By Karen Quinn
Around this time every year, parents begin worrying about the dreaded “summer slide.” This term defines the learning loss kids experience over the summer due to the fact that they aren’t going to school every day and engaging their minds in reading, thinking and problem solving.
Many parents scoff at the notion that summer brain drain is something to take seriously, but it’s a very real threat to kids’ forward momentum. Research shows that children who don’t take part in some kind of educational brain-building over the summer lose three months of progress they made during the school year. The losses are worse for math than they are for reading, and they are cumulative over the years. This is bad enough on its face, but think about what that summer learning loss really means: imagine that the gains your child made from February through April were wiped off the map.
Of course, many parents avoid doing anything to counteract summer slide for fear that they’ll burn their kids out or prevent them from getting a well-earned break from school. This can also be a self-interested move on a parent’s part; after all, what mom or dad doesn’t wait for the day that their child stops bringing home assignments that usually include tough math and reading worksheets (not to mention social studies, science, and all the other subjects our kids see on a daily basis). Let’s face it – we could all use that a break!
So how can you help your kids this summer without feeling like a drill sergeant out to ruin a relaxing summer? This can be especially challenging when you’re on the go, doing family vacations or outings.And furthermore, how involved should parents get in their kids academic lives year round?
First the latter – I strongly believe that parents hold the key to their kids’ academic success. The more involved you are, the better your kids will do in school. Period. I know this from experience.
When my son Sam was three-years-old, I knew something wasn’t right. He wasn’t developing as quickly as his big sister. A doctor diagnosed a hearing problem that could be fixed via surgery and (after giving Sam an IQ test where he scored in the 37th percentile) pronounced that Sam would never be very smart and would always need special education.
After picking up my broken heart, I did what so many of us would do – called my mom. Fortunately, my mother has a PhD in Early Childhood Development and showed me how to work with my son to prepare him for school and testing. Sam came to love our special “learning time,” where we’d cuddle in bed and spend about 30-minutes each night working on language, math, puzzles and more.One year later, Sam scored in the 94th percentile on an IQ test. He was admitted to a competitive private school in Manhattan and is now an honors student.
That story isn’t to boast about my son; it’s to illustrate the powerful impact parent just a small amount of involvement (in my case, just 30-minutes a day!) can have on a child’s intelligence. This summer and all year long – work with your child to keep her mind active. Here are five easy ways to ensure that your child doesn’t lose any ground this summer – even if you are traveling with your family:
- Institute a 30-minute reading time every day. This is so important.Let your child choose whatever books he likes.Also, cuddle up and read classic chapter books out loud to your child each night before bed.When traveling, look for web sites that give you access to wonderful online libraries of classic picture and chapter books that don’t weigh down your child’s suitcase or backpack.
- Encourage free play and stay out of the way! From building a fort out of cushions in the hotel room to making sand castles on the beach, play is as important to your child’s thinking, problem solving, imagination, math, literacy and other skills as any enrichment experience you might give him.
- Strengthen math skills through hands-on activities like chess, checkers, tangrams, dominoes, card games, puzzles, origami, beading, and board games.Go to Amazon.com – Toys and Games – and search for “travel games for kids.” You’ll find travel versions of your all-time favorite games and activities that fit easily into a backpack and can be played while flying or driving to your vacation.Mighty Mind is one of my favorites.It is great for building visual-spatial reasoning skills, and comes in a magnetic version for travel.
- While on the road or even locally, go on outings to the zoo, beach, fire station, museums, etc. and take lots of pictures.Print the pictures and let your child make photo albums of each adventure.Encourage her to label each picture and write up a description of the experience. This builds memory, organization and writing skills – plus it’ll be fun to look back on in the future.
- Choose your computer and TV time wisely. After a long day of sightseeing or playing sports at camp, kids need some downtime.With TV, let your child watch shows that entertain and challenge them to think.With computers or tablets, set your child up with online programs and educational games where they’re having so much fun, they have no idea they’re learning.
With a little dedication and creativity on your part, your child not only won’t have summer learning loss – they’ll start the next school year ahead!
Karen Quinn is co-founder of www.TestingMom.com, a website that helps pre-K to 8th graders build skills for school, read books online, and ace important tests through fun, online learning games, e-libraries, and educational activities.She is the author of Testing For Kindergarten.