School’s out. That big whooshing sound you hear? That’s the collective exhale of parents everywhere, who were, at the end, hanging on by their fingernails.
Now, it’s summertime, and the living is, if not exactly easy, easier. No more nightly backpack excavating, reviewing homework, and being the Big Bad Bedtime Enforcer. But summer brings its own set of parental concerns—not the least of which is the summer slide.
The summer slide is real. For decades, researchers have been studying this phenomenon of kids losing academic ground over the span of summer vacation. According to the National Summer Learning Association, kids can lose 1–3 months of learning over summer break. Kids, across the board, lose about two months’ worth of math skills. Loss of reading skills is less prevalent, because reading is more embedded in kids’ day-to-day lives, but many children do experience significant loss in reading as well as spelling. The extent of the loss is greater in disadvantaged children and children in higher grades.
What’s a parent to do? Plan a summer filled with “homework,” flash cards, prescribed reading lists, and summer school?
Well, you might want to do some of these things, particularly if your child needs to catch up. But if you, like me, believe that a less structured, happy, and carefree summer break is not only fun for kids but can also offer academic growth, you might approach the challenge differently. With a little planning and a lot of intention, we can provide kids with both the needed break from routine and the necessary engagement to combat the summer slide.
The key is building on these two fundamental ideas:
Give kids a say. The more you persist in pushing something your kids really don’t want to do, the more they will resist. Instead, urge them to get their curiosity on and make a “summer learning bucket list.” You might find that they have well-thought-out answers to the question, “What would you like to learn or explore this summer?”
Shoot for activity-based learning. Remember: One of the best ways kids learn is through play and exploration.
Here are just a few ways to keep your kids thinking all summer:
Think of the outdoors as a classroom. A session at camp, if it’s in your family budget, can expose your child to all kinds of new ideas and experiences. But you can do many camp-like activities at home too. Go on scavenger hunts, looking for various bugs, birds, or plants. Keep a nature journal of the things you see and do. Conduct science experiments that are too messy for indoors. Give writing prompts about nature, or try a nature-themed art project. Plan a picnic after dark to catch, study, and release fireflies. Grab the binoculars (easier to use than telescopes with young kids) and do some stargazing. Follow up by reading together books about the subjects you explore. Summer is a great time to build upon an emerging interest, and most children are intrigued by some aspect of nature or science.
Schedule some family travel. Even a day trip can be enriching for children. Let your kids participate in the planning—researching your destination and planning your route. It’s a chance to learn map skills—and practice their math skills—as they calculate distance traveled. While in the car, tune in an educational children’s podcast the whole family can enjoy, like Highlights Hangout. An audio experience can be a nice alternative to screen time.
“Loiter” at the library (really, it’s OK). Sign up for your local library’s summer reading program, and allow your kids to browse the shelves and choose their own books. Studies show that reading as few as 4 or 5 books over the summer can have a positive impact similar to that of summer-school enrollment.
Get your game on! Dig out the board games you never have time to play during the school year. Some of them are great at giving kids practice at doing math: Monopoly, Connect Four, Ticket to Ride, and Rush Hour. A yard game such as cornhole requires on-the-spot addition. Even hopscotch helps reinforce math skills. Word games such as Boggle can help with spelling.
Puzzle it out. Keep a supply of puzzle and activity books in the kids’ sight line and within easy reach—and download a few good puzzle apps for their tablets. Mazes, logic puzzles, word, and math puzzles—beautifully illustrated and made to look like the fun they are—reinforce a myriad of essential skills. They also help kids learn concentration, persistence, and multiple ways of solving a problem—all crucial skills for growth mindsets and school success.
Summer is a great time for discovery and exploration, and it’s an easy setup. This year, take the summer slide into family fun and learning—and create a softer landing for your child when school begins next fall.
Christine French Cully is Chief Purpose Officer and Editor in Chief at Highlights for Children. As Chief Purpose Officer, Cully’s focus is on growing awareness and implementation of the Highlights purpose, core beliefs, and values—to help actualize the organization’s vision for a world where all children can become people who can change the world for the better....
The summer months offer a great opportunity to show your child how fun and engaging reading can be. Looking to strengthen your child’s reading skills while simultaneously getting him excited about reading? Here are five ways to do just that:
1. Participate in a summer reading challenge.
Summer reading programs provide your child with a chance to set summer reading goals. Local libraries and organizations often offer summer reading challenges according to age group. Generally, these programs consist of your child logging the number of books she reads over an allotted time period. She may then receive prizes or incentives depending on the number logged and her goal. Summer reading programs are a great way to get her motivated and excited about reading and also teach her how to set and achieve goals.
