Reversing the Summer Slide
The summer slide is not a fun waterpark extravaganza. It’s the slipping of learning that takes place during the summer when kids aren’t in school. For example, if your child is at a third grade reading level, it is likely that he or she will slide to a second grade reading level if no reading is done over the summer. Sometimes, it can take kids as long as three months to get back to where they left off a the beginning of the summer; and then they have Thanksgiving break and three weeks later, a two week break from the end of December through the first few days of the calendar year.
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Curiosity doesn’t end for kids when school is out, so therefore learning should not go on hiatus. Kids need to read at home, on the weekends and in the evening. Little kids need to be actively read to by an adult; books need to be discussed. Sadly, the summer slide in learning is most pronounced for children of lower socioeconomic status who are less like to visit libraries, museums or special camps over the summer.
The easiest way to fill those summer days is to read to your children and go to the library to pick up books for older children to read themselves. It helps a child to enjoy and become good at reading if they see the adults in their lives reading as well; monkey see, monkey do. The unique importance of public libraries is that they are free and all-inclusive; anyone can utilize library resources and everyone is welcome. This is not a members only club; the library is wide open to all. If children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds can get to the library and read, they will be able to close the education gap between the haves and have-nots. We all have the library.
Research shows that the difference can be made in involving the whole family in choosing books and materials, doing simple online research together (example: how much does the average elephant weigh?) or attending unique and educational library programs together. A local library near us recently featured a multi-sensory presentation about bats — and we even got to meet a few specimens!
As part of their summer reading program, my local library has library bingo cards available to fill in and win fun (and actually useful) prizes. Instead of filling in letter and number coordinates to spell BINGO, we fill in squares with prompts like: read outside, read a book that takes place in a different world, or read an award-winning or banned book on our library bingo cards. These challenges coupled with games and prizes make reading fun, rewarding young readers for the time and effort they spend. Secretly, I believe the adventure and knowledge of reading is the real reward.
Even if you’re on vacation, don’t shrug off the local library. There is a local library just about anywhere you go, even if it isn’t your local library. Librarians are notoriously helpful, friendly and creative people, so even if you can’t check books out of a library where you don’t live, you can still participate in storytimes for young children and other planned programming for older kids. And thanks to our democratic country’s belief in open access to learning — it’s all free! A friend of mine ended up on an accidental vacation when a family member fell ill, and being a resourceful woman, she went to the local library to ask the staff about the best area parks and places to go with her young daughter. An impromptu vacation under stressful circumstances is suddenly made fun and educational — just add librarian recommendations and stir well.
Here are a few ideas to engage your children’s imagination and keep them learning and exploring over the summer. Using your child’s interests (and maybe trying to get them interested in your passions), go to the youth non-fiction section of your library and use the Dewey Decimal system to pick out a few books which can spark ideas for exploration and special projects. Here are a few ideas to get you all started:
**Gardening 635: Choose a few books on the basics and then go dig in the dirt or explore a local park. Can you identify plants? Find a seedling and its ‘big brother’ plant and compare the sizes and characteristics? Many libraries in rural areas (and some in urban areas as well) have seed libraries where you can use seeds and start your own windowsill or backyard garden. Plant something and watch it grow!
**Fairy tales 398: Pick out a favorite from your childhood and share or read the original from a movie that your child has seen. Talk about the differences between the book and the movie. Compare illustrations from different editions of the tale. Draw pictures, dress up, decorate and play make-believe! The possibilities are endless…
**Birds 598: If you have a budding ornithologist at home, check out a few books about bird identification. Compare raptors and water birds — what’s different about their beaks, their feet? Why have different birds developed different characteristics to adapt to their diet and their habitat?
*Pick one of the above subjects and make a day, or even a week of it. This doesn’t necessarily mean building a curriculum to fill five days like at school, but it means exploring a subject the child is interested in and finding ways to relate that subject to the world around them.
*Choose a different format. Utilize not just printed library materials but audiobooks, e-books, audio download services and even DVD’s.
*Read the book and then watch the movie, or vice versa. Sometimes it can help a younger child keep up with a longer storyline if they’ve seen the movie first. Charlotte’s Web and the version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory starring Gene Wilder being two examples. (Note that the newer Johnny Depp version of Roald Dahl’s classic strays a bit too far from the book).
*Read a graphic novel. If your kid is into them, but you’ve never flipped through one before, give it a try. Ask your librarian about their graphic novel collection and you’ll find that it’s much more than superheroes and Archie comics. If you both love graphic novels, each grab one, switch when you’re done, and then discuss.
*If you live in California, you can make a field trip to a local museum less expensive, by using the Discover & Go program and your library card to get free or discounted tickets. Also be sure to check out individual museums’ free admission days. They usually happen once a month.
*To help math skills, watch a game or go to a game. My daughter worked her math skills during the NBA playoffs by subtracting scores on television and figuring out how many points the winning team was ahead. Go to a local Little League game and explain the scoreboard, or take a look at jersey numbers with little ones. Figure out how much money you will need to buy a hot dog. Would nachos be less expensive, or a more economical cost per person? Let the kids figure it out and decide.
Whatever game you play or book you read, spend the time and enjoy yourself. Spending time with your child (or children), nurturing literacy and encouraging their natural curiosity to learn is the best investment you can ever make — for you, for your child and for the good of the entire community.