Summer break is right around the corner. As parents, you are likely thinking about season passes to the pool or water park, much-anticipated family vacations and a more relaxed schedule. But what you might not be thinking about is how the summer months affect your child’s learning. Often referred to as “summer slide,” there is a real danger in the loss of educational ground your children might experience during the summer months.
Think of it this way: children who are proficient in a sport spend regular time and effort practicing the necessary skills, such as batting, running, catching or swimming. Typically, kids become better at their sport the more they practice. However, if they take a three-month break from practice, proficiency suffers. It is the same way with math and reading. During the school year students’ minds are exercised daily. This ceases at the beginning of summer break unless parents make a concerted effort to offer enrichment activities.
The authors of a study from Johns Hopkins Center for Summer Learning indicate, “A conservative estimate of lost instructional time is approximately two months or roughly 22 percent of the school year. It’s common for teachers to spend at least a month re-teaching material that students have forgotten over the summer. That month of re-teaching eliminates a month that could have been spent on teaching new information and skills.” This loss is greater for children from families living in poverty, considering most affluent families offer their children enrichment activities over the summer months. The loss is also cumulative; meaning that over a period of several years, it is likely a student can be years instead of months behind his same-age peers. This trend is one of the causes of achievement gaps between students of lower and higher socioeconomic levels.
Overcoming the Summer Slide
According to Stephanie Jefferson, founder of Little Scholars (www.littlescholars.com), here are ten ways to avoid the summer slide:
- Read every day. Read non-fiction, fiction, eBooks, poetry, newspapers and read out loud. For an independent reader, 20 minutes is usually a good amount of time to read. Local libraries have a wonderful summer reading program with incentives and rewards for books read over the summer (find a branch near you in the list on page 53).
- Cook with your children. This is one of the best ways to integrate math, reading and following directions. Let your child design the menu, too. Help your child put together their favorite recipes in a cookbook.
- Plant a garden. Your child will gain responsibility and pride as they watch their plants grow and thrive.
- Take a field trip. Head out to a museum, zoo or local park with walking trails. Keep a journal about your travels.
- Learn a new word each week. Hang it on the fridge and see who can use it the most times throughout the week.
- Enroll in a quality summer program that will provide your child with opportunities to build their critical thinking skills.
- Play quick games with flashcards like Math War or Concentration to keep math skills sharp.
- Listen to audio books during your summer road trip.
- Take pictures and make a summer scrapbook. Encourage your children to write narratives to accompany the pictures.
- Make time to read. It can’t be said enough; if your child does nothing else this summer make sure he is reading!
Our Local Schools and Organizations Working to Prevent Summer Slide
Harris Cooper, a social psychologist from Duke University, indicates some common remedies for summer learning loss are an extended school year, a modified academic calendar and summer school. An extended school year coupled with curriculum reform could have a significant and positive effect on student learning. Oklahoma City Public Schools (OCPS) recently initiated a modified calendar which has shortened the summer break. Cooper indicates this improves disadvantaged achievement and shows improvement in student performance, especially when parents are involved.
Dr. Stacy Dykstra of Smart Start Oklahoma, indicates the United Way of Central Oklahoma is currently in the planning stages for the All-America City Grade Level Reading Award, supported by the National Civic League. Educators and researchers have long recognized the importance of mastering reading by the end of third grade, yet two-thirds of U.S. schoolchildren are not reaching that benchmark. And children who don’t read by the end of third grade and live in poverty are six times more likely to fail to graduate from high school. Smart Start Oklahoma takes these statistics seriously and is working to make sure Oklahoma City children don’t fall prey to this trend.
In addition, Smart Start Oklahoma is collaborating with local organizations and volunteers to ensure local children master reading by the end of third grade by taking a look at several topics, including preventing summer slide. There are plans to form a Children’s Bureau of local volunteers who will be available to speak to parents about prevention resources available in the metro area. The Children’s Bureau will be available for churches, civic organizations, schools, child care centers and any other organizations interested in learning more. The school districts who have already shown interest are Oklahoma City, Putnam City, Western Heights and Crooked Oak, however, Dykstra states the goal is to make this program easy to duplicate in all school districts.
Kristen Hoyt, Assistant Professor and Director of Field Experience in the School of Teacher Education at MACU (Mid-America Christian University in OKC), is an avid advocate for quality education in Oklahoma.