Head of School Blog

Preventing the “Summer Slide”

Jill Singleton
As long as our educational system runs according to an outdated agrarian calendar, parents need to be mindful about the pitfalls associated with those lazy days of summer. While children no doubt must benefit from an extended period of unscheduled time to engage their imaginations and explore their personal passions, maintaining a connection to academic pursuits is equally important. Research has clearly demonstrated that a phenomenon called the “summer slide” is real, especially for children who are not fortunate enough to benefit from enrichment camps and the experience of reading in the home. According to a comprehensive research study released by the RAND Corporation in 2011, “the loss of knowledge and educational skills during the summer months is cumulative over the course of a student’s career and further widens the achievement gap between low- and upper-income students.” However, the study also demonstrates that summer learning opportunities, including enrichment camps and other programs, not only prevent the slide but can actually result in achievement gains. According to a Senior Policy Researcher at RAND and co-author of the study, Jennifer McCombs, “Instruction during the summer has the potential to stop summer learning losses and propel students toward higher achievement.”

So what’s a parent to do? The bottom line is that parents can make a big difference in stemming the summer slide by taking a few simple steps. Taking a look at the overall summer schedule and making sure that children are benefiting from a sensible balance of downtime/play and academics/enrichment is key. When taking this view, however, parents must be sure to use a broad lens – just because something doesn’t “look like” traditional school doesn’t mean it’s not considered enrichment. Family vacations, outings to museums and other cultural destinations, dinner-time conversations, daily reading and writing – all of these “count” toward enrichment.

Summer work at All Saints is a valuable tool for mitigating the potential summer learning loss. Teachers are careful to assign quality material and meaningful assignments. To make the most of these materials, we offer the following tips from our teachers:

• Pace yourself with assigned work. Don’t wait until the last week to begin, but rather spread the work out throughout the summer.
• Consider your child’s summer reading assignments in the context of your summer plans. Think about which assignments you should do when. Maybe it is nice to have a big book to read while away at summer camp, or maybe you know you need to complete any computer work before you go on vacation.
• Go beyond the minimum requirements for summer work! Although a set number of journal entries are assigned, there’s no reason your child can’t write every day! Encourage your child to use his/her summer reading journal as often as possible. The same goes for reading – perhaps no greater habit can be instilled in children than the practice of daily reading. Be a good model by sitting down and reading with them.
• While it’s fresh in your memory, jot down a little list of things to practice during “down times.” This could include math challenges while driving (counting by 2s, 5s and 10s for younger students, practicing multiplication tables for older; finding things that start with a certain letter sounds for younger students, challenging vocabulary words for older). Younger children can also practice their writing skills by recording the things they see or do during the day.
• For emergent or beginning readers, take a “picture walk” by going page-by-page in a picture book and have your children tell you what they think is happening in each picture. Let your child be the teacher! Instead of you asking questions at the end of the story, ask students to play teacher and quiz the grown-ups!
• Expect your child’s best work. Don’t send the message that summer assignments are just something you “have to get done.”
• Make sure your child completes his/her work independently. This is true even for our youngest students. Parents new to the school experience often fall into the trap of thinking that judgments are going to be made against their children or themselves as parents if the work is not “perfect.” Teachers expect work to represent the age level of the student, and when parents do the work for the child, it sends message that the parents do not have confidence in their child’s ability.
• Students in Grades Kindergarten – Eight can make use of their IXL math accounts to keep their math skills sharp over the summer. (if you are uncertain about logging in to IXL, please contact Jason Maurer at jmaurer@allsaintshoboken.com)
• Consider a subscription to Reading A-Z, which includes downloadable/printable leveled books and activities.
• Make use of ideas you can find on the internet. Check out these website to get you started:
o http://childparenting.about.com/od/schoollearning/tp/prevent_summer_learning_loss.htm
o http://www.muscogeemoms.com/2013/05/20/eight-tips-to-avoid-summer-learning-loss/

Perhaps the most important tip of all is to keep things in perspective! Be careful not to send a message to your child that you are worried about them “falling behind.” This anxious approach never works! Remember that children are naturally wired to learn and are frequently open to engaging around their interests when invited to do so on their own terms. Lastly, take advantage of the summer months to prioritize time with family. Don’t forget that it won’t be long before your children are independent and on their own, and you find yourself wishing you had made the most of your time together!
It’s been a pleasure blogging with you this school year. I am planning to make the most of this summer vacation spending time with my own family and look forward to resuming the conversations with you all when we return to school in September!

Comments? Thoughts? Ideas? I’d love to hear them! Email me: jsingleton@allsaintshoboken.com

To learn more about the RAND study, read this New York Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/28/opinion/28smink.html?_r=0 or visit the RAND website: http://www.rand.org/news/press/2011/06/13.html.