Keep Those School Skills Sharp!

Keep Those School Skills Sharp - The Summer Slide

If you work in the education field, you’ll hear professionals bemoan the dreaded summer slide.  Despite sounding like an amusement park attraction, the summer slide is actually a term teachers use for the regression students typically experience over a summer.  Most students leave school in June with a solid understanding of the content learned. Add a couple months of pool time, vacation time, late nights and s’mores and suddenly the party’s over in September.  Most kids arrive back in classrooms bleary eyed. They may require a rigorous review of previously learned content to get their learning back on track. Keep reading for tips to keep those school skills sharp!

What does the research say?

The research is mixed on whether or not the summer slide is real, and the level to which it impacts students. “Summer Learning Loss: What We Know and What We’re Learning” by Dr. Megan Kuhlfield from the NWEA states:

In the summer following third grade, students lose nearly 20 percent of their school-year gains in reading and 27 percent of their school-year gains in math. By the summer after seventh grade, students lose on average 36 percent of their school-year gains in reading and a whopping 50 percent of their school-year gains in math. In other words, summer learning loss increases with age through elementary and middle school – a troubling trend that should be examined further.

In contrast, “Facts and Fiction about the So-Called “Summer Slide” by Dr. Peter Gray found research studies that showed while math computation scores decreased over the summer, math reasoning and problem solving scores increased as children were exposed to more life learning opportunities.

Classroom realities.

The reality is, most teachers see a regression in skills from June to September.  Anecdotally, teachers expect children to start the year one or two reading levels lower then their levels from the previous June.  The first month of school typically reviews previously learned materials. Then teachers move on with new content hopefully by October.  When students will require more then eight weeks of instruction to regain the content lost over the ten week summer, they might be offered summer school or other academic programs to maintain their skills and avoid a severe regression.  But as budgets tighten, this type of support is harder to obtain unless a student receives special education support and has an Individualized Education Plan.

Take action!

So what’s a concerned parent to do?  With a few simple steps, you can keep those school skills sharp so that they’ll begin the year strong.  Much as our physical muscles atrophy when not used, our brain requires stimulation and exercise as well. Here are a few ideas to keep the learning going in your house this summer:

Keep Those School Skills Sharp - Family Reading
  • Take advantage of the extra daylight and find time to read to your child.  Visit your local library, and choose an engaging chapter book you’ll both enjoy, together.  Try a Harry Potter novel, or perhaps revisit classics like Little House on the Prairie or The Secret Garden.  Check out Rick Riordan books, or the Warrior series. Younger children might enjoy The Princess in Black series, or The Magic Tree House series.  One good chapter book spread out over ten minutes a day will keep everyone’s enjoyment of literature high. Some books might even last most of the summer!
  • Encourage your child to read books he or she enjoys for 10-15 minutes a day, several days a week.  This is not a time to choose a challenging book, but instead a chance for your child to choose a book they’ll feel comfortable reading.  Schools often talk about “just right” books. You’ll want your child to pick a just right book or even an easy book. Perhaps your child would like to revisit a favorite book from the school year, or grab a favorite graphic novel.  The idea is to keep the reading task enjoyable (especially with a struggling reader) so they’ll be happy to read. You might even find that once they get started, they’ll read longer then expected!
  • Keep those math skills sharp with online resources like Prodigy (a free online adventure game).  My children are working their way through Prodigy this summer, and they find completing math tasks much more enjoyable when they earn stars to cast spells and trade items with other characters.  And the weekly email detailing their strengths and weaknesses for further monitoring is very helpful for me. I also like that Prodigy builds in a preliminary assessment so that your child is working at his/her individual mathematics level, not necessarily their grade level.  This is really important, especially if you have a child who struggles with math.
  • If you and your child travel, write a journal of the experience. Model for them, and write a journal of your own! Have fun with it – write a journal from the perspective of the airplane you travel on, or the suitcase you take.  If it’s more of a staycation summer, contemplate writing from the perspective of a few household objects or an unusual family pet. Again, the goal here is keeping the practice of writing going, not providing new instruction.
  • Enjoy a summer filled with the life experiences that tie math, science, and reading together.  Go pick blueberries or strawberries, and calculate how much it’ll cost. Make a batch of muffins, and discuss the role of the baking powder or baking soda.  Slime making has been popular in my house. Even my math-reluctant child will happily pour detergent and glue in various proportions to make a new batch of slime.  Get creative, and maybe a little messy!

Your thoughts?

A little summer brain exercise will help everyone start the year strong.  What are your tried and true activities to keep your family engaged during the summer and keep those school skills sharp?  Comment and share below or contact me to share your thoughts.

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