Each summer, educators and students alike pour out of schools ready to relax, have fun, and recuperate from their challenging years. Students definitely feel like they need the break, but the research is clear: academic skills — especially reading — decline over the summer.
Most students suffer a summer slump to some extent, but the students who regress most are those already identified as at-risk, which makes closing the achievement gap harder each fall.
Summer learning programs are one of the best ways to address this fall in performance by keeping kids’ minds actively engaged outside of school. These programs, often funded by private organizations and run through schools, are not always readily available or are difficult to get into.
Absent an engaging summer camp, there are some things parents can do to encourage continued scholarship all summer long. Furthermore, teachers can help stop the summer slide by providing summer learning resources to students and their families.
One great way to continue scholarship throughout the summer is to support young readers. Children with the best reading habits also tend to have high performance marks. If we can engage students in reading throughout the summer, we can encourage and help their future success.
Some teachers prompt students to read throughout the summer with packets of suggested reading material and potential assignments to complete over break. Others use technology to help, having students establish reading blogs throughout the year in hopes that they will continue to post and communicate with their classmates over the summer.
There is no reason their student community can’t continue virtually, and often parents are willing to help facilitate such projects when given the idea and the opportunity. If students are competitive, you could enroll your entire school in Scholastic’s summer reading program. Students are working together to break a world record for minutes devoted to reading and can chart the reading dedication of their classmates.
Another great way to facilitate reading is to encourage children to join their public library’s summer reading program. Many libraries offer programs that reward students for the time they invest in reading.
For younger students who haven’t become library patrons, the excitement of getting their own library card can normalize reading as a lifestyle rather than an assignment. Likewise, being allowed to choose the books and subjects that appeal to them contributes to a student’s positive experience in a library. Businesses like Barnes & Noble or Panera encourage reading too, providing opportunities to earn prizes for students who log reading time.
There are also Internet and print resources that can aid families to avoid the summer slide. The Avoid the Summer Slide Campaign offers free resources from teachers across the country that parents can use to help their students learn. The lesson plans page has a variety of teacher-oriented lesson plans, but parents can easily search the database for short lessons that might be fun to complete with their kids.
Print resources like the Summer Bridge Activities provide 12-week curricula that parents can devote a small amount of time to every day in order to help their students keep their minds sharp.
In addition, Bill Nye or Steve Spangler’s websites, science kits, or science exploration books can expand students’ educational experience beyond just math or reading. Discount retailers including Dollar General and Target offer small workbooks that can help students review their learning as well.
If students want to do more than just complete workbooks, there is always potential for learning in field trips. Trips to the zoo or science museum can help complement their learning. Parents should be encouraged to ask students questions about their experiences, engage them in reading while they are out and about, and encourage deep thinking about the experiences.
If families are not able to travel or go to the zoo or museum, online exploration can provide virtual tours and field trips to locations ranging from the Hershey chocolate factory to the Louvre.
Finally, the most positive things that parents can do to engage their children in summer learning is by modeling it themselves by doing brain-boosting activities together. Teachers might consider developing an online resource or small packet for students and their families so that they can continue to engage their children’s minds all summer long.
Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current adjunct faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.