Do you know the old expression, “two steps forward, one step back?” It may have happened to you on a big work project or lofty health goal. You work hard for months and make good progress, only for that achievement to be erased after a week of challenges or distractions. This happens to many children too. They work hard on their school assignments and learn so much during the school year, only for some of that progress to disappear over the summer break. This concept has come to be known as the “summer slide,” and it can feel defeating to children and parents. We can help our children keep moving forward and avoid the “one step back” with a little planning and some fun summer learning activities.

Is Summer Learning Loss Real?

As spring turns to summer, we hear and see a lot of stories in the media about the impending “summer slide.” With all this attention, some parents may wonder if this concept is perhaps exaggerated. Do children really lose that much learning over the course of the summer break? A peek at the research reveals that summer learning loss is, indeed, a challenge worthy of our attention. Recent studies indicate that, on average, students lose 17–34 percent of the prior year’s learning during the summer. This translates into approximately 1–2 months of learning loss in reading skills and 1–3 months in math skills. This in itself is dramatic, but then we consider that each summer’s learning loss seems to be progressive. That is, some research indicates consecutive years of learning loss for children. This means that, over the course of their academic career, children may experience this type of learning loss each summer. Taken together, this points to a meaningful challenge to help keep our children’s minds engaged during the summer.

Fun and Simple Summer Learning 

Although the research about the “summer slide” may feel a bit daunting, the great news is that keeping children engaged with learning during the summer doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. By nature, children are inquisitive and open to knowledge. All we need to do is provide them with ample summer opportunities for learning.

Science at Home: You don’t need a fancy science lab to explore important scientific concepts with children. Many fun and engaging science experiments can happen in your own kitchen. For example, children of all ages love the classic baking soda and vinegar reaction. For added fun, allow them to add food coloring to the vinegar and mix the colors together. 

Another child-friendly science experiment is the “magic” leak proof bag. Simply fill a zip top plastic bag with water (make sure it is completely sealed). Then children can poke a sharpened pencil through the bag (all the way) without water leaking out. Your children will be amazed! There are many easy and fun science experiments just waiting to be tried in your own kitchen.

Outdoor Adventures: Outdoor time is always fun with children, but summer offers us the freedom to take on longer adventures in nature. Scavenger hunts can be a novel way to engage children in exploring nature. Based on your child’s age, you can make a simple or more complex list of items for them to find in nature. This is a wonderful way to incorporate exercise and nature time together. 

You can take outdoor learning to another level by encouraging children to use maps. Pull out those old paper maps and support children in learning to navigate directions and estimate distance. Put the smartphones aside for a few hours and encourage them to rely solely on paper maps. It will be a fun learning experience for them, plus they will learn an important life skill.  

Everyday Math: Since the “summer slide” can especially affect math skills, it’s crucial to keep children’s number skills active during the summer. However, there’s no need for boring worksheets. Math skills are a part of so many fun summer activities. For example, your child can set up a lemonade stand and learn about counting money and making change. While helping you in the kitchen, they learn about measurements, conversions, and weight. Before going shopping, support your child in developing a budget for the items you need. That’s a weekly math lesson that will stick with them for their entire life. 

What about reviewing math facts through storytelling? Many of us may not be familiar with this approach, but research indicates it’s a very fun and effective way to foster math learning. Preliminary studies find that when children are asked to create a picture book about a math concept (like multiplication), they learn the ideas better than by simply solving math equations. Consider finding books for your child to read that incorporate numbers and math into the story.

Outings and Field Trips: Of course, outings or field trips are a traditional summer activity that all children love. With more freedom in their schedule, we can take our children on all types of learning adventures. Look around your local area for attractions that both entertain and engage children’s minds, like zoos, museums, aquariums, open-air markets, tours of historical places or government buildings. Even a nearby lake, beach, or nature preserve can be a place of exploration and learning for children.

Writing With Purpose: Although sometimes overlooked, children’s writing skills can suffer over the summer break as well. While they may be accustomed to writing essays in school, encourage them to think outside the box when it comes to writing during the summer. Even in our digital age, old-fashioned pen pals can be a fun way to motivate children to write on a regular basis. If your child has cousins, friends, or grandparents who live in another location, they could write to them often during the summer. With a little research, you might even be able to find your child a pen pal from another part of the world with whom they can correspond. 

Another creative writing project for the summer months (or year-round) is journaling. Many children enjoy having a personal journal in which to write their thoughts, stories, secrets, and drawings. They can even decorate it themselves with stickers or markers. 

Although the “summer slide” in learning is common, it doesn’t have to be inevitable. By approaching the summer months as an opportunity for creative learning and exploration, we can help our children keep their minds sharp. 

Preview Blurb: Have you heard the expression “summer slide”? Unlike the playground slide, this type of slide is one we hope our children can avoid. This summer learning loss commonly happens as children put aside their books and exams during the summer break. We can help prevent this backtrack in learning by providing plenty of fun, but also educational opportunities during the summer. Discover some creative ideas for keeping children learning and exploring this summer. 

The information provided on this site is NOT medical advice and is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, provide medical or behavioral advice, treat, prevent, or cure any disease, condition, or behavior. You should consult with a qualified healthcare professional regarding your child’s development to make a medical diagnosis, determine a treatment for a medical condition, or obtain other related advice.

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