Prevent the Summer Slide
by Kelly McCandless
The early days of April bring two significant things for parents: warmer temperatures providing more opportunities to get outside, and the realization that summer is right around the corner. Yes, the reality of meticulously planning how to keep everyone busy and engaged for 12 weeks is setting in. Camps, vacations, and lazy summer days are near, but so is a bit of boredom and a long stretch without the education system helping shape our children’s minds. Unfortunately, that lack of structure can also lead to a concerning buzz phrase: the summer slide.
In the last two months of the school year, teachers note their students’ learning gaps, pushing hard to meet the curriculum requirements before moving to the next grade level. With so much packed in, the opportunity to reiterate, review, and reinforce these lessons doesn’t always exist. That, combined with 12 weeks away from school, can bring on the summer slide.
Summer Learning Loss
According to Scholastic, researchers first noted the summer slide in 1996 when one of the first studies was published on the issue. Recent studies of students in 3rd to 5th grades show that students lose an average of 20 percent of their school-year gains in reading and 27 percent of their school-year gains in math during summer vacation. These setbacks can be extreme and difficult to make up, even with teachers planning to review the previous years’ material for the first several weeks of the new school year.
The Brookings Institute further reiterates these issues. They note that “on average, students’ achievement scores declined over summer vacation by one month’s worth of school-year learning.” They also say the declines are higher in math than in reading, and learning loss increases at higher grade levels. Students from historically disadvantaged backgrounds are at an even bigger loss, with studies noting “income-based reading gaps grew over the summer, given that middle-class students tended to show improvement in reading skills while lower-income students tended to experience loss.”
Educators and summer programs for children do what they can to prevent these significant learning losses. Educators work to have a good idea of each student’s needs before leaving school for the summer and communicate those things to the child’s next teacher to help provide continuity. Any learning gaps are also communicated at the end of the school year to parents/guardians.
Many summer programs offer practical opportunities for students to engage academically. Things like structured routines with scheduled time for educational programming and activities for children to learn through play help keep students on track.
What can parents do now to help prevent the summer slide?
Parents and guardians can do plenty of things to take control of learning loss at home. Before school ends, talk with your child’s teacher(s) and your child. Get a list of the areas where they feel confident in the material taught and the areas where they might need to spend a little more time. Ask teachers for digital copies of worksheets or websites and apps with the subject matter your child can use as a guide during the summer.
Even though learning loss happens in several academic categories, regular reading is proven to help prevent the summer slide across the board. And, kids who have access to high-interest books are more likely to read with some regularity.
The Billings community offers a variety of quality summer reading programs that are free and open to the public. The Education Foundation for Billings Public Schools offers Reading Rocks, a summer program offered in conjunction with the School District 2 free lunch in the parks program (https://efbps.org/reading-rocks.html). Billings Public Library also offers summer reading challenges for kids along with a comprehensive list of at-home learning resources. Find websites to support students at https://billingslibrary.org/489/Homeschooling-and-At-Home-Learning and https://billingslibrary.org/485/Learning-Resources-for-Children.
For additional help engaging students academically through the summer, consider engaging professional support. Local businesses like Sylvan Learning and Huntington Learning Center specialize in working with students to support academics or targeted tutoring broadly. Both organizations offer individualized services to catch up, maintain speed, or even get ahead. Regardless of the why, the personal approach and individual attention are sure to help your student achieve their goals.
Read, Read, Read
Whether inside the home or through external programs, ensure books your child finds interesting are available, either by borrowing them from the library, securing new books through programs like Reading Rocks, or shopping together for books to have at home. Consider sharing books with friends or visit a nearby little free library.
The National Education Association (NEA) sites the importance of access to reading materials. Simply spending time paging through and engaging with books can help children academically. Spend a few minutes several days each week reading with children who need help or make reading a household activity. Losing yourself to the pages of a good novel or learning about an intriguing topic in a non-fiction read can help shape your student and set them in a strong position for the coming school year.
Kelly McCandless is a Billings native who loves a well-planned adventure, being outdoors when the weather is nice, historic fiction and hot coffee. She’s passionate about writing, cooking, education, travel and doing all of these things with her husband Ryan and their two incredible daughters