Summer is upon well us. And with it comes hot summer days, long endless afternoons and two months of absolute freedom… though it is a little difficult to differentiate between ‘in school’ and ‘out of school’ with the world still in partial lockdown.
Typically around this time of year parents and students alike will be more than ready for the school year to come to an end. The end of homework, the end of tests and stress, the end of daily commutes… but this year, for much of the world anyways, those things ended months ago.
As Covid-19 continued to spread various lock-down measures and restrictions went into effect, including distance mode for schools and universities. As students transitioned online, all the previous rules went out the window. Gone were the regular classroom hours, the daily commutes, the piles of homework and, for many, the end of year tests and exams. So even if students were still occasionally logging in to digital classrooms to watch the occasional video and take a quick quiz, it is easy to feel like summer already began.
Because of the less than structured end of the school year, educators across the country are concerned about the impact this years unique situation may have in exacerbating the dreaded “Summer Slump”.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, “Summer Slump” is generally used to describe the slow rotting of student’s brains into an inconsequential goo that will eventually dribble out of their ears during the over two months of summer vacation. Or, in less poetic terms, the loss of information and comprehension skill students typically experience over a long absence. Aka – students tend to forget a bunch of stuff they learned during the previous school year over the summer break.
The general rule of thumb is a 2 to 1 ratio. As in, for every two weeks off from school, students loose one week of curriculum. Although this is obviously dependent on grade level and individual students. Parents and teachers have been trying to find a way to counteract these effects for years with everything from summer reading lists, educational camps, to online classes.
While specific programs and camps or classes tailored to your child’s needs are obviously going to be more effective, many are beyond the average family budget and, even if they are affordable, will likely be closed or shifting online over the summer. Thankfully there are some more general steps you can take to help your kids stay active, curious, and prevent the dreaded “Summer Slump”.
Recommended Reading to Prevent the Summer Slump
One of the easiest and most sure-fire ways to prevent the summer slump is by encouraging good reading habits.
As an avid childhood reader myself I am often surprised when students don’t immediately want to grab the newest Margaret Peterson Haddix or Rick Riordan book. But obviously everyone has different interests and, for some kids, reading can be more chore than a choice. If you have students who are struggling with reading I ask that you encourage, but not mandate, them to find things, anything, that they enjoy reading. Whether that is a book you feel may be beyond their reading level, below their reading level, or even comic books.
By encouraging and interest in independent reading, regardless of the subject, you are promoting healthy reading habits. Readers go from books that were too hard to too easy and vice versa, simply because they enjoyed the subject, which is as it should be. Think about, as an adult, when was the last time you checked the reading level of something before you brought it home? While, yes, sometimes daunting books can put kids off, it is more often the pressure than the actual reading itself. Let your kids choose what they like to read and encourage this as much as possible without becoming overbearing.
As a general rule of thumb, the amount of recommended daily reading is your childs grade level times one hundred.
First Grade = 100 Fourth Grade = 400 Eighth Grade = 800
… and so on and so forth. Again, for prolific readers this will feel like nothing and for reluctant readers this may be a bit of a chore. So try and stretch the numbers in one direction or another based on your child’s individual needs and interests.
I will be doing an updated ‘Summer Reading List’ sometime in early June, but until then you can always check out last year’s list HERE. The lists are organized by grade and, as always, check in with your child school, teacher, or even the local librarian for additional recommendations. Often times with older students there will be required reading which should be tackled early or alternated with other books if not interesting enough.
A little Math each day keeps the Summer Slump at bay
Math is, by far, one of the most difficult subjects to gauge independently and encourage on your own. Aside from just trying to find the right resources that suite your child’s learning style, you also need to know what level they are at in what subject and make sure that whatever program or resource you are using is not teaching a method that contradicts their teachers. Switching back and forth between carrying ones and common core causes even more confusion, especially in younger students. For older students, as much as I love Khan academy myself when I am stuck, their methods often deviate from the ones used by teachers which, when showing your work is a typically required step, can cause issues.
Finding a program, even if it is not a perfect fit, that allows them to keep using the math that they already know while brushing up on some of the areas where they struggled can be hugely beneficial. But try not to be tempted into ‘teaching’ them new material.
Encouraging Summer Science, STEM, and Critical Thinking
I am going to make a bit of a controversial statement here and, as a huge science nerd myself, recommend that you NOT try to teach your child science over the summer. There a few different reasons why I say this.
Science is highly subject dependent. From Biology to Engineering, from Geology to Chemistry, each year your student will discover new topics, revisit old ones, and continue to build on a continuously expanding foundation of knowledge. This is just as true in fifth grade as it will be in 11th. Encouraging your child spend hours studying earth science only for their first quiz to be on the parts of a cell is a very quick and easy way to get them to resent the time spent on that subject and, by extension, the subject itself.
The second reason is that as well-intentioned as you may be, trying to teach in a subject that you are unfamiliar with is an excellent way confuse students
There are ways to maintain an interest in science and encourage critical thinking which I will go into at a later date without becoming an impromptu home teacher.
Prevent Summer Slump by learning a Second Language
After reading and writing, learning another language is one of those skills that can prove endlessly valuable in a person’s life. It is also one of those subject areas where, regardless of your child’s current skill level or even your own proficiency,it is relatively easy to advance. Especially for younger children (12 and under) whose language centers are still developing and are capable of picking up new languages so much faster than they can as adults.
We live in a global age, and though English is the most universally common second language, being able to communicate with a larger portion of the world is something that many seek to gain value in. Because of this there are an endless supply of apps, online learning options, free websites, and interactive computer programs available. I will go through my programs and options by age in the coming weeks.
Whether your child is entering kindergarten or their senior year of high school, whether they know two words of Spanish or speak three languages fluently, learning another language is something that is endlessly buildable. It is also something where, unlike with math, you do not need to worry so much about contradictory teaching methods. Learning another language is a skill that can, quite literally, open them up to whole new worlds.
Encouraging Other Interests
Whether that is coding, gardening, creative writing or even baking. If your child has shown an interest in anything, anything at all over the last year, now is the time to explore it.
During the school year students are so bogged down with assignments and after school activities that it can often be difficult to explore new interests. Taking the time to do that now is a way to open up new worlds, keep them active and engaged, and find a new potential interest to pursue during the following school year.
There are online courses, YouTube tutorials, and all kinds of options available in a variety of subjects; Coding, Creative Writing, Drawing, Painting, Design, Engineering, Cooking, Baking, Gardening, Animal Care, and even Health and Nutrition. The options are about as limitless as the internet though younger kids will probably need some help selecting appropriate and reliable resources.
Summer is upon us, states and counties are still phasing in and out of lock-down, and the world is still a little bit upside down at the moment. We have a long few months ahead of us and it can be tempting to pile on the workload to students who have (effectively) already been out of school for a few months now.
Learning activities to slow down the loss of the previous school years learning and keep kids curious, engaged, and away from candy crush for a little bit are a great idea. But do not become invested in the idea that your child will be ‘learning’ new material over the summer. The best activities keep kids curious and engaged, not add on homework to what is supposed to be their summer break.
The summer slump is a very real problem, but, before anything else, students are still kids. They are children and preteens and young adults and they deserve the chance to be just that. Engaging in regular activities to help their brains stay active and prevent backslide is a great goal, but trying to teach kids actual curriculum and new material during the summer has the potential to majorly backfire as students begin to resent the constant stress and pressure. Give your kids a chance to let their brains recover, even if that does mean an hour straight of Roblox. And then, when the screens become too much, pull out a book or go for a bike ride or a swim and just spend some time with them. They only get to be kids once.