How can parents and caregivers help their children avoid the summer slide this year?

Published June 9, 2020


In the third and last part of the series on pandemic learning, Senior Learning Scientist, Dr. Annie Snyder, discusses how students, teachers, parents, and caregivers can continue learning throughout the summer.

Our question: As we shift into the summer, what are some ways parents and caregivers can help their children continue learning and avoid the summer slide?

As schools close for the year and states begin reopening, families will continue to be faced with balancing childcare, work, and other responsibilities as the world adjusts to the “new normal” while far fewer summer services are available. During this time, experts have warned that children will likely experience what is being termed a COVID slide – that is, decreases in learning due to the disrupted school year and the summer hiatus.

This is a challenge indeed, but just as during the initial quarantine period, there are many ways that families can continue to counteract the COVID slide and support learning even while juggling other responsibilities. While some children may require a continuation of the more structured learning that is typical during the academic year (and many districts are finding creative ways to offer summer schooling), all children can benefit from summer experiences that integrate learning into everyday life. And just as during the school year, learning doesn’t have to take place only within certain hours of the day – it can happen whenever and however it is most feasible for the whole family! Even just a few minutes a day adds up over time and helps keep the learning cobwebs away.

Below are a few ideas to help inspire families to jumpstart summer learning in each of the core subject areas.


Literacy:

Read aloud:

All forms of reading aloud can support literacy learning for children of all ages. While it is always terrific when adults can read aloud to children, remember that children can also read to adults, other children, pets, or stuffed animals. Children can also benefit from listening to online read-alouds, as well as recording their own.

Lean on the library:

Throughout the country, libraries have been hard at work finding new ways to provide services online. Check out the local library to determine whether there are online programs, summer reading programs, eBook loans, book recommendations and other offerings to support literacy learning this summer.

Encourage writing:

Some children may naturally want to engage in writing as a way to express their ideas and emotions, while others may need more encouragement. Families can support writing development by setting aside designated writing periods each day and providing a few basic materials such as writing prompts, blank comic book strips, journals, or even stamps and envelopes for written correspondence. Remember that writing doesn’t necessarily mean that children must put pen to paper – typing and oral recordings also count!


Math:

Play games:

A deck of cards, a sheet of paper and a pencil, and a few dice can all provide countless opportunities for playing math games (for example, Addition “War” with cards, in which each player plays two cards instead of one, and the player with the highest sum wins the cards). Chess, checkers, and other classic board games are also great choices, as they can support the abstract strategic thinking that is critical for mathematical development.

Discover real-world math:

Math surrounds us at every turn, and it can be exciting for children (and their families!) to uncover all the ways math can not only help us understand the world, but also solve problems. Whether children are measuring for a garden, tracking weather statistics, or creating a budget to help save for a new toy, authentic projects help younger learners make sense of mathematics.

Make math active:

Try skip count hopscotch with sidewalk chalk (count by tens for each square!), jump rope counting challenges, or number line dancing. All of these are just a few ways that families can blend mathematical learning with movement. This is especially helpful for younger children, who may be less inclined to want to sit and practice with flashcards or worksheets during enticing summer weather.


Science:

Join a community:

Although we often think of lone scientists working in a lab when we hear the word science, in reality, many scientists work collaboratively as part of scientific communities. Young learners can be encouraged to form their own family science communities (e.g., a backyard experiment family club) or can, with adult help, take part in one of the many citizen science projects that are available online.

Explore:

Both the natural and the human-made environments that surround us can provide lots of options for scientific exploration. For example, nature hikes or city walks following appropriate social distancing precautions can provide families with opportunities to help children explore science in the world around them (e.g., birdwatching, tree identification, studies of architectural principles of city buildings, etc.)

Engineer:

Summer is an excellent time for building things with blocks, cardboard boxes, or whatever scrap materials happen to be on hand. For younger children and older children alike, it can be helpful to provide daily challenges (e.g., build the tallest tower, the longest tunnel, a maze, etc.) to help inspire problem-solving and collaborative engineering.


Social Studies:

Study civics:

What is civics, exactly? This single question can open doors to endless writing opportunities, discussions, and projects during the summer months. In addition to examining definitions of civics, learners and their families can explore ways to engage in civics both at the family level (e.g., creating a list of family rules for the summer) as well as at other levels of society (e.g., learning how the various branches of government work together, studying the Constitution, writing letters to Congress, reading the news).

Build an exhibit:

Museums around the world are offering virtual tours of their exhibits. After taking a tour, learners can learn more about some of the artifacts and then create an exhibit (or an entire museum) of their own! Cardboard boxes, an empty shelf, a table, or a blanket on the floor could be a great place to display the exhibit. To add authenticity, learners may wish to make placards to provide facts for every artifact included. Older learners might want to take digital photos of the artifacts and record a gallery walk for virtual visitors.

Travel the world, from home:

The study of geography is all about the places, physical features, and people around the world - and how all these interact. Although actual travel may not be a possibility for families this summer, learning about the world can happen from anywhere. For example, families can explore atlases (online and print), practice map skills by creating maps of the home or neighborhood or investigate the geographic origins of objects in the home.


This is not a comprehensive list, of course, but instead a sneak peek at the nearly limitless possibilities for summer learning that can exist, even when summer schools and camps are closed. Moreover, summer can be a great time for learners to lead the way by following their own interests and discovering new ones, all while building skills and knowledge that will help them in the upcoming school year and beyond.


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