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Avoid the Summer Slide: Don’t Let Your Child’s Development Decline

Blog Avoid the Summer Slide: Don’t Let Your Child’s Development Decline

There are strategies you can employ to offset summer slide and keep children learning and engaged in the months between June and September.


Under the best of circumstances, your kids work hard during the school year and they make progress in their studies during each grade. So you would like to think that they’d retain those gains over the summer. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Research shows that students’ knowledge and skills frequently fade over the summer—a phenomenon known as summer slide—and the kids who are hit the hardest are those who don’t have access to enriching summer programs. In fact, research shows that in elementary students, performance falls by about a month during the summer, and it falls much more for lower-income students. Over the span of years, these summer learning losses can lead to major achievement gaps between low-income and higher-income students.

But there is hope. No matter what your socioeconomic status, there are strategies you can employ to offset summer slide and keep children learning and engaged in the months between June and September. “Summer is supposed to be fun and it should feel like a bit of a break for a child, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a complete learning break,” says Marilyn Bull, M.D., a neuro-developmental pediatrician at Indiana University Health. Check out her suggestions here.

Talk to your child’s teacher

“My personal suggestion to families is to talk to the teachers as the school year draws to a close to find out where the children are academically and what their specific needs are,” says Dr. Bull. “This will vary from child to child.” Parents are not in the classroom each day with their kids, so it’s key to get insight from your child’s educator, and to find out as much as you can from your child about how school has been going. Then you can better assess what might benefit your child over summer.

Take your teacher’s advice seriously

“I always worry when I hear a parent say, ‘the school wants him to go to summer school but I think the kid needs a break,’” says Dr. Bull. “I would hope parents would understand that it’s in the child’s best interest to find a summer program, and it’s really important.” You might even view the summer months as a chance for your child to get ahead. Dr. Bull notes that many schools offer summer programs that may be one or two days a week. “If a child is already struggling in school, the chances of him having more difficulty catching up at the beginning of the school year is greater,” she says. Every bit that your child learns over the summer will set him up for success the following year.

Visit your local library

“Many libraries have summer reading programs for no cost,” says Dr. Bull. And if yours doesn’t, you can still make use of the library. Let your child check out new books, and even suggest reading together. “Reading will expand vocabulary, and talking about the book will increase comprehension.” Your enthusiasm for reading may motivate your child to keep it up even on lazy summer days.

Nurture your child’s passions

If your child loves acting, for example, see if you can find a drama day camp that will keep her engaged and thinking. “Acting involves reading, comprehension, memorization, and socialization,” says Dr. Bull, which are all valuable skills your child could enhance over the summer. Or, perhaps your child loves to play games. A chess class once a week may be something she’ll love and it will improve her cognitive skills. Whatever your child enjoys, see if you can find a program that will meet her needs and your budget.

Spend time playing in nature

“Children learn tremendously outside,” says Dr. Bull. “Make sure they’re in a safe environment and with a helmet—if they’re riding bikes or on wheels of some sort—and let them enjoy unstructured time to play, which can be very enriching.” Free play, particularly in nature, allows kids to use their imaginations.

Bring in the grandparents

If you can, ask grandparents or other extended family to help out over the summer. “Grandparents can be great sources of conversation and stimulation for children,” says Dr. Bull, and they provide a perspective that your child may not otherwise be able to understand. What’s more, having your child spend time with relatives will cultivate family ties.

Choose apps carefully

Even though you don’t want your child overdoing it on screen time, there is a place for educational apps, especially if there’s little chance you’ll have access to a tutor or other learning program over the summer. “Ask your child’s teacher which apps might be best for your child and note that they are most effective when you participate together,” says Dr. Bull. The same goes for TV. “If you choose shows where there is something to learn, and then watch it with your child and discuss it, it could be very positive.”

Make family time count

If you’re scheduling family day trips or vacations, do your best to include an educational component. For instance, on hikes, bring along a book that helps you learn more about the rocks and flowers. Or plan an outing that involves some learning. “Little brains are like sponges,” says Dr. Bull. “Children retain these experiences.”

-- By Rachel Rabkin Peachman

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