It’s a fact. Kids lose academic ground during the summer months. Come September, even the best students are several weeks behind where they were in June. Struggling students can lose up to two months. This is especially true in math and science but even reading takes a hit in the lower grades.
Teachers regularly report that every fall they have to re-teach, not just review, most of what kids were supposed to cover in the spring. The result is serious. All that time spent going over old stuff means the kids aren’t getting new and more advanced information. Often kids get discouraged and lose confidence. They know they should know the material. They sense their new teacher’s frustration or disappointment and may internalize it as meaning they are failures. Not good. It’s not our kids’ failure. It’s ours.
If we want our kids to do well, if we want our young people to be competitive in a global market, we need to do our share. That means expecting that kids will take their schooling seriously and work hard. It means holding the conviction that most of our kids are smart enough to learn grade level material. It means not buying an excuse that math or science or language study is too hard for American kids. Yes, some things do take more effort to learn than others but most kids can master even the most challenging subjects with enough support and focus. It means getting involved with their education in a meaningful way. It particularly means staying involved during the summer when the teacher isn’t providing the homework and the projects.
Simple ways to prevent the summer backslide:
- The strongest reinforcement for learning is our own behavior. Emphasize the positive when you tell stories about your own experiences with school. Be a good reading role model. That means reading the newspaper and sharing interesting stories with the kids. It means spending time with a book every day and letting your kids see you enjoying it.
- Make going to the library a weekly family adventure. Spend a little time while you are there reading stories to little ones and encouraging older ones to really explore the shelves. Read aloud to the younger ones every night. My husband read the whole Oz series to my youngest. It was an important bonding time for father and daughter. One son who was a reluctant reader became far more interested when we started reading the Animorph series together one summer. Another son shared his interest in science fiction and fantasy novels with me. It was an effort to keep up with their enthusiasms but it was well worth it. Reading what they enjoyed was a way to share in their world and gave us endless things to talk about.
- Set aside a few times a week to play “school” for an hour. Keep it interesting and fun, not a chore. I found a series of colorful workbooks that my kids enjoyed. But practice sheets can also be found on the Internet (or you could ask the teacher for some before the school year is out). Have stickers at the ready. Let your child teach you something. Educators tell us that teaching a skill is a great way for a kid to reinforce her own learning. Find academic activities that go over what the kids already know and perhaps that stretch them just a little. You don’t need to teach them new material unless you are really into it. If the kids just keep the skills they already have, they will be ahead of most of their peers when they get back to school in September.
- Practice using academic skills during daily activities. When a child asks a question, have him look it up on the Internet and read you the answer. Making dinner together is a chance to use math by doubling or halving a recipe. Interested in sports? Show the kids how baseball stats are calculated. Going somewhere? Show the kids how to use a map instead of using the GPS. During one vacation, we put one son in charge of monitoring how many miles to the gallon of gas our car was getting. His brother was responsible for keeping track of how much we spent each day. Older sister, who had more advanced writing skills, kept a journal that we later illustrated with pictures to create a family memory book. Yes, such things take planning and time. But it’s together time as well as learning time. It’s worth it.
- Start the kids on musical instruments. If you don’t already have an instrument, start one yourself. Many schools have programs for loaning instruments and even for providing lessons during the summer. Learning music exercises the same part of the brain that is involved in science and math. Playing music will give them hours of enjoyment throughout life.
- Use screen time wisely. Parents and children can find answers to life’s questions, research topics and play games together on the computer. TV channels that focus on history, travel and nature can be both entertaining and informative. But technology should not be used as a babysitter or a way to just keep them busy for hours at a time so parents can do their own thing. Responsible use of technology comes from learning from parents how to use it responsibly. Kids are protected from online predators and scams by parents who pay attention and protect them.
- Exercise their bodies as well as their minds. Kids need to get out of their rooms and into playgrounds and yards. Teach and model how to be happily active. Go for family walks after dinner and a hike on the weekend. Toss a ball or Frisbee. Teach the kids some old-fashioned games like tag and hide and seek and foursquare. Get out there with them and have some fun. It’s as good for you as it is for them.
American kids do have one of the longest summer vacations in the Western world. But time out of school doesn’t have to mean time out of learning. As long as our culture insists on having summers off, it falls on us parents to help our children avoid the summer backslide.