School’s nearly out for summer, and parents, you know what that means: Our kids’ learning is up to us now.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t always feel up to the challenge. What’s wrong with a summer of letting kids drink from the garden hose and watch movies in their pajamas? As it turns out, there’s a compelling reason to incorporate a little more learning into summer break: summer slide.
For those unfamiliar with the term, “summer slide” refers to the significant loss of learning most kids experience over the two months of summer break.
For every summer break, a student loses one month of learning in math and reading per year, according to a 2011 study published in The New York Times. More troubling: The loss accumulates each year and disproportionately affects low-income students — they lose two months of reading skills as compared to one month for peers from higher-income homes.
And yet, kids need a break. In a 2014 survey of 1,000 K-12 teachers, high school teachers reported assigning an average of 3.5 hours of homework each week for each subject (upwards of 17 hours total). Homework-hour numbers were lower for middle and elementary school — 3.2 hours per week and 2.9 hours per week, respectively — but still reflect how much work our students do during the school year.
So, here’s the dilemma: How do you make sure summer is relaxing and fun while also keeping your kids learning so they're not behind at the start of the new school year? Here are five strategies to try.
Say yes more often
Summer is the perfect time for lemonade stands, bake sales, yard sales, backyard campouts, museum visits and road trips. Pricing and counting cash are math. Museum visits and road trips often incorporate geography, history and art. Encourage kids to do the planning and work required to carry out their creative ideas without you, as much as possible. Research shows they'll be happier and more self-motivated if you're out of the way. Instead, if it’s feasible, coordinate the financial support (and transportation) necessary to make it happen, then, let them take the lead.
Put it in writing
I have two tweens who like to argue. Whenever they want something, instead of arguing with them, I have them make their case in a persuasive essay. They’ve written me papers on everything from why they want to host a backyard campout to why they think they should each have smartphones. And the great thing? Unlike pre-assigned topics, they’re passionate about the subject.
Other ideas: Have your kids write and illustrate their own books about what they’re doing during the summer, keep a daily journal or have them create a travel log for family trips.
This last idea allows your kids to record notes, practice their math by calculating distances and jot down impressions. “All important skill development under the guise of fun,” says Laura Todd a Northgate-area mom and travel-log fan.
Run errands together
Because most kids have more free time in the summer, it’s likely you’ll have to cart them around on more errands than usual. Why not use these moments as an opportunity for learning?
“I enlist my 6-year-old twins’ help at the grocery store,” writes Bothell mom Ericka Coleman. “Finding the correct brand helps with reading, [and] getting the correct number of apples helps with counting. Some days I’ll tell them I need X [number of] pounds of something, so they can weigh the produce and see how many they need to get to a certain amount.”
Take them to the library
In Seattle, the Seattle Public Library (SPL) offers My First Library Card book tote bags when kids younger than age 6 get their first card. King County Library provides themed kits in its Books to Grow On program, and many other local libraries offer programs and prizes for kids of all ages to get them reading.
You can also download audiobooks digitally for free with your library card through the OverDrive app. Many local libraries also let you check out movies, music and even board games.
Got a child who needs to improve their reading skills? Check out the summer reading program offered by Team Read, Seattle Public Schools and SPL. From July 1–Aug. 1, the program provides free afternoon tutoring at several SPL branches.
Be a good listener
It’s not just reading on their own that helps kids develop great reading skills; listening to books also supports learning in a variety of ways. “We listen to audiobooks during road trips or driving to each daily adventure,” says West Seattle mom Lisa Waskowitz.
Make reading aloud to your kids a priority. Read to them at bedtime or other downtimes. Reward older kids for reading to younger kids (it’s good for both of them!) or download audiobooks through apps like OverDrive, Audible or Free Audiobooks.
Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2018 and updated for 2019.