Having spent more than eight years of my career working in K-12 education, I’m often asked whether the so-called “summer slide” really exists, and whether it’s cause for concern.
For those of who you who are unfamiliar with the term, summer slide is when children experience a decline in their academic skills, such as reading and math, during the summer when school is not in session. In my experience, summer slide is indeed a real occurrence that impacts students of all ages and grade levels.
Teachers regularly assess their students’ progress throughout the school year to gauge academic growth and understanding -- including assessments at the start of the school year. It’s not uncommon for students to drop one or even two curriculum levels during the summer. In fact, many educators spend the first month of the school year re-assessing students and reviewing lessons from the previous school year.
Fortunately, there are strategies to help children stay academically sharp over the summer. Here are a few tips I use with my kids:
Before the school year ends, meet with your children’s teachers and find out where they are in math drills. Use that as starting point and continue those exercises throughout the summer. There are worksheets and fun activities available for free online; just do quick web search and you’ll find hundreds of sites. Additionally, many of them have fun ideas for math games you can play using items around the house, including dice, counters, food items, toys, coins and more. Don’t be afraid to challenge your kids and push them to learn unfamiliar concepts.
Baking together is a fun activity that requires younger children to practice counting, measuring and applying concepts of volume and capacity. You can also tie baking activities back to spelling exercises by baking letters of the alphabet and making words out of the letters. Older children can also use recipes to learn about fractions, multiplication and division. Personally, my kids love making pizza and using math to determine how much flour they need, as well as how to distribute toppings evenly across multiple pies.
I often think my children know more about technology than I do. As parents, there’s a way to use that knowledge to our advantage and integrate technology into summer activities. Worried about space while traveling? Many of us have tablets and phones that allow us to bring books and programs with us. While I limit the amount of time my kids spend on electronic devices, they enjoy using apps such as PBS Kids, ABC Mouse and Reading A-Z, among others.
Reading remains the cornerstone of all learning activities. I strongly recommend reading with younger children daily, and scheduling time for them to read on their own and to an adult. As they read, take time to discuss story characters, setting, plot, and any problems and solutions characters encounter in the stories. My kids enjoy drawing pictures about what they’ve recently read, and explaining why certain elements made an impression on them.
I also recommend getting creative with activities connected to reading. Starting with the second grade, you can introduce literacy projects, including making dioramas -- flip books focused on character, setting and plot. You can also ask your kids to create newspaper articles about the story they just read, have them write their own “alternate ending” to a story, create a map of the settings in the story, and teach them to make Venn Diagrams comparing and contrasting two characters in the story.
Sight words are words that should be memorized to help a child learn to read and write. Learning sight words allows a child to recognize these words at a glance without needing to break them into their individual letters and is the way strong readers recognize most words. Find out what sight words they need to practice by the next school year, and play games using these words. For example, show your younger children environmental print such as signs, posters, messages, etc. as you visit different locations over the summer. A good website with activities and games is www.sightwords.com.
Encourage older kids to keep a journal of their summer activities. Have them write down feelings associated with places they visit, share fun experiences and note any exciting new things they learn along the way.
Taking part in local summer library reading programs is a great way to incentivize children. For example, the Library System of Lancaster County’s Summer Reading Program includes recommendations on age-appropriate books, provides information about upcoming events and rewards participants with tickets to local activities and vouchers for free treats such as ice cream.
While keeping kids engaged during the summer requires creativity and effort, it doesn’t have to feel like pulling teeth. Many of the activities you already have scheduled are great opportunities to integrate reading, writing and math. Activities also don’t require much time, with as little as 10 minutes for each grade level usually being enough for younger kids. Even middle school and high school students can keep their skills sharp with just an hour of focused activity each day.
If you feel overwhelmed, start simple. As a parent, you know your child’s interests better than anyone. Pick one activity per day to share with your child, and personalize it as you see fit. You might be surprised how easy it is to help your child learn, while still enjoying all the family fun that comes with summer time.