Family & Education

What to Do About the ‘Summer Slide’

Does a carefree summer without workbooks and math drills set children back?
BY Barbara Danza TIMEJune 3, 2018 PRINT

Summer is almost here. Parents and children alike are sprinting (or limping) across the finish line; the end of the school year is finally in sight. You can almost feel the sunshine on your face, the relaxation of every muscle, the joy of no schedule, no forms to fill out, no lunches to pack (unless you want to, of course, in which case it’s a picnic). 

Then right in the midst of this sun-soaked daydream, someone mentions “the summer slide.” Maybe it’s a teacher or a school notice or something that you scroll past on your social media feed. Is this something you should be worrying about? If you simply enjoy a carefree summer with your children, will they show up to the next grade behind their peers? Will all this swimming and playing and napping and summer fun ruin their chance at success in life?

Many of the “summer slide” warnings out there project dire consequences if you’re not charting your kids’ hours of reading, imploring them to complete grade-level workbooks, or implementing math drills between laps at the pool.

If you think about it for a moment, though, why do kids so quickly and commonly “forget” what they learned in school? If it’s gone in the course of a summer, was it ever really learned? As psychologist Peter Gray points out in Psychology Today, “What happens when people finally finish school and go on to life outside of it?”

Gray summarizes his own review of various studies done on learning loss over the summer, concluding that “much of what we hear about the summer slide is myth.” In fact, he explains, while aptitude in “math calculation” does decline, “math reasoning increases over the summer.” Math calculation can be learned by rote practice, but math reasoning is only possible through true mastery and understanding, in real-life settings. “School, at best, prepares children for more school. Real life prepares children for real life,” Gray says.

Could one then argue that summer—with its play and freedom and bounty of childhood joys—is actually more beneficial than school? (Gasp!)

Instead of spending even half a second worrying about “the summer slide,” here are some ideas to maximize your child’s potential for a truly educational and fun summer so they are free to explore their interests and curiosities as deeply as they wish.

Create a Learning Environment

Environment has a huge impact on learning. Ensure your children have tools and resources at home to explore. Maps, art supplies, crafting materials, a telescope, a microscope, tons of books (fiction, nonfiction, reference), and beautiful artwork on the walls will enhance their learning environment at home and encourage exploration.

Upgrade Your Playlist

With today’s technology, you’ve got the best classical music of all time at your fingertips. Make playlists and play music throughout the day. In addition to fostering a genuine appreciation for musical masterpieces, you’ll find your kids more content to listen and less reliant on screens.

Put Library Visits on Your Calendar

Make going to the library part of your weekly routine this summer. Enjoy summer’s easygoing pace as you allow the kids to browse and explore for as long as they want. Max out the library card before you leave so the plentiful reading can continue at home.

Learn Before You Go

Hopefully you’ll head out on numerous fun outings with the family this summer. Every adventure you find yourself on is a learning opportunity for your children. Get educated before you go. For example, if you’re heading to the zoo, visit their website in search of educational materials. Get books about the animals on display or watch a nature documentary together with related content. Before you go anywhere, though, take the time to teach your kids about that place and see how much more meaningful and educational it is for your kids.

Curb Screen Use

It may be tempting to let your kids fritter away their time on video games or tablets. The addictive nature of these devices is well-documented. Minimize (or even eliminate) their use this summer and your kids will get much more out of this beautiful season.

Put Responsibility on Their Shoulders

Summer is a great time to enhance your kids’ life skills. Whatever they are capable of doing for themselves, have them do it. Allow them to participate in house chores—cooking, gardening, projects, and helping others.

Make Movie Nights Educational

Gather the pillows and blankets, pop the popcorn, and snuggle on the couch for regular movie nights this summer. Incorporate documentaries and movies based on true stories to sneak in some entertaining learning while you nosh.

Engage in Creative Projects

Encourage making by embarking on creative projects that spark your children’s interests. Whether it’s woodworking, sewing, writing, painting, beading, sculpting, or photography—whatever your kids are into, roll up your sleeves and make stuff together. You’d be amazed at how many “math and language arts” skills can be put to use naturally when you dig in and do.

Embrace Boredom

Some of the most productive bouts of learning and creativity happen on the other side of boredom. Keep screens off, and when your children tell you they’re bored this summer, tell them, “That’s great!” and send them off to make up their own fun.

Instead of a threat to their education, see summer for what it really is—a glorious opportunity to re-ignite that innate spark they always had within them.

Barbara Danza is a mom of two, an MBA, a beach lover, and a kid at heart. Here, diving into the challenges and opportunities of parenting in the modern age. Particularly interested in the many educational options available to families today, the renewed appreciation of simplicity in kids’ lives, the benefits of family travel, and the importance of family life in today’s society.
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