. Logical thinking, planning, and strategy help build strong math skills, as well as improve executive functioning (super important skills that are helpful in academic success!
What has been the biggest academic obstacle your child experiences during the summer? Let me know in the comments!