— From Jill: My oldest son started kindergarten last year, and on the first day, it was pretty clear he wasn’t going to be at the head of the class. My husband and I both worked nights when he was a toddler, so we’d hesitated to send him to pre-school during the day since he was in child care all night. We’d tried to make books, numbers and everyday science a big part of our home, but we didn’t worry too much about formal literacy.
So we weren’t totally surprised when T started kindergarten and was one of the few kids who couldn’t spell his own name, much less write the sentence “I love dogs,” as his teacher asked. His story has a happy ending — thanks to a superstar kindergarten teacher, a natural love of reading and lots of encouragement from Dad and me, T ended kindergarten among the best readers in his class.
And then came summer. T is a boy, so despite really loving school, he quickly turned his attention to catching lizards, swimming in the lake and playing tee-ball. Gulp. Was all that hard work going to disappear over the long summer break?
5 tips to combat the summer “learning” slide
You don’t need an early childhood education degree to know that young kids are particularly vulnerable when it comes to losing academic progress over the summer. But in era of standards and standardized tests, all students are at risk of falling victim to the so-called summer slide. Here are some tips we’ve found work for us.
- Model the behavior you want to see: To me, summer means having a baseball game on at night. But I discovered if I turned off the TV after dinner and pulled out my own book, my son would eventually do the same. I didn’t have to ask — and if I did, I was usually rebuffed — but in a quiet room, absent of other distractions, I found T actually wandered over to the bookshelf and picked up a book at least half the time.
- Cater to the digital devices: I’ve never been a video game lover, but when I realized my son was reading captions, instructions and game hints while playing Lego Indiana Jones on his PlayStation 3, I saw the light. At a young age, any reading, whether it’s on a screen, a cereal box or a street sign, helps keep literacy skills sharp. Older kids need more of a challenge, but you can still find plenty of ways to encourage reading in their natural habitat. There’s a blog on practically anything, and you may even be able to get an enterprising teen to chronicle their own summer projects online.
- Encourage critical thinking in everyday life: At any age, kids are full of questions. In our house, it’s stuff like, “Could a spinosaurus eat a T-rex?”, “Why are lizards cold blooded?”, and “Who was better: Mickey Mantle or Babe Ruth?” Help your child figure out how to answer their own questions by pointing them toward reference materials, helping them surf the ‘net or just talking through various possibilities. Teaching them how to ask questions — and structure possible answers — is one of the biggest ways you can help make your child a life-long learner.
- Provide some structure: Older students who are struggling in a particular area or younger kids who don’t naturally turn to books may need a more formal approach. On the advice of T’s kindergarten teacher, we got a couple workbooks, hashed out a reward system and focused on doing some math and phonics every day.
- Be flexible with the schedule: We definitely didn’t do math and phonics every day. Some days, T practically feel asleep at the dinner table after a long day of camp. Some days, I forgot. Other days, we decided to watch a baseball game together. It is summer after all.
What are some of your tips to keep kids learning and engaged over the summer?
About the Author
Jill Tyndale is an editor, writer and mom to two boys aged 1 and 7. She writes on online schooling for kids of all ages, has a graduate degree in anthropology and recently signed up for her first online class.