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The Bottom of the Slide

How to Avoid Playing "Catch-Up" After Summer Break

Now that most of us are a few weeks into the school year, we're starting to see the backslide that naturally occurs after a summer of... well... summer stuff.

A majority of students are prone to a "summer slide" — the time of year where students begin what research shows can result in a two-month learning loss. Which kinda makes sense, as summer break is about 11 weeks long.

Do all students experience this? Of course not. Do some REALLY need to avoid this? Absolutely. It’s not news; this is not a new concept or in some far-fetched left field. Stop practicing anything for two months and you can’t possibly expect to resume that activity at the same level of proficiency you were performing at when you stopped.

The argument comes up, year after year, much like the bi-annual argument against daylight savings time. As Chicago is on the eastern edge of the central time zone, it’s still reasonably light outside by 9 PM in mid-summer. Drive to western Nebraska and it’s light out at 10 PM.

Weird.

The summer slide, however, has far greater implications. I was fortunate in my early teaching years to work at a school in an urban environment that implemented a grant-funded program to allow for year-round attendance. The kids went to school for the same 180 or so days, but the school year began around July 15th. We would take a 3-week break in October called “intersession” (which provided a summer school-like opportunity), a normal Christmas break, another 3-week break in March (which overlapped the rest of the district’s one-week spring break, and again with the summer school) and a six-week break at the end of the year.

It sounds complicated, but it really wasn’t. Teach first quarter, three weeks off. Second quarter, two weeks off. Third quarter, another three weeks, and then finish the year and take six weeks off. Here’s the kicker:

IT WORKED. AND THE KIDS LOVED IT.

After six weeks off, the summer slide effect was neutralized. Kids had no problem picking up where they left off, eliminating the “easy review” weeks teachers usually have to allow for at the beginning of each school year before “things get hard.” And when we surveyed the older kids (4th-6th grades), they were happy to come back. Long story short, they missed their friends, and they were bored at home after six weeks.

The disappointing ending to that story was that eventually the grant money went poof, was never renewed, and the schools on that calendar resumed the normal school calendar.

As it’s very likely your kids are on the traditional calendar. What can YOU do to combat the summer slide? High school students these days have summer reading lists to complete, while my kindergartener brought home a lengthy, hands-off, zero-accountability packet he’s supposed to work on over the summer.

He dutifully completed it because in his mind it registered as “homework” and while his sister colored at the table he quietly sat down and busted it out. It should be noted that none of the material was new and he had no problem completing it on his own.

Zero challenge. And trust me, I’m not bragging. There’s plenty of work to do in the literacy department with this one. I should also note that the 1st and 4th grader didn't bring home anything similar. They were just cut loose for the summer.

So it falls to us. It falls to the parents to keep them active, engaged, and taking steps forward instead of backward. In my future posts I'll outline what parents can do during both summer and the school year to keep their kids on the leading edge of the curve!

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The Bottom of the Slide
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