The last day of school is an event every kid (and many parents) can hardly wait for – finally a break from the tests, homework and projects that dominate our daily schedules. Unfortunately, viewing summer vacation as a complete respite from academia can result in significant catch up work when the next school year begins. Having so much time outside the classroom can chip away at the skills kids have worked so hard to build all year long. What can parents do to help their student hit the ground running in the fall?
Closing the gap
“Every parent wants to see their child do well in school, and summer plays an important role in boosting achievement year-round,” says Katie Willse, Chief Program Officer at the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA). “Students can lose up to two months of essential math and reading skills during the summer months, but there is plenty families and caregivers can do to support learning during the summer.”
Youth with low-resource backgrounds are at even greater risk for losing skills. Roderick Wheeler, Director of Community Impact for the Central Indiana Community Foundation and a lead staff member for the Summer Youth Program Fund, says “Two-thirds of the achievement gap can be attributed to the skills lost during the summer, especially between kindergarten and 8th grade. If these academic gaps are not closed, then it can have big consequences.” To help address this issue, the Summer Youth Program Fund offers scholarships to summer academic enrichment and learning programs for low-resource youth in the area.
Count on math practice
Children with weak math skills are especially vulnerable to a backslide in progress. “Check online for websites such as Mathdrills.com, and exercise basic math facts,” suggests Heather Koenig, Owner and Director of LearningRx, which helps families identify the root cause for their child’s learning struggles, deficiencies and disabilities.
Koenig also recommends a simple brain game called Mental Tic Tac Toe to help retain math skills: “Similar to traditional Tic Tac Toe, this game uses a ‘mental grid’ numbered 1 to 9. Players remember where their opponent has already been and call out an unoccupied space number. If a player calls out an occupied space, they lose. If a player gets three in a row, they win.” This game helps promote attention, logic and reasoning, and working memory.
The need to read
“Reading is important for all ages, but is especially critical for early learners leading up to fourth grade,” says Willse from the NSLA. Koenig suggests that children read every day. “According to Scholastic Parents Online, research shows that reading just six books during the summer can keep a struggling reader from regressing.”
LearningRx offers a 4 to 8 week Summer Slide Booster program to keep cognitive skills sharp and ready for the new school year. The Indianapolis Public Library also kicks off its summer reading program on June 1st. “We find that the summer reading program goes a long way toward encouraging children to maintain their reading habits and ensuring academic success,” says Jon Barnes, Communications Specialist at the Library.
Everyday skill boosters
Parents and caregivers can help students keep their math and reading abilities sharp by providing everyday opportunities to use them. A trip to the grocery store can involve counting, sorting and calculations with money. Keeping a journal or scrapbook about summer vacation promotes writing. Reading a book and comparing it to its film version encourages critical thinking. By finding creative ways for your children to practice these skills in their daily life, and taking advantage of educational programs offered in your community, you can avoid a lapse in learning and give your kids the tools to begin their next school year with confidence.