2. Encourage library time this summer.
The library is a great place to encourage summer reading because it offers a plethora of opportunities to make reading fun. Libraries typically have some type of reading corner or space set up for kids. Take your child to the library for an afternoon or evening once a week and let him explore, sit down to read books, and check out what he may want to read in the coming week. This is a great way for him to explore various book genres and to have a sense of pride in having his own library card. Libraries also offer resources, such as librarians and story times, that can teach him even more about the joys of reading and how the library works.
3. Create a book mystery box.
At the beginning of the summer, visit a local bookstore and purchase a variety of books geared toward your child’s interests and reading level. Add these books to a mystery box for her to select from on a weekly or biweekly basis. This can be a great way to get her excited about reading because it gives her something to look forward to once she finishes the book she is currently reading. You can even take it a step further and incentivize chores and good behavior with a new book she can pick from the mystery box.
4. Take summer reading to the streets.
Remember that all reading counts, so encourage your child to practice his reading skills everywhere he goes. He can read billboards, street signs, shop names, and age-appropriate magazines. This can help younger children understand that reading is a part of every aspect of life, and it can act as a way to keep him engaged during outings. You can create challenges that encourage him to read a certain number of words—and to understand their meanings—while you’re out each day. This number can reflect the length of your outing and can be a fun way to get him excited about going out. Additionally, you can incorporate this challenge into family vacations. When traveling to new destinations, he may encounter words he is somewhat unfamiliar with and can, therefore, work to expand his vocabulary.
5. Make summer reading a social experience.
Encouraging conversations about reading is essential to summer reading success. After your child finishes a book, have a discussion with her about it (better yet, read the same book she is). Ask questions about how she liked the story, what characteristics the various characters possessed, and if there were any words or aspects of the story she struggled with. This will encourage her to be open about her reading habits and what she is enjoying about these books. It can also help gauge how her reading is progressing and what style of book she prefers.
Additionally, reach out to other parents, either in your child’s class or in the neighborhood, to see if they would be interested in starting a summer reading group or book club. This will show your student what others are reading this summer and encourage her to openly discuss books and stories with others. Libraries or local independent bookstores may offer book clubs for various age groups, so do some research to see what programs may be available for your child to make the most of summer reading.
Caitlin Grove is an Associate Content Coordinator for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.
When we learn a new skill and then go several months without performing it, the skill tends to atrophy. To prevent what’s referred to as the “summer slide,” it’s important to help your child practice newly acquired math skills over the long summer months.
Show them the value of money
One of the best ways for students to practice math is by learning to control their own money. For older kids, you may give them more control over saving and spending. For younger children, you may need to mentor and monitor more closely. Either way, allow your child to earn money and then practice spending it in ways she chooses. Ask your child questions about the purchases she makes—if she buys a candy bar, how much money should she expect to have left? What could she purchase with her money? Is there a larger-ticket item she wants to save for? Help her meet her goal by setting up a weekly budget.
Play summer games
While there are plenty of games specifically designed to build math skills, you probably already have a few options sitting in your garage. For instance, a yard game like cornhole requires on-the-spot addition. Monopoly also requires players to count. Connect Four, Ticket to Ride, and Rush Hour are just a few others that help foster math skill building.
Rely on your resources
There’s a lot of time to learn over the summer, so why not practice math in a more conventional (but still fun) way, too? Make some paper flash cards or find some online and go through them with your child every once in a while. Make it part of your Wednesday breakfast routine or Tuesday/Thursday free time before dinner. There are lots of great resources both in bookstores and online that will make math reviews quick and easy so you can build math practice into your routine.
Get in the kitchen
By asking your student to help prepare meals, you’re also developing his math skills. Choose a recipe that has a lot of measurements, and halve or double it for an added math challenge. For younger kids, this may require a bit of assistance. It’s a great way to visualize different measurements, perform some calculations, and end up with a tasty treat—all in just an hour or so!
Take a trip
Many families choose to take trips over the summer, and this presents a great opportunity for children to practice math skills. Get a paper map or find an electronic one, and ask your kids to calculate potential distances. You might even involve your student in planning a route or comparing distances, choosing the best routes based on traffic or construction, or adding up the legs of a journey.
These creative ideas will have your student learning and practicing math before he even knows it!
Heather Hamilton is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.
Summer is a great time for rest and relaxation, both for your child and the school community! However, you don’t want all your child’s valuable knowledge to shrink or disappear over the course of these months. Here are five ways to keep learning alive through the summer:
1. Read for fun
Some schools may require summer reading lists or projects to complete before the fall. Outside these assignments, encourage your child to find reading material that he enjoys. This may be easier for some students than others, depending on their level of engagement with reading itself. Help jump-start this process by researching award-winning or niche interest lists online, and visit your local library. The librarian can help, and sometimes there are even summer reading challenges that offer prizes upon completion. Especially if your child doesn’t like to read, exposing him to different genres can help widen what he thinks of as “reading.” These less-than-mainstream genres can include comics, poetry, and fan fiction. Reading is a great way for students to improve fluency and vocabulary, increase comprehension skills, and learn more about the world around them.
