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Dog Days of Summer: Tips for Preventing the 'Summer Slide'

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The “summer slide”—it sounds like a fun dance you might do at a backyard barbecue, right?

Sadly, the term refers to what experts call “summer learning loss,” where children backslide over the long school break in math and reading skills; over time this creates an achievement gap with classmates. And it's effects are most pronounced in young children, during the first few years of school.

The good news is, you don’t need expensive camps and summer school programs to make a difference. Families, caregivers and communities can easily incorporate low- to no-cost educational support into the warm-weather fun everyone wants during their summer break. Read along for tips from our team of summer learning experts!

Child360’s Luis Barajas, Family Engagement Specialist, frequently works with providers and families to combat summer learning loss. He quotes the Department of Education statistic that students lose, on average, two months’ worth of the foundations they developed during their time in school (if not supported by summer learning). In fact, he says, “More than half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer leaning opportunities.”

Going from preschool to kindergarten is the first and most crucial transition that a child will go through.Annabell Castellanos, Child360 Family Engagement Specialist

One easy way to make an enormous impact on your child’s social and emotional development is committing to read and play with them every day. Luis Barajas suggests, in addition to story time at home, taking full advantage of the programs and resources at the local library. Barajas points out that, in addition to family activities, performances and reading recommendations, the library offers social opportunities and—perhaps equally appealing—a cool, air-conditioned environment for riding out the expected summer heat wave!

Child360 Family Engagement Supervisor Elsa Leal says that parents and extended family are in the best position to help young children avoid the dreaded summer slide: She suggests they “keep children’s brains and bodies active by asking questions, engaging with them, and keeping them [physically] active during their summer vacation.” Families can continue practicing reading, writing and coloring, and work some simple math exercises into everyday activities (try counting and calculating with the ingredients for your family cookout one afternoon).

Luis Barajas assures families this enrichment is truly not a lot of work: “It can be as simple as simple as exposing them to new food, museums, music and learning together,” he explains.

Elsa Leal echoes that sentiment, emphasizing that “exposure to different activities along with a rich two-way conversation will help children continue their learning.”

Here’s a roundup of suggestions for activities to help keep children of all ages having fun AND preventing academic backsliding this summer:

  • Staying active and healthy helps keep the brain engaged: Seek-out your nearest family-friendly hiking trails; create an obstacle course in your yard or local park; hold a dance-off competition with friends; or go for a neighborhood walk or bike ride.
  • Beat the heat by creating outdoor water games at home: Set up an artistic water balloon toss by filling various color balloons with water and having children create a pattern.
  • Cooking or prepping meals with a parent provides abundant learning opportunities (for even young toddlers) in social-emotional development as well as STEAM fundamentals. By assisting with the washing, assembling or measuring of ingredients they build skills that include trust, responsibility, fine motor skills, five senses, math, colors, shapes, and more. When it’s time to eat, discuss the food groups you all used in creating the meal.
  • Make a summer recycling project: Teach children what can be recycled, then help them build something fun out of recycled materials, like a robot or a castle.
  • Have a camping day in your back yard: Stimulate developing imaginations by setting up outdoors, singing camping songs and making s’mores while pretending you’re in the wild.

We'd love to hear your tips and tricks to keep engagement alive in the heat of summer. Share yours in the comments!

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