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How to Avoid the Summer Slide

In this article, we will discuss:

Our children revel in the freedom of summer; for three months they get to relax, play, and just be kids without the pressures of school. As parents, we want this free-time for our kids.  But what we don’t want is for them to lose the academic gains they made in the prior school year. This guide is a quick explainer including information on:

What is the summer slide?

Unfortunately, summer does often come with academic losses known as the summer slide, or the perishable nature of learning and achievement.  Kids lose an estimated month of learning each summer due to the extended break in practicing academic skills.  Scholastic’s biennial survey of parents of children under 17 revealed that 47 percent of parents were unaware of the summer slide, but those who were familiar with it made significant efforts to prevent it.

Unfortunately, summer does often come with academic losses known as the summer slide, or the perishable nature of learning and achievement. 

A student’s instructional level is often measured by a Rasch UnIT (RIT) score. Research conducted in 1996 suggested that students gain four to 16 RIT points in math and reading during the school year, only to lose three to five of those points over the summer. This is especially concerning for children just reaching the minimum average of academic achievement for their grade and age group, because all of their progress is then likely lost over the summer.

Fortunately, a drastic summer slide is not necessarily inevitable for our students.  Studies have shown a correlation between RIT declines and the personal factors of a student’s life.  Economic class, for instance, has shown to be a major factor with lower and working-class children experiencing more loss than their wealthier peers.  While unfortunate, class differences do show that the summer slide is dependent upon one’s summer experience and is therefore an avoidable phenomena. 

This is especially concerning for children just reaching the minimum average of academic achievement for their grade and age group, because all of their progress is then likely lost over the summer.

The Faucet Theory: Sociologists Entwisle, Alexander, and Olson hypothesize that the summer slide is caused by the slowdown of learning that occurs during the school break. Throughout the school year, the “learning and resource faucet” is turned on high for all students and then completely turned off (or at least considerably slowed down) during the summer. This is what leads to the summer slide and especially.  Unfortunately, it especially affects students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who have very limited access to learning resources outside of the classroom and school environments.

Older Kids are Affected More Than Younger Students: Updated research on summer slide was conducted last year and focused on the MAP growth assessment test. The MAP test is taken yearly by 20 percent of students in schools across the nation to monitor skills development and academic growth. The research showed that learning loss increased from elementary school to middle school.  More specifically, In the summer following third grade, students lose nearly 20 percent of their school-year gains in reading and 27 percent of their math school-year gains. 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.

Greater Academic Dips Occur in Math Than in Reading: Reading activities tend to be much more built into a family’s fabric of life than math. As such, kids are more likely to forget what they learned in math during the school year than in reading. It is not that they forget concepts; kids retain the general idea of what they have learned but usually don’t retain the associated procedure or steps.

Preventing the Summer Math Slide

Find ways to review the previous school year’s math concepts in everyday life. For example, reinforce fractions while cooking, measure household objects, and practice addition with fun and colorful items.  

To really help set your child up for success in the new year, start to preview the concepts that she will learn in the next grade. Your goal here is not mastery but really to create awareness and preparedness for those new concepts that will help ease her into learning it when it is introduced in class.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Read math stories. We love recommending Bedtime Math Book!
  • Play math games like Blokus and Monopoly.
  • Practice word problems. For older kids, books like Two Trains Leave Paris: Number Problems for Word People can be game-changing.
  • Work through a workbook of exercises practicing the next grades’ concepts.

Preventing the Summer Reading Slide

Some of you may be lucky enough to live in a school district that does the work for you and assigns a summer reading list to your student.  If not, help your child channel her interests into related reading. Hopefully, your local library is open or providing digital services. Alternatively, you can encourage your community to actively utilize the nearest Little Free Library. Has your child exhausted the list of titles on your subscription television streaming services? Consider swapping Netflix for an ebook service instead.

Keep things simple but somewhat structured to keep your daughter learning all summer long!

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Have your daughter read for at least 20-30 minutes a day.
  • Consider having your daughter sign up for a reading challenge and attach a fun reward to it (i.e. read X number of books by the end of the summer).
  • Listen to audiobooks on road trips instead of letting them watch movies.
  • Start a mother/daughter book club for the summer, and read books that you and your daughter can have rich conversations about after.
  • Use your public library as your resource. There is so much to take advantage of especially during the summer.

Other suggestions for combating the summer slide:

STEM Activities

Whether you send your child to an online summer camp, purchase a science kit or hold a daily viewing of the National Children’s Museum’s STEAMwork videos, any inclusion of STEM in your child’s routine is a powerful force against the summer slide.  STEM education is easy to incorporate into fun and games; it just takes some intentionality in pointing out where the STEM portions lie.   

Video Games

We know – many of you would have to go to war with your children before they choose the previous examples over gaming. As a much less dramatic compromise guaranteed to keep the peace in your family, encourage your child to play popular video games with an educational value. Some of today’s most acclaimed games, such as Minecraft and Little Big Planet, are wonderful learning tools that push kids to put their academic skills to use. So if your child doesn’t game, try it. If they never stop gaming, try and nudge them in the right direction.

As a much less dramatic compromise guaranteed to keep the peace in your family, encourage your child to play popular video games with an educational value.

The COVID-19 Slide

Statistics from the Fall of 2020 are showing that students’ summer academic losses, coupled with remote learning from the Spring of 2020, are significant.  This upcoming summer will take the usual summer obstacles and add an additional layer of anxiety and cabin fever for kids whose families are still social distancing. 

Working to combat the COVID-19 slide may be the last thing most parents want to do after months of filling in for educators. Summer is an opportunity for many moms and dads to take a much-needed break from balancing teaching and work. But don’t throw in the towel just yet. 

While summer school is a recommended strategy for keeping kids on track this summer, there are more activities in which your children can engage in order to preserve their academic gain. 

In conclusion, of course we want our children to have a care-free, fun summer. But relaxing through those months doesn’t have to be at the expense of their learning.  Hopefully these suggestions will help you be intentional about finding learning opportunities for your child that will help her maintain her academic growth up until the start of her next school year.  

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