Niche Resources

How to Keep Kids’ Skills Sharp Over the Summer

When the final bell rings to mark the end of a school year, students have certain things their minds, but they’re not reading, writing, and arithmetic. Nope, when summer break beckons, the ideal is rest, relaxation, and downtime. The hiatus from tests, homework, and learning is just as anticipated as the fun.

Although kids enjoy the freedom that summer break brings, going a lengthy period without focusing on learning is harmful and results in “summer slide.” The issue of summer slide has been considered and studied by educational researchers since 1906 according to the Brookings Institute. One of their recent studies found that “(1) On average, students’ achievement scores declined over summer vacation by one month’s worth of school-year learning, (2) declines were sharper for math than for reading, and (3) the extent of loss was larger at higher grade levels.” This study also notes that summer slide impacts lower-income students more than middle class students. 

So, what can be done to prevent summer slide? Well, engaging in learning over the summer is certainly one way. There’s always flash cards and other forms of drill and kill. While these may prevent summer slide, they’re doubtless adept at producing eyerolls and groans from just about every student. Thankfully, there are many other ways to keep students learning that will keep your child from experiencing summer slide without causing angst, boredom, and frustration.

Read. And Not Just Books.

Many schools have summer reading lists to ensure students keep their minds in learning mode during the summer. “Reading is king,” says Jennifer Hovey the owner of a Hunting Learning Center in Boise, Idaho.

Hovey notes that reading is so important because it builds vocabulary, provides opportunities to practice inference and problem solving, and is essential for common core math. In terms of what to read, Hovey suggests, “Parents hone reading to the subjects their children like.” One child at her business was interested in small engines, so the child’s parents got him small engine manuals. He read them ravenously. Hovey also suggests having kids find and follow blogs on a topic of their choice.

Focus on Math and STEM

One step leads to another. That’s why Dr. Marquita Blades believes students should focus on math skills during the summer. “At the beginning of the school year, classes will pick up where they left off the previous school year,” says Dr. Blades, who taught science for 16 years at the high school and middle school level and now manages a summer enrichment program for high schoolers and writes summer curriculum for elementary and high schoolers. “If students have not achieved mastery of the previous year’s work, it’s easy to get left behind.” Opportunities for students to practice math occur throughout the summer from calculating batting averages of favorite baseball players to playing the card game War. (See more suggestions in the table below).

While Dr. Blades is a big advocate of summer enrichment camps, particularly those that focus on STEM subjects, she also notes there are helpful home activities. Making slime, an activity many children already enjoy, is an opportunity to learn. “Measuring, reading comprehension, how to follow instructions, and critical thinking [the need to try multiple times to get the right consistency] are all part of making slime, says Dr. Blades. She also notes a simple Google search can turn up a great variety of projects/experiments. Many of these require simple household items meaning they are inexpensive.

Write It Out

And don’t forget writing, which offers creative outlets. “Everything you do is an opportunity for reading and writing,” says Cindy McKinley, author of two award-winning children’s books including, 365 Teacher Secrets for Parents and serves as a private tutor after teaching at the elementary school and college level. “When children come home from a movie, have them write a review, after a visit to a museum, create a brochure, and when returning from a park, make a map of it.” McKinley also suggests journaling and allowing students to write freely and not checking it over (unless a child requests it).

Though McKinley believes learning opportunities abound, she cautions against making everything into one. “Turning everything into a learning opportunity can overwhelm them and make everything seem like a chore,” says McKinley. “Pick and choose and find a balance, but make sure to do something every day.”

Another reason to get students writing during summer break is to keep them in shape. No, it won’t result in a six pack, but it will help students avoid the pain that comes with writing again after a long break.

Activity Skills Gained
Activity Playing card game War
Skills Gained Adding, subtracting, and dividing
Activity Cooking
Skills Gained Measuring
Activity Planting a garden
Skills Gained Research, reading, measurement
Activity Summer road trip
Skills Gained Math skills associated with mph, cost of gas, and time of arrival
Activity Genealogy/Family tree
Skills Gained Research, reading, writing
Activity Create a resume
Skills Gained Writing, presentation
Activity Design a website
Skills Gained Coding, writing
Activity Create a blog
Skills Gained Writing
Activity Volunteering at a camp
Skills Gained Time management, organization
Activity Thank you letters
Skills Gained Writing

Go Easy

Summer can and should include fun and downtime. Just as students should not spend all day on their electronic devices to the point where they turn into zombies, there’s no need to overschedule. Summer slide can be prevented, and learning can happen through a million different fun, easy, and creative ways. It’s up to the parent/guardian and their student to ensure summer, like the school year, is a time of growth. Doing so will help the student feel more confident and ready for success when school starts up again the following year.

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Author: Larry Bernstein

Larry Bernstein lives in North Jersey with his wife and two sons. In addition to serving as an adjunct and tutor, Larry is a freelance writer who focuses on education, construction, and retail. He has been seeing green rainbows since his beloved Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl.