The summer slide — when kids lose knowledge during summer break — is a perennial concern for parents and teachers. This year, with 55 million children in the U.S. out of school since March, the academic slowdown related to the COVID-19 pandemic presents new challenges.
Preliminary data shows students will return to school in fall 2020 with roughly 70 percent of the learning gains in reading they would have achieved in a typical school year, according to a study called “The COVID-19 Slide” by researchers from the Northwest Evaluation Association, a nonprofit educational testing organization. In math, NWEA researchers estimate students will return with less than half of the learning gains they would have in normal conditions.
At the same time, many parents and students are burned out. We’re left wondering how to ensure learning continues throughout the summer, while fighting remote learning fatigue.
It’s a good question, says Garet Libbey, assistant head of school for Hawken School’s Lyndhurst campus, serving toddlers through eighth graders. She’s also a mom of a rising third grader and sixth grader.
First and foremost, she says, “Parents need to give themselves permission to take a break, and give their kids permission to take a break.”
While the academic slide is important to consider, so is the slide in social-emotional learning (SEL), Libbey says. SEL affects children’s ability to make good decisions and foster positive relationships, among other things.
“If we don’t create space for everyone in our family to express and explore how they’re feeling, they’re not going to be able to access the traditional academic learning we might be concerned about them getting this summer,” she says.
As the governor begins to lift COVID-19-related restrictions, families also may want to consider allowing their children to see friends and loved ones to alleviate stress.
“With your best judgement and guidance of your pediatrician, maybe there are opportunities to connect with neighbors in the yard or take a socially distant walk or bike ride with a friend,” Libbey says. “That also gets at the social-emotional connection. Parents will be surprised about emotional relief we’ll see when it starts to happen, given how little they’ve been able to see other kids.”
Taking a break doesn’t mean summer has to be a free-for-all, Libbey says. In fact, many children do better with structure, so maintaining a daily routine is a good first step.
“It’s going to look different for every kid and family,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be getting up and getting dressed for morning meeting. It might be getting up and going on a bike ride, or getting up and making their own breakfast. Kids can still practice being in a routine.”
For families who’d like to foster their children’s learning throughout the summer in a low-stress way, Libbey points to the following ideas and resources.
Online: Take advantage of summer reading programs
Kids won’t be getting stamps on their reading logs from librarians this year, but summer reading programs are still available. Check out your local library system’s website for a modified online summer reading challenge or enroll your kids in Scholastic’s Summer Read-a-Palooza, which allows them to track their reading streaks through an app and unlock book donations for those in need from United Way Worldwide.
Offline: Sign up for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library
Enroll your children (ages 0-5) at ImaginationLibrary.com to receive a free book mailed to them every month. This book gifting program was launched by the country music legend in 1995 and now sends more than 1 million books to children around the world each month.
Online: Try Khan Academy
This free, nonprofit website offers weekly math learning plans for third grade through Algebra 2 to help students stay on track or brush up on their skills.
Offline: Discover real-world applications
Ask your child’s teacher for some paper-and-pencil practice sheets to use over the summer. Or consider showing your kids real-world math applications, such as planting a garden (measuring) or baking (fractions).
Online: Consider Great Lakes Science Center
Great Lakes Science Center offers free virtual field trip videos on its website to bring its exhibits into people’s homes. The center’s summer day camps are also available as an at-home, remote option this summer for those not comfortable sending their children to camp in-person. Campers will pick up or have materials shipped to their homes before their session begins.
Offline: Build with loose parts
Begin collecting loose parts – aka metal washers, paper towel rolls, twist ties and the like – and challenge your kids to create something functional or artistic with the materials during a designated quiet time. The same concept can be applied to Legos and other building toys.
Online: Get feedback from camps and apps
Virtual summer camps are one place to turn to for writing help. Check out high schools, colleges, nonprofits and private companies for writing-related camp options. Choosing an educator-led camp will ensure students get the adaptive support they need to improve this vital skill. Families also may want to look into apps like Storybird or No Red Ink to help their students build their writing abilities over the summer.
Offline: Do everyday writing and journaling
Depending on the age of the child, opportunities range from writing chalk messages, writing notes to grandparents they haven’t seen in a while, journaling with simple prompts such as “three things I loved doing today” or making a written case for something they are eager to do (such as get a new pet) and have them present it to the family.