Although summer allows educators and students a few months to rest and recharge before school resumes in the fall, families have the important responsibility of ensuring what their children learned over the previous 10 months is not lost during days spent swimming in the pool or building sand castles at the beach.
THE SUMMER SLIDE
The term commonly used among educators for the skills students lose between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next is known as the “summer slide.” In other words, if students were reading on grade level at the end of third grade, this phenomenon explains why they enter fourth grade performing below that level. This is far from ideal and, for those students, teachers must spend precious time remediating skills when school begins again.
Some schools and school systems have tried to prevent the summer slide by modifying their academic calendars, but this requires significant policy changes and the commitment of financial resources. Despite the positive effects of shorter and more frequent breaks as an alternative to an extended vacation at the end of the school year, many children don’t have access to year-round schooling or similar programs. So what can families do to avoid the summer slide? Although not exhaustive, the recommendations below can help children maintain their academic skills during their months off.
‘SUMMER’ IS NOT A SYNONYM FOR ‘NO STRUCTURE’
Children enjoy the freedom that summer brings, but that time does not have be one with no structure because there is no school. In other words, while students are on vacation, families are encouraged to maintain regular schedules for their children as much as possible. For example, when allowing your youngsters to stay up later than usual to watch or play developmentally appropriatetelevision shows and video games, these privileges should include parameters. In fact, regular sleeping, waking and eating schedules help young people remain healthy and productive. To determine the recommended amount of sleep for children, visit sleepfoundation.org/articles/children-and-sleep.
READING: 20 MINUTES A DAY KEEPS THE SUMMER SLIDE AWAY
Because reading is fundamental, families are encouraged to consider these activities in support of their children’s literacy development:
Expect children to read—books, magazines, graphic novels, newspapers—for at least 20 minutes each day on the level at which they were reading when the school year ended. If you are unsure, contact your child’s school; they can share this information with you. Families can also help identify books at their children’s reading level by using the five-finger rule:
- Have each child choose a book.
- Open the book to any page and have the youngsters begin reading.
- For every word children are unable to read, have them put up one finger.
- If there are five unknown words on a single page, the book is too difficult.
Check out your local public library and schools for free literacy programs. In addition, find out if your library offers Hoopla, a digital media service that allows families to borrow free audio books and other media sources that can be accessed on your computer, tablet or phone. For more information, visit hoopladigital.com.
Talk to your children about what they are reading. To ensure they understand the material, ask them to explain what is happening. For example, after they read a paragraph or a page, have them tell you in their own words what has happened and also predict what may be coming next. If children are reading aloud to you, periodically ask them WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY, and HOW questions to gauge their understanding.
You can also check out the following websites for additional reading comprehension strategies: readingrockets.org/article/using-collaborative-strategic-reading and metodes.lv/en/methods-and-tools/active-reading-5-steps-strategy.
WRITING: HELP CHILDREN DISCOVER THE JOY OF JOURNALING
For many students, writing is challenging because it includes both reading and spelling; therefore, children need consistent practice to become proficient in written communication. One of the most fun and nonthreatening ways to ensure children’s writing is not susceptible to the summer slide is to encourage them to journal about their daily activities. Their entries don’t have to be extensive; a few sentences a day—perhaps as a short letter to their teachers or classmates about their summer adventures—can be tremendously beneficial.
ARITHMETIC: EVERYDAY MATH IS THE BEST MATH
As school psychologists, we recognize that despite families wanting the best for their children, many don’t always know how to support the academic needs of young people and may think significant financial resources are necessary. A lot of what children need to maintain their skills, however, can be accomplished with little or no money. Consider the following tips:
Use trips to the grocery store to reinforce skills related to counting money and making change. Allow children to pay cashiers and calculate the change they should receive.
- While driving or walking, encourage younger children to identify shapes and colors of street signs and traffic lights.
- To reinforce addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts, write basic operations (e.g., “4 + 4”) on one side of an index card and the answer on the other. Allow children to study a set on a daily basis, then quiz them at the end of the day. You may also consider creating sheets of computation exercises for children to complete each day.
Helping children maintain their knowledge positions them to acquire new skills, but don’t forget to let kids be kids. In the words of renowned developmental psychologist Jean Piaget, “Play is the work of childhood and is the answer to how anything new comes about.” So have fun with your children as you learn (play) and explore together.
Charles Barrett, Ph.D., NCSP, is lead school psychologist with Loudoun County Public Schools and an adjunct lecturer in the Graduate School of Education at Howard University. Follow him on Twitter @_charlesbarrett and Instagram @charlesabarrett using #itsalwaysaboutthechildren.
Desiree Vyas, Ph.D., NCSP, is a school psychologist and faculty member with Loudoun County (Virginia) Public Schools’ APA-accredited doctoral internship program in Health Service Psychology. Follow her on Twitter @DesireeVyas and Instagram @desiree_vyas.