How to Defeat the Summer Slide

The arrival of the summer brings with it infinite possibilities. The school year is over, homework obligations have ended, and the strict regimentation of school life recedes. For our children the summer months often feature unstructured play with friends, time at the pool, fun summer camp experiences, trips to the beach, and extended family time. The summer is an ideal season to recharge and to slow the pace of life. Summer can also be a time when academic gains made over the course of a long and productive school year are lost due to a phenomenon commonly known as “Summer Slide.”

The concept of “Summer Slide” is fairly easy to understand. During the summer months when children are away from school, the skills that they developed during the school year are not used nearly as much, and when they return to school, they have lost some of what they gained the year before.   “In a comprehensive analysis published by the RAND Corporation, McCombs and colleagues (2011) note that elementary students’ performance falls by about a month during the summer, but the decline is far worse for lower-income students.”(Smith, 2012)

What is to be done? As parents, we would like our children to have some serious down time during the summer. Today’s child has a busy schedule during the school year.   Our kids have homework as well as time-consuming extra-curricular activities. For this reason there is real value in having our kids play freely and explore their world, and the summer season is a great time for this to happen. As parents we have the challenging task of looking for ways to do this while also looking for ways to keep their developing skills sharp.

Ready Set Read

boy-readingThe first place to begin is reading. Children should be reading all summer long. Reading is the most important skill that children develop in elementary school. In order to gain proficiency as readers, young readers must practice daily. The beauty of summer reading is that they can read whatever they choose. In school students are often required to read books that they do not find compelling. During the summer they can pick whatever they like. Children have more to choose from now than ever before. There are picture books, fantasy novels, realistic fiction, historical fiction, biographies, mysteries, graphic novels, manga, and a host of other selections. As parents we can make suggestions, but we should allow our kids to pick what interests them, and we should take note of what they like so that we can assist them in their selection process. We want our kids to be active and thoughtful readers so we are allowed to ask them questions about their books. Who was their favorite character and why? What predictions or theories do they have about the outcome of the story? Do they know people who are like the characters they have read about? If they did not like a book, have them tell you why. That is an informative conversation waiting to happen. Books are great, and they often lead to great conversations, which extend the learning. Regular reading is the first part of your parental campaign against summer slide.

A Number Of Things To Keep Math Skills Sharp

We must not forget math either. There are a “number” of things that parents can do to keep our young scholars thinking mathematically during the summer time, and it does not necessarily have to involve worksheets. Granted, there are plenty of kids and adults who love to crunch numbers in this way, but the summer allows us to be creative, and it helps kids to really hold onto the skills they have acquired if there is some practical application involved with their manipulation of numbers. We can begin by reinforcing math fact fluency. This can be done with flash cards and there are certainly many apps and math games online that can help with this, but that is just a small piece. How can we help our kids to use their math facts knowledge? Well, math is all around us and since many of us travel by car during the summer, calculating mileage is a great way for our students to put their number sense to good use in a practical way. On our trips we end up eating out a fair amount. Our older scholars should be responsible for calculating tips.  We often party outdoors during the summer. Party planning is mathematical especially when trying to figure out how many bushels of crabs to purchase and how many crabs per guest. What is a bushel? A dozen? These are great mathematical discussions to have with kids. Our children should be involved with these everyday, real-life calculations. Play card games and board games that require score keeping. Go bowling and have the children be in charge of keeping the scores. It’s baseball season after all, get the kids involved in paying attention to the statistics of the game. Worksheets have their place, but math is so much more meaningful when students see how it works in their daily lives. Now, we have added the second nail to the summer slide coffin.

Putting Pencil to Paper

Our students also need time to practice expressing their thoughts through writing. I am pencil-to-papernot in any way suggesting that we assign our own children book reports during the summer, but there are things that we can do in our home setting that allow our young scholars to practice putting pencil to paper. Writing letters is considered to be a dying art. At one point, a good letter was the only way you could communicate with a relative or friend who lived far away from you. Guess what? Your kids love it when they get mail. One way to practically guarantee that they actually get mail is if they write letters to their friends, grandparents, cousins, etc. I know that they can text or even call, but there is something magical about receiving a letter. Letters require time, thought, motivation, and they generate return mail, which kids love. Have your kids write thank you notes regularly. If they were invited to a friend’s house to play or if their uncle takes them to the ball game, have them write a thank you note in appreciation. This polite practice will give your young scholar an opportunity to log some writing time. If you are traveling, have your child keep a daily journal or diary about what they did, what they saw, who they met. They can include all of the drawings that they want as well. A diary is a great pre-vacation gift. Set aside 15-20 minutes of journal/reflection time daily during your vacation time. Vacations are supposed to be relaxing, but we parents know they can be hectic. Building in quiet writing time may help to slow the pace a bit. Summer is also blockbuster movie season. Have your child write reviews of the summer movies they go to see, and they can share the reviews with friends and family. With our summer writing we do not want to inhibit what the children do so you will not spend tons of time correcting their work especially with their journals, but when they write letters and thank you notes to send, you are certainly encouraged to assist with proofreading and editing. Children need to know that when we write to other people, time, care, and effort go into it. It is how we show our respect for others.

Reading, mathematics, and writing are the keys to defeating summer slide. With some common sense, creativity, and consistency parents can find ways to keep their young scholars’ skills sharp, and they will be ready to hit the ground running come September.

Dr. Bryan Powell

Dr. Bryan Powell

With more than 25 years experience as an educator, Dr. Powell came to St. Paul’s in 2014. A thoughtful and experienced educational leader with extensive record of achievement as both a teacher and administrator, Powell is regarded as an outstanding role model for children, and a great listener who collaborates effectively with faculty and parents alike. He can be reached at

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