School’s Out: Tips on Summer Fun Without the Summer Slide

June 17, 2012
Kelsey Herron
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, CA
CATEGORIES Common Sense Resources, Out-of-School Learning, Parents and Families, Students

Summer is upon us and with it, the infamous “summer slide.” You know, that time of year when school lets out and kids get a much needed, but occasionally regressive, break from their usual learning routine. The key to avoiding it? A recent Motherlode post in The New York Times says it’s reading – and it doesn’t quite matter what children read, so long as they just read. So the vampire trilogy or Teen Magazine is just fine.

According to a recent study, as Motherlode blogger KJ Dell’Antonia reports, children who don’t read over the summer lose 2–3 months of reading development while those who do gain a month. And the effect is cumulative. “Every two or three years the kids who don’t read in the summer fall a year behind the kids who do,” says University of Tennessee, Knoxville, professor Richard Allington, one of the authors of the study.

Dr. Tiffany Cooper Gueye, chief executive of the national nonprofit program BELL, dedicated to changing the academic achievements of children in under-resourced urban areas, said that it is important to get the message across to children that learning is not something you need a vacation from.  “Many kids don’t necessarily need a formal program, just encouragement to maintain their interest in things they already love,” said Dr. Gueye. BELL provides structured academic programs, but in an environment that, according to Dr. Gueye, “doesn’t look or feel like school.”

Dell’Antonia, a parent herself, agreed, and claims that that she has begun to set more realistic goals:

I recognize the mistake I’ve made over the years when I’ve worried that one child or another would forget hard-earned gains in skills. As a younger parent, I was prone to setting goals that set us up for failure: Worksheets, reading logs. I’ve (mostly) wised up. I haven’t bought a single new “summer skills” book this year, and I’m planning to count on ordinary activities to keep my children engaged. Regular library trips, with visits to the nonfiction shelves for bird guides or the physics of sand castles. Cooking. The science of marshmallow roasting

Dell’Antonia suggests a few resources that provide simple ways to keep children’s minds engaged this summer, including our own Camp Virtual that we wrote about here. This guide rates and recommends apps, games, and websites that are both fun and engrossing. The “camp” breaks down the rated material according to age, and provides categories like “outdoor exploration” and “campfire friends” to cater to children’s interests, as well as the skills you’d like them to better develop.

The Motherlode blog also points to resources that send out a daily “learning opportunity,” like Wonderopolis and Bedtime Math. Scholastic has also come up with three ways to prevent “the slide,”  and MindShift has published a series of articles full of projects, outdoor adventures, and creative DIY ideas to keep kids motivated and learning over the next three months.