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The Dreaded Summer Slide and How to Tackle It

It’s a safe assumption that nearly all students enjoy the break from homework and test taking that summer brings. It’s also during this roughly two-month vacation that learning retention starts to slip.

The result is that teachers generally have to spend the first month or so at the beginning of the school year bringing students back up to speed on previously covered material. Some 66 percent of teachers said that they have to help their students get caught back up at the beginning of the year, according to a survey conducted by the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA). Reading, spelling, and math skills are generally the subjects most affected during the long break.

While many children from middle-class families tend to actually make strides in reading over the summer, students from lower-income families tend to feel the slide the hardest because they’re less likely to have access to high-quality learning opportunities.  For example, the summer slide has led to an 80 percent reading achievement gap between students of higher and lower economic status in Baltimore schools, according to a 2007 study by Johns Hopkins University.

This backslide in knowledge largely has to do with the activities presented to a child’s brain over summer. Monotonous and repetitive tasks like hours of TV or video game playing, don’t exactly keep the brain sharp for remembering multiplication tables.

There are a number of solutions to stopping the summer slide in its tracks and set students up to perform at their best when the new school year starts.

Hit up the library: Making weekly trips to the library a regular summer occurrence is one of the best ways to keep a child engaged in reading. Many libraries have special reading programs and events throughout the summer. Set aside a few hours each week where the TV and video games get turned off and the books picked up from the library that week come out.

Brain games: Games like I Spy or Sudoku can be great for exercising kid’s counting and analytical skills. Games like these require attention and give a child’s brain a workout without letting them slip into “la-la land,” Frederic Bertley of the Center of Science and Industry, told The Columbus Dispatch.

Volunteering: Animal shelters, food banks, museums, and libraries often are in need of volunteers over the summer. Participating in volunteer programs can be great for both younger and older students, as children are engaged in being observant of their surroundings and must concentrate and follow directions to complete a task at hand.

Some schools may have resources and programs to help students avoid the summer slide as well. For example, 37 schools in New York City are using a program called Practice Makes Perfect that pairs younger school children from lower-income families with teenage mentors. The participants might work on math skills one day and take a trip to the science museum the next.

Educators seem to agree that the key to beating the summer slide is a variety of activities that challenge a child’s mind in different ways. “The brain is a sponge, and it soaks up and responds to what’s around it,” said Bertley.


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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