Preventing the Summer Slide

by Shari Zook


It’s summer vacation! Yay! Let’s sleep in till noon, watch videos, and hang out on the living room couch.

Or not.

Researchers, educators, and parents are becoming increasingly concerned about what they call the “summer slide,” and they’re not talking about the local water park. Many children experience a learning regression over the summer months, slipping backward significantly in reading, math, and memorization. Worse, the slide can be cumulative, lowering a child’s performance each successive year. It’s not only a problem for first graders; studies suggest that older children lose even more than the little ones do.

Without frequent exercise and practice, any learned skill will slip. Yet we all love the concept of recess: a well-earned break from the daily grind. What is the solution? Keep the learning going all summer long – but make it fun.

Let’s start by getting children out of the house and into community life. This may seem counter-intuitive, as many parents have been waiting for this chance at relaxed living and free labor. (Or maybe that’s just me.) But what fun, educational experiences can we have together as a family? We can

  • Take a daytrip to visit great-grandma over the state line
  • Sign up for a hike
  • Join a free herb planting seminar at a community garden
  • Attend an orchestra concert at a neighboring college
  • Stop by a maple farm or a friend’s horse barn
  • Volunteer with a clean-up crew

Websites like Macaroni Kid locate organized activities and group them by region, so you can find your own town and access a daily list of what’s happening nearby.

Engross your children in good books. Reading just four to six books over the summer can make the difference in maintaining your child’s reading comprehension level. Many libraries offer summer reading programs, with fun prizes and incentives. (While ours consists mostly of cheap toys, there are also certificates for treats or meals at local restaurants – and hey, my children are reading.) Read together. Read often. Read aloud – even after they can read it themselves. Rent audio books. Find books across a wide range: light-hearted picture books, chapter books an older sibling can read aloud, and informational books on any topic from lunar exploration to backyard bugs. You may find the surprise gifts of science, history, and world awareness creeping into what you thought was your summer literacy program. They’re tricky like that. And the more the merrier!

For the development of a healthy child, use technology sparingly and intentionally – as a tool, not a toy. Digital gaming doesn’t build much in a child’s mind and body. But websites like Education.com or Xtramath.com give children a chance to use a computer (fun! fun!) to develop or maintain real-life skills like grammar and subtraction. Some authors such as Dr. Seuss, Jan Brett, and Eric Carle have websites for children’s education. With parental guidance, scientific websites like National Geographic and Smithsonian can be great tools for learning about nature, discovery, and invention. Take a virtual field trip to the Hershey Factory or Mount Everest (more listed in this article). Or try Chess.com for an occasional battle of wits.

At home, plan ahead to get children engaged in home life. Challenge from the get-go their easygoing assumption that summer equals low expectations. There’s nothing wrong with some relaxing – they’ve earned it! But then get them moving, and use this chance to teach responsibility and teamwork.

  • Hang those chore lists on the fridge.
  • Teach a new skill like bread baking or wood refinishing.
  • Divvy out household, yard work, and animal care assignments. (It’s great math practice. If Johnny folds five items of laundry and Suzie folds three, who will fold the other three hundred and sixty-nine?)
  • On a rainy day, skip the screen time and pull out paper and pencils so they can write letters to their cousins in Lancaster County.
  • On a sunny day, shoo them down to the creek, or lead them on a long walk with a bird book.
  • Let your children plan and prepare one meal a week: following recipes, doubling the dessert quantities (math again!), and washing dishes.
  • While you buy groceries, give them a calculator to tally prices.

You notice I am sharing all these sparkling ideas at the beginning of the summer. Feel free to check back with me at the end and see how it went. Managing children’s education requires significant time and energy, when it would be a whole lot simpler to let them loaf.

But think of it this way: if you’re like me, you’ve outsourced this aspect of parenting all winter. Someone else, God bless them, has been growing your children’s I.Q.s and skill sets. Now is your chance to participate. You may find you learn as much as your pupils do, and have just as much fun.

What summer slide?

Resources:

https://www.brookings.edu/research/summer-learning-loss-what-is-it-and-what-can-we-do-about-it/

https://mentalfloss.com/article/579224/kids-whose-parents-read-aloud-to-them-understand-a-million-more-words

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CONTRIBUTOR: Shari Zook

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