Savor Summer while Studying: Ideas to Support Students and Avoid the Summer Slide
It happens every year. The last announcements of the school year are made as I frantically help young students gather all necessary belongings: books, pencil boxes, notices, corrected papers, empty Tupperware - which I hope are going to the right mom - and random gloves and sweatshirts we found as we cleaned our lockers. My heart sinks. I make sure my students know I will miss them and to, “ read over the summer!” I shout down the hall as their little feet plod along, backpacks wagging until they are around the corner and out of sight. I always hope they hear my plea to read. But, many will not.
Summer is sweet. It is a refreshing time to spend with family and friends enjoying the warmth of the months with active play and lazy chats while swinging in hammocks or taking leisurely strolls. Or, perhaps it is busy with travel plans, camping, adventures, barbeques, and picnics. Perhaps the excitement of a summer day winds down to the late-night wonders of children running barefoot with friends or cousins to catch fireflies in the moonlight while adults catch up by firelight. This is what summer fun is all about. A chance to hit pause and enjoy languishing by a lake or beach and catching up with your those most important to you.
What the research says:
Even though the hustle and bustle of the school year finished, your child can be at risk of sliding back in skills if learning is placed completely on hold. Research has shown that students who do not read routinely throughout the summer months can fall back an entire reading level or more. The Colorado Dept. of Education demonstrates in once study, “ Children in low-income households fall behind an average of 2 months in reading during the summer. And, summer slide is cumulative, with these learning losses building up each summer. Summer learning loss accounts for two-thirds of the 9th-grade achievement gap in reading between students from low-income households and their higher-income peers.” Exposure to text and the willingness of caregivers to take the time necessary to foster literacy skills over the summer months are important factors in keeping skills strong.
Educators worry about students falling behind over the summer, but lower-income homes are of particular concern when trying to avoid learning gaps. According to Maryann Mraz, Timothy V. Rasinski, “Summer reading loss is a documented reality for many students. It is often of greatest concern for those students who are already at risk – who typically have limited access to reading materials at home and parents or caregivers who may be reluctant to or unsure of how to help.” Educators can support students at risk by providing books, ideas, and support to families and caregivers.
Let’s address exposure to texts and practicing some of those skills:
So how can teachers, parents, and communities help? Get books into the hands of students! At the end of each year, teachers often need to clean out the classroom and pack up items. As you do so, think about extra or older books that you no longer actively use and stuff and extra book or two in your students’ backpacks. School and community libraries often have huge “discard” piles of books and magazines that are no longer in circulation. These are other great low or no-cost places to find books to give to at-risk kids. As the school year comes to a close, ask parents to donate old books to a school community “book bin” and disperse those books among students. Hold a community penny sale where a student can buy a book for a penny and stock up! The idea is to find a way to get as many books into as many little hands as possible for the summer. Create free book bins at libraries where parents can give or take a book of interest.
Ideas for preschool and early elementary students:
Create a flyer for parents about ways to foster good reading habits and keep literacy skills strong. Some for young children include: looking for specific letters, books or magazines and see how many A’s or B’s or C’s your child can spot. Look around your house and find as many items that start with a given letter. Place the word for that item on a card so the child can associate the word with the item. For example, L for “lamp” and P for “pillow.” Go on a nature walk, to the zoo or museum, and see how many plants or animals can be found starting with each letter of the alphabet. Have your child practice writing letters and his or her name in shaving cream spread on a flat surface. This is a fun multisensory activity that is sure to bring out squeals of delight! Use finger paints or even window crayons to create art and practice fine motor skills while writing letters, numbers, names, and simple words. While cooking, read the recipes, create shopping lists, see how many signs your child can read, read magazines, newspapers, articles, books or anything else you can help your child get their hands on. For younger readers, try for 1 or 2 picture books to read per day. Get text into their hands and help them read and discuss the text together.
Older elementary and middle school students:
For older elementary and middle school kids, regular reading of picture books and chapter books along with some writing components can become an enjoyable routine for parents and kids. Help them choose books that are of high interest to them. Older kids may choose to do a chapter or two per day. Talk about the book, the characters, and make predictions about what might happen next. Write about your favorite part of the story. Write about what the story reminds your child about in his or her life. Keeping a personal journal of summer adventures is also a good way to maintain writing practice. Practice looking up the spelling of unknown words in a dictionary or online with dictionary.com.
When in doubt, consult the Google machine for fresh ideas:
There is a wealth of resources online available to parents to help support summer learning. Coordinated Campaign for Learning Disabilities, offers ideas that include: listening to books on tape in the car, going to the library on a regular basis, and reading aloud to your child every day. Further, subscribing to magazines which often contain high-interest articles and vivid pictures and illustrations that engage young readers from preschool through middle school.
Math, Marvelous Math:
Math can slide, too. Honing math skills can be a part of each day as well. Without regular practice, this area can be neglected over the summer months. This can happen across all socioeconomic backgrounds. “ But it’s actually easier for kids — from all socioeconomic backgrounds — to forget what they learned in math over the summer than it is for them to lose reading skills. The reason? Many parents — and their children — don’t think about math as existing outside of the classroom,” according to Leah Shafer from Harvard.edu. Math is all around us and we can incorporate math thinking in our daily activities. Have your child keep an allowance bank. How much money will need to be saved to buy a toy? Have your child help you plan a budget when shopping for groceries. Stick to the budget. Help your child estimate the total at the checkout. When baking or cooking, use fractions as you measure ingredients. How much of each ingredient would you need to double the recipe? Plan a garden and measure out a plot for each type of vegetable. Collect rainfall in a cup and measure how much rain fell on a specific day.
Grab a workbook or two:
Understandably, for some parents, it can just be easier to purchase summer bridge workbooks to support your child’s skills. Many are comprehensive and can hone skills page by page across many content areas. There are great workbooks offered on Amazon.com or at Staples. Grab practice books on math and literacy skills and aim to sit with your child for a page or two a day. Too much will be met with frustration. Try to keep it positive, fun, and enjoyable as you support your child’s learning over the summer. Since we as adults learn quickly that hard work pays off, offer weekly learning as part of your child’s allowance. They just might get that new toy they’ve been saving for by sharpening their literacy and math skills over the summer months! They will likely begin the new year fresh and ready for new challenges at the top! No slipping or sliding for students who practice for success!
~Amanda Allison, M.Ed.