Summer is at last upon us—summer, glorious summer! Your kids are out of school, and you might be asking yourself, “Now what?” Should you worry about the “summer slide” and their academic skills over the summer? Is it best to fill their schedules with activities, or give them a lazy summer filled with freedom? Should you plan academic activities to hone their skills, or let them veg-out in front of a screen? How do you find balance? These are my suggestions for having a wonderful (and balanced summer). The kind of summer that satisfies the need for free time, creates lasting memories, and leaves kids ready for school in September!
What is “Summer Slide?”
I know that NO E wants to talk about school this time of year! However, it is still relevant even in the midst of sunshine, swimming pools, and summer freedom. Any teacher can tell you that kids regress in skills over the summer. This inevitable trend is called “summer learning loss” or “summer slide.” Consider what the NWEA (Northwest Evaluation Association) has to say about this:
. . . summer learning loss is clearly observed in both math and reading in each summer term between third and eighth grade . . . In the summer following third grade, students lose nearly 20 percent of their school-year gains in reading and 27 percent of their school-year gains in math. By the summer after seventh grade, students lose on average 36 percent of their school-year gains in reading and a whopping 50 percent of their school-year gains in math. In other words, summer learning loss increases with age through elementary and middle school . . . (Kuhfeld, 2018)
The NWEA evaluates trends in reading and mathematics, but there are other skills to consider as well. No one expects students to retain every skill and concept from year to year, but there are certain skills—like reading and critical thinking—that should continue to flourish over the summer and even demonstrate growth in the new school year. Similarly, soft skills like persistence, patience, and teamwork should be progressing consistently whether school is in or out of session. Unfortunately, the summer slide can affect these important skills as well. You can read more about this trend in the NWEA article Summer Learning Loss: What We Know and What We’re Learning.
What Skills are Most Important?
The majority of the teachers I have surveyed (both formally and informally) believe that it is important for parents to work on some academic skills with their children over the summer. Reading was overwhelmingly cited as the most important skill for students to work on, with math and non-mathematical problem-solving skills close behind.
Of course, it makes sense that reading should be emphasized. No other academic skill affects more areas of school than reading. Reading is often the gateway to academic content across the curriculum. Reading fluency is built through practice. Additionally, reading improves vocabulary—so important for children to be able to fully understand and access advanced content.
Attention to math skills is also important, both because they require practice to fully master and also because math is so sequential in nature. Skills not mastered in third or fourth grade will affect a students’ ability to have success in 5th grade.
Problem-solving skills, like reading, are cross-curricular in nature as well. Problem-solving in the academic world is how students apply their knowledge, how they find the answers that they don’t know, and is the true manifestation of learning. In the non-academic world, problem-solving can help students deal with many practical personal and interpersonal issues.
Interestingly, a fourth skill ranked high among teachers as well. Many teachers agreed that effective interpersonal skills were something that they would like to see their students practice. Interpersonal skills are everything from good manners to conflict resolution to learning to work as members of a team.
With the dramatic rise in the use of technology like smartphones and social media at increasingly younger ages, many teachers agree that there has been a sharp decline in students’ interpersonal skills. Children simply do not know how to successfully interact with others face to face. Even something as simple as carrying on a conversation can be difficult for many kids. When hormones and personal conflicts are added to the milieu, many students have no idea how to cope.
What Should Parents Do?
So, what can parents do? The good news is that parents can institute many simple routines and expectations into the daily fabric of summer vacation which can prevent the summer slide and keep kids growing academically and personally in the summer months.
#1. Know Your Child
Every child is unique and different. What is effective and beneficial for one may not be helpful at all for another. First, find out if your child is performing below grade level in any particular area. This information can be gleaned from your child’s end of the year report card and from a conversation with his or her teacher.
If your child is performing in the expected range for their grade level, it is probably not necessary to plan anything very specific for them to work on. However, if your child is struggling in a particular area it might be a good idea to plan some explicit activities and practice for them. This is especially true with skills like reading and math that build upon themselves each year and overlap into many different areas of the curriculum.
#2. Establish a Routine
This is so important for many reasons. Children thrive on routine. They benefit from limits and boundaries and knowing the expectations. Even in the summer, it is important for children to have consistent bedtimes, wake-up times, daily schedules, and chores.
Obviously, there will be extenuating situations and exceptions but, as much as possible, try to stick to it. One of the most important and trickiest is sleep schedules. It may be tempting to let your child stay up later and sleep until whenever, but it isn’t necessarily in their best interest. That isn’t to say they must follow the same schedule as the school year. It is perfectly fine to move bedtime and wake-up time back, however, make sure that your child is still getting plenty of consistent sleep time.
