“No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks!”
So goes the triumphant last-day-of-school chant for generations of school kids. But that attitude, taken to extremes, can take a grim toll on a student’s chances for success in the classroom next fall.
The National Summer Learning Association reports that children can lose two to three months of educational progress if their summer free time is free from reading and learning.
Dawn Christiana, a director of teaching and learning in the Bellingham School District, said some students don’t get back to their previous levels of educational proficiency until January.
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“Quite a few kids do come back from summer vacation with summer learning loss,” she said.
As a result, teachers spend weeks or even months at the start of every school year, getting their students back into shape.
The good news is that it’s not inevitable.
Kevin DeVere, principal of Everson Elementary School, said teachers are eager to help parents keep their kids’ minds sharp while they are out of the classroom.
“We call it the summer slide,” DeVere said. “We’re trying to help students avoid the summer slide, particularly in reading.”
Keeping young minds on track doesn’t mean less summer fun for kids.
“We want kids to be running around outside, riding their bikes and all that stuff,” DeVere said.
He hopes that parents will do everything possible to encourage a love of reading, so that summer reading won’t seem like a chore. Just a few minutes of reading every day can have a significant impact.
“It would help the kids if the parents are reading too,” he said.
Whatcom County educators agree that the key to summer learning is making learning a part of the fun of summer. Here are some tips for doing just that:
▪ Keep kids on a predictable schedule, Christiana and others advise. A disorganized summer makes it harder for youngsters to cope with the organizational demands of school in the fall. Wakeups, meals, fun times, chores, reading time and screen time can all be part of a daily routine. Map out that schedule in writing with your children before vacation begins, and do your best to stick to it.
“The families that are most successful in avoiding the summer slide are those who have a plan and work the plan,” DeVere said.
Schedules can be flexible, but try to make reading a regular part of the schedule.
“Schedule that time like they do baseball practice or play dates with friends,” said Sally Cook, kindergarten teacher at Lynden Christian School.
▪ Read to your kids. Chances are you’ve already gotten that message from teachers at your child’s school. Don’t stop doing it over the summer, and don’t get the idea that reading aloud is only for younger kids who can’t read much on their own.
“Kids love being read to,” Christiana said. “They can listen to a more challenging text than they can read. … If you can just read to your child and have a conversation, what a win-win!”
▪ Both reading and keeping a journal can be good forms of downtime when youngsters get tired or stressed by summer activities, Christiana said. There also are many educational board games that children may enjoy, with or without adults.
▪ Encourage your children to read to you, said Kerry Thomas, fourth grade teacher at Assumption School. Discuss the reading with them. If they are reading fiction, ask them what they think will happen next. Encourage them to write down new words and pay attention to spelling.
“Encouraging children to learn to spell words correctly is important, because spelling knowledge directly affects their reading ability,” Kerry Thomas said.
▪ Let youngsters pick out their own reading material. Some want to read fantasy. Others prefer to learn about real people and events. Others may be fascinated by science.
“We’re always trying to get more non-fiction books,” DeVere said. “The kids are just eating it up, and then they want to talk about it.”
In the Nooksack Valley School District, students are given a book to take home for the summer. A district book van makes the rounds of the neighborhoods during vacation to pick up those books and exchange them for new ones.
Don’t worry about the grade level of the material your child chooses, said Tara Olson, fifth grade teacher at Everson Elementary. A child’s book choice may seem too hard or too easy to a parent, but that’s less important than the act of reading.
“The big thing is letting kids have choices in their books,” Olson said. She adds that parents should not spurn graphic novels (formerly known as comic books) if that’s what their kids want to read.
▪ Reluctant readers may be more willing to pick up a book that has been made into a favorite movie, or a book that is based on a favorite movie or television programs, Olson said. After they read the book, ask them to talk about how the book differed from the screen version and what they liked and disliked about both.
▪ Stacy Thomas, fourth grade teacher at Lynden Christian School, suggests planning activities that relate to books that youngsters have read. Examples: home science projects, a visit to a historic site, a field trip to the woods or the seashore. Read cookbooks, then try a recipe. Older kids might want to try cooking up something on their own. The younger ones will enjoy doing it with parents or grandparents.
▪ Besides the reading involved, baking and cooking projects also involve some math, Christiana said. Measuring cups and spoons are great tools for helping younger children understand fractions. Before the cooking starts, let the kids make the shopping list, and be sure to take the kids with you to the grocery story when you buy the ingredients, she adds. There are potential practical math problems on every aisle: Is the smallest bag of flour really cheaper, after you calculate the price per pound?
▪ Frequent summer visits to the library are a no-brainer. The library is fun, it’s free and it also offers summer reading programs.
“Just going and taking out books inspires readers,” Stacy Thomas said. “Let them have their own library card.”
She also suggests checking out books on tape or CD for listening during road trips.
▪ Local bookstores such as Village Books and Barnes & Noble also have summer reading programs that reward participants with gift certificates, Christiana said.
▪ Setting limits on screen-based gaming is one of the biggest challenges parents face today. Christiana suggests using screen-based recreation as a reward for reading.
▪ Take advantage of things that kids are already doing and turn them into learning projects. Younger students can sort their Legos by color and size. Older students can rearrange the furniture in their bedrooms after measuring dimensions of the room and its furnishings and then sketching a plan to follow, Christiana said.
▪ The Pinterest website offers a vast array of summer reading tips, such as book bingo cards and the summer 100-book challenge, Stacy Thomas suggests.
▪ In planning summer learning activities, Assumption’s Kerry Thomas reminds parents that students have two important learning phases.
“Students spend kindergarten through third grade learning to read. They spend fourth grade on reading to learn,” she said.
She also suggests a “five-finger rule” in selecting material that a child will enjoy reading: If there are more than five unfamiliar words on a page, a child may become discouraged.
▪ Everson’s principal DeVere reminds parents that doing things together – anything – has benefits for children and families. He notes that busy parents are often tempted to do chores alone, to get them done faster.
“When our lives get so busy, it’s easier to do things for kids,” he said. He advises parents to slow down and do that to-do list together.
Christiana said the same.
“They really want more of that relationship time,” she said. Give kids some attention when you get home from work.
Kids will be more likely to take reading seriously if they see their parents reading, Christiana added.
She also hopes parents will be on the lookout for neighborhood kids who may not be getting all the support they need in their own homes. Invite those kids over to participate in your child’s educational activities. Organize a kids’ book club.
“Wouldn’t it be great if we were all looking out for each other?” she said.
National Summer Learning Association website: summerlearning.org/
From Parents Magazine Online—“13 Sneaky Ways to Keep Your Kids Learning This Summer”: parents.com/kids/education/elementary-school/13-sneaky-ways-to-keep-your-kids-learning-this-summer-straight-from/
Creative Summer Learning Ideas, from Scholastic Publishers: scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/creative-summer-learning-ideas/