For many young children, summer vacation means lazy days and a break from formal learning. But EDC’s Heidi Rosenberg cautions that too much time away from math and reading can lead to a “summer slide,” where children lose some of the skills they developed during the school year.
“Summer slide is a real issue, and it means teachers have to spend more time on remediation in the fall, which can hinder children’s progress,” she says. “You want children to arrive back at school primed to move forward rather than having to review old material.”
The good news is that it doesn’t take much to help keep the summer slide at bay. Here, Rosenberg—who is the director of research for the National Center on Afterschool and Summer Enrichment (NCASE)—offers some ideas for how parents and caregivers of 5- to 12-year-olds can turn everyday routines into learning opportunities during the busy summer months.
1. Read every day
Reading is the cornerstone of learning, and Rosenberg emphasizes that children of all ages should continue to read, or be read to, during the summer. And there are some simple things you can do to keep reading aloud fun. Rosenberg suggests using different voices for different characters when you are reading aloud. Or, have your child take the part of a character and read along with you.
“These are good ways to keep a familiar book new and fresh,” says Rosenberg.
If you are taking a road trip, audio books are also an enjoyable, educational way to pass the time. Visiting a local library, such as for story time or book club, is yet another way to promote summer reading.
What’s most important, adds Rosenberg, is that parents and caregivers build reading into the summer routine, whether it’s a read-aloud story at bedtime or a “drop everything and read” time in the middle of each day.
“If you don’t make a deliberate effort to do it, reading can easily fall by the wayside,” she says.
2. Keep counting
Practicing math skills is also instrumental in stopping the summer slide. For young children, though, summer math shouldn’t be about multiplication tables and flash cards.
“Just doing simple activities that help young children count, sort, and classify objects are really valuable,” says Rosenberg. “And you can do them almost anywhere.”
On a bus or in a car? Play “I Spy,” focusing on shapes, numbers, and colors on maps and the advertisements around you. At the beach? See who can collect the most shells of a certain shape. Stuck inside on a rainy afternoon? Do a puzzle together. All of these activities keep children’s minds working mathematically.
Board games and card games also present children with opportunities to practice their mathematical thinking. Among Rosenberg’s favorite games are UNO, Qwirkle, and Hi Ho Cheerio. She also recommends parents and caregivers look at EDC’s family math project, which has a number of simple, easy games to play.
“Parents don’t always recognize their own potential to promote math learning, but small actions, when taken consistently, can really help,” says Rosenberg.
3. Find something interesting to investigate
There’s no need to limit summer learning to reading and math, either. Rosenberg recommends asking your child what they are interested in learning about and using that answer as a jumping-off point for an investigation. And if your child can’t name a specific topic, talk to their teacher or day care provider for ideas.
“Following children’s own interests helps them develop a sense of autonomy over their learning,” says Rosenberg.
For example, if your child is interested in bugs, look for ways to investigate them—visit the library or explore your neighborhood. If doing art is more your child’s thing, then try discussing differences in artistic style when reading picture books or during an outing to the museum.
The key point here is to find ways to keep your child’s mind active during the summer months.
“Learning doesn’t need to take a break during the summer,” says Rosenberg.
Want some more ideas about how to stop summer slide? Check out this tip sheet from NCASE.