2. Do DIY projects and crafts
Creative projects are excellent ways to pass time during the summer while also building skills of problem-solving and innovation. Depending on your child’s interests, look into different DIY projects that she could get into. Would she like conducting a science experiment, learning how to knit, or directing a short film, for example? There are ways you could connect these projects to an interest or activity your child already appreciates, like learning to bake a cake if she likes sweet treats. Also consider which of your own skills and hobbies you could share with your child, as well as the skills of older siblings, cousins, or baby-sitters your child might spend time with this summer.
3. Go on field trips
Plan some field trips that you could take your child on. Look into what’s available in your community or within a reasonable travel radius like the zoo, an aquarium, museums, or community centers that are doing interesting local work—many of which have free or reduced admission for students! Don’t forget the park as well, where students can explore the outdoors and being in nature. Check your local newspaper or community newsletter for events, workshops, or movies in the parks that are especially geared toward kids. Additionally, if your family is traveling out of town, have your child do some research on the destination so he will be able to learn something new and get more out of the trip.
4. Attend camps for summer enrichment
Camps are one way for students to tap into the spirit of learning without the structure of school. There are traditional outdoor camps, as well as camps that have a special focus, like musical theater, 3D modeling and printing, or story writing. They come in all shapes and sizes: one week to months long, sleep-away or day camps, strictly or partially academic, etc.
5. Utilize online resources
Whether you’re a tech-savvy person or not, the Internet has an abundance of resources that your child can take advantage of. You might want to do an online search of educational games, video tutorials, or reading programs that can be accessed by computer, tablet, or phone—whatever is the preferred medium for you and your child. You could also look into shows or documentaries that would teach your child something new and that may be related to an interest of hers.
Summer can be a daunting yet exciting time for you and your child. It may help to create a routine or schedule around these activities, but at the same time, stay open to trying new ideas, as some may fail or fade with time. In any case, tap into your community—friends, family, and your child’s friends—to see what works for them and to do any activities together.
Check out the Highlights Summer Learning shop for workbooks and activity packs that blend learning, humor, puzzles, and FUN to help keep kids' school skills sharp all summer long!
Lisa Low is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.
Summer is here! And with the hot weather and longer days can come the “summer slide” – when children can lose months of hard-earned learning while they’re playing in the sprinklers and chasing the ice cream truck.
But, not to worry! A few easy steps can make a major impact in avoiding this potential pitfall. I founded Learning Heroes to help parents help their children be successful in school, and we’ve developed some simple tips to make sure your children don’t lose hard earned progress during the summer months:
- Make Reading a Family Affair: Maintaining a reading habit over the summer is essential for staying up to speed – it can also be a great avenue for family bonding. Try starting a family book club that meets on one scheduled night or morning a week. If your children are at different reading levels, one might read the book solo, while the other works with you. Let them choose the topic. There are many great tools to help you select the right book – check out the Great Kids book finder for some reading list inspiration. Pose questions like “What surprised you most about the book?” or “Who was your favorite character?” You’ll learn more about what your children have on their minds, all while keeping skills sharp for the school year ahead.
- Keep It Social: To make sure the dog days don't leave you out of the loop on new friends and influences, ask your child at least one open-ended question about their social lives per day (“Tell me about one good thing that happened today and one thing you wish happened differently”). Research tells us that adults are often the last to know about problems like bullying, and making sure peer relationships are part of your regular conversations at home will help you notice potential issues early.
- Start a College Conversation: Seventy-five percent of parents believe it is very important or absolutely essential for their child to attain a college education, according to a recent study conducted by Learning Heroes, and it’s never too early to start a conversation about this goal. One of the most powerful things we can do as parents to improve our children’s chances for success in college is so simple: talk about it! Your child may be thinking more about water balloons, but don't be deterred. Encourage them to talk to their camp counselors or coaches about where they went to school. If accessible, take a day trip to a nearby college and have a picnic on the lawn. You'll learn more about what interests them, all while laying the groundwork for a solid academic future.
- Tap into Screen Time: Even the most active children might find themselves with more time to veg over the summer. But not all TV has to be a guilty pleasure. Check out this guide to movie and TV shows that help young people build character strengths like compassion and curiosity. You can filter for the trait you want to nurture, point your children towards the right programs and make sure the message hits home.
The bottom line: a summer filled with fun on the slip and slide is no excuse for the dreaded summer slide! Give these tips a try with your children and check out more resources, ideas and even a Readiness Roadmap at www.BeALearningHero.org.
Bibb Hubbard is the Founder & President of Learning Heroes, an organization to build parent and guardian understanding and engagement in their child’s education. She is the mother of two boys, ages 11 and 14.