Click HERE to download free summer routine printables!!
#3. Set Expectations
Often parents assume that children will automatically know how to behave in certain settings, or will automatically regulate themselves. Some children adapt well to different environments and stimuli, but most do not. Setting expectations applies to both the big picture and the details. At the beginning of the summer, or even before school lets out, let your children know what your summer expectations will be (bedtime, scheduled reading, chores, etc.). You will undoubtedly get groans and grumbles, but they will get over it. The sooner they know your expectations, the sooner they will move on and accept it.
Setting expectations can also apply to specific situations. These are opportunities to explicitly teach your children. For example, if you are going to visit grandma and grandpa, explain to your children how you want them to act ahead of time (not playing on their phones, making conversation, etc.). This is a great time to start working on interpersonal skills!
#5. Limit Screen Time
I absolutely cannot stress this one enough! It is my opinion as a teacher and a parent that smartphones, tablets, video games, and TV do our youth a tremendous disservice. Don’t get me wrong, I think they are wonderful tools when used appropriately, and I certainly have put on cartoons so that I could get dinner made. However, too many children are accessing technology that is inappropriate for their age and maturity level and are spending way too much time staring at a screen.
Set clear and strict limits on when, how and for how long technology will be accessed. Err on the side of being too strict, you can always loosen up or give your kids extra time when you think they’ve earned it. That isn’t to say that there isn’t some great programming available to kids. Sometimes we all need some downtime, if you do plan on letting your kiddos watch a show or two, check out my post on 9 Positive Educational Kid’s Shows.
If you have teens or pre-teens who have personal devices or phones, make sure you know what they are doing. Don’t let them have their phones in their bedrooms. Don’t let them have social media accounts that you are not active on. There is a real danger in the teenage virtual world and, yes, YOUR child is at risk.
#6 Make Learning Activities Fun
The last thing you want to do is sit your child down with a boring worksheet. It is unlikely that they will engage with the material in any meaningful way and it may even be detrimental. School, unfortunately, often sucks the fun out of learning. Don’t blame your child’s teachers—I promise they are doing the best they can. It is just the nature of our one-size fits all public school system.
Depending on your child’s age learning can be incorporated into a variety of daily activities and special events to where it won’t even feel like learning. Don’t hesitate to be creative! Virtually any activity can be turned into a learning opportunity, and work towards building the love of learning that helps to prevent summer slide. Bake cookies (or another fun treat) with your children and have them convert the measurements to halve or double the recipe. Try involving your kids in planning a healthy weekly menu, make a grocery list together, and take them shopping. Bonus points for setting and sticking to a budget!
#7. Focus on Experiences
Traditional academic work is certainly important and even has its place amidst the summertime fun. However, summer is about experiences! These experiences can be as small or as big as you want! For example, you could plant a garden (or just a few seeds in containers) and keep track of the growth. Try taking your kids on a nature walk or hike and identify various plants or animals. You can follow up with a trip to the library to read more about your favorites. Or, plan a summer road trip and enlist your child to plot the route, choose side stops, and calculate the budget (geography, math, life skills, reading).
Each of these examples offers family-centered, constructive learning experiences that your children will remember long after autumn leaves begin to fall. For additional ideas on fun summer activities that have the possibility for learning opportunities check out these posts: Summer Blues? Six Creative Activities for Kids and 32 Cheap and Free Summer Activities for Kids.
#8. Be a Good Role Model
This one is a stickler! You have to lead your children by example. If you want them to read more, make a point of reading more yourself. Try reading the same book and sharing your thoughts and impressions. If you are going to limit how much time they spend on their phones, put yours away too. I’m not advocating for complying with exactly the same expectations as your child, you are an adult capable of self-regulation and have completed your primary and secondary school experience. However, don’t be a hypocrite.
In the end, every child and every family is different. Whether you choose to offer your kids a more structured summer with many planned activities, or a summer full of freedom, keep in mind that the school year will be coming around again. Keep in mind that summer is important in your child’s overall academic career. The summer slide is real, but it doesn’t have to affect your child!
Kuhfeld, Megan, Ph.D. (2018). Summer Learning Loss: What We Know and What We’re Learning. Retrieved from https://www.nwea.org/blog/2018/summer-learning-loss-what-we-know-what-were-learning/
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