School’s out for summer, but learning shouldn’t be on vacation, too. “Summer slide” occurs when children forget skills they learned the previous school year, and it’s a concern for many parents, especially parents of children with learning difficulties. Here are some ways to engage and support children at any age to retain those skills and even give them a leg up for the next school year, while still having fun and enjoying their time off from school.
• Try and find some time daily to read with your children. You can start a fun summer book club with a few of your children’s friends and rotate homes where you can meet and discuss the book of the week. You can also stop at the library before your summer road trip or longer vacations for books to take along with you. Set 20 minutes aside daily for some quiet reading or shared reading pleasure. Nothing like a great book for the beach for you and your child!
• If your younger child (pre-k to 1st grade) struggles with reading, it is even more important that you read to them every day. Have them try and pick out words they recognize (sight words) and begin to use their phonetic skills to “tap out” or sound out more challenging words.
• For this young age group, you should also review and practice the sequence of the alphabet. Sing or say the alphabet whenever you can – in the car, on a walk, while taking a bath. Fun activities include scrambling magnetic plastic letters of the alphabet and asking your child to sequence them as he or she says the letter names.
• You can also practice the alphabet with a game–it can be something as simple as jumping rope while reciting the alphabet, and coming up with a vocabulary word based on the letter you stop jumping at.
• Rhyming games can also be fun. Say four words and ask your child to tell you which word does not belong. Make up silly words to get them even more engaged!
• For slightly older children (first grade and onward) start to talk to your child about a book before you even get into the text with them. Ask them questions about the cover, read the chapter headings, and have them hypothesize what they think the story will be about. After reading a chapter, pause and have them reflect and predict what they think will happen next in the story. Review and discuss the different characters and have them start to form inferences about what will happen as you move along in the book with them.
• If engaging your child in a book is a struggle, try graphic novels instead. They have proven to be appealing to students who have not yet developed a love of reading.
• Strengthen your child’s number skills by incorporating fun math activities into your summer routine: count the seashells on the sand while you’re walking, or add up the number of birds you see flying overhead.
• You can include practice with measurement by having your child engage in cooking or baking and having them take charge in following the recipe.
• For kids who are having difficulty making their handwriting legible, summer is a great time to work on that skill, or learn to type. Look for programs or apps that can help make the process fun.
Middle and high school:
• If your child struggles in a particular subject, like math, try to find out what’s coming up in the class next year. That way you can start previewing the upcoming new concepts early.
• Writing demands increase as we enter the higher grades. Finding opportunities when older students would be interested and willing to engage in writing practice can be hard. One way to incorporate writing exercises is by coupling them with fun adventures. Visiting local museums, finding a fun landmark to research while on a trip, and even conducting an interview with a relative or someone in the neighborhood can be used as opportunities to foster journaling and writing.
• As your children transition into middle and high school, organizational skills and independence become even more important. Help your child get a head start on organizing their notebooks for different subjects and scheduling due dates for assignments.
• If your child is anxious about starting at a new school, use the summer to engage in helpful social activities. Look for ways they can meet peers early on, visit and walk around new school grounds to diminish anxiety and increase confidence.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that helping your child keep up over the summer shouldn’t be costly, either in terms of a financial burden or by straining your relationship with your child. There are so many resources in our environment to employ and ways to continue to promote and foster learning that are present as long as we’re creative in thinking about how to include them.
Daniela Montalto, PhD, is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone’s Child Study Center, a part of Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital. She is the Clinical Director of the Child Study Center’s Institute for Learning and Academic Achievement.
At Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone, we understand that caring for infants, children, and teenagers is a special privilege. That’s why we partner with our young patients and their families to offer expert medical and surgical care. Our specialists treat children with conditions ranging from minor illnesses to complex, more serious issues at locations throughout the New York metropolitan area.