Academics call it “summer learning loss,” people who like to put a fun spin on negative things call it the “summer slide,” and zombie fans call it “brain drain,” but it’s all the same thing: a slackening of academic skills due to the lazy days between grades. No one wants to talk to them in July, but teachers actually have tons of simple, practical ways to address your own kid’s loss/slide/drain.
Brett Martell teaches pre-K through fourth grade at Connecticut’s Brunswick School, and Elena Howell is a fifth-grade teacher at New York City’s Caedmon School. Both agree that there’s no point in giving your kid homework over the summer — it runs counter to the whole point of school vacation, and it’s just kind of a dick move. The best you can do as a parent is point out lessons when they present themselves in the real world and hide the fact that you’re teaching. “It has to be fun,” Howell says. “As soon as it becomes ‘Must sit down, Must do this,’ then it sucks the life out of it.”
Here are a few of their tips, broken down by subject matter.
“Math is one subject area that we find slips the most, because math is a funny combination of very concrete information they need to remember versus more abstract concepts,” says Howell. Fortunately, math is probably the easiest subject to work into an everyday context with your kid.
“Math is a funny combination of very concrete information they need to remember versus more abstract concepts.”
• When tipping a server 20 percent, have your kid crunch the numbers in their head. (Also, yes, you have to tip 20 percent).
• Sacrifice $20 to the packaged food gods and set them loose in the grocery store to figure out what they can afford to buy themselves.
• Enlist them as your prep cook to keep them brushing up on fractions as they measure out ingredients for dinner. If that doesn’t work, sacrifice a little to the sugar gods and agree to make cookies if they agree to help.
• There’s math somewhere in the things they love — baseball is a trove of averages; dancing is a chance to talk about angles and degrees; bike rides have distances, and even the weather can be broken down into numbers.
Howell loves to bring nature into her classroom, but during the summer you can bring the classroom into nature. “You can find nature anywhere around you if you look hard enough and attune your visual and auditory senses,” she says. Luckily for you, whether you want to show them wild animals, the stars, or the woods, there’s an app for that.
Whether you want to show them wild animals, the stars, or the woods, there’s an app for that.
But if it’s a rainy day, the internet is lousy with video that can turn your house into a veritable mad scientist’s lab:
• For kitchen experiments with household objects, check out Whizkid Science.
• For projects requiring more advanced equipment — and the best theme song since Cheers — try Sylvia’s Super Awesome Maker Show.
• For a larger variety of science projects, try Science Kids.
• To hear from the greatest science teacher alive, watch Bill Nye The Science Guy.
“It’s really easy to go outside of where you live and look at another country that’s vast,” says Howell. “But if you look at your community, there are already lots of different cultures, practices, and people who are making a difference on a smaller scale.” For a lot of kids, it’s easier to connect with ideas about the past through things that are closer to home — just don’t let that turn into “making fun of old people.”
It’s easier to connect with ideas about the past through things that are closer to home — just don’t let that turn into “making fun of old people.”
• Start with local history so that your kid feels connected to the subject at hand. Howell notes that kids “forget that history is happening blocks away from them,” so the first step to making history interesting is making it feel real.
• Similarly, trade big bold faced names for less well-known contributors to give them a sense of how seemingly small things can end up being huge over time.
• Identify what’s in the news and walk it back in time. For example, the confederate flag controversy can be traced to the Civil War, but there’s plenty of history between then and now. “That’s an incredibly rich discussion to have, but you have to go back through the history of our country and unpack it,” she says.
According to the literacy nonprofit Reading Is Fundamental, summer reading skills loss is cumulative and, if kids aren’t careful about it, they’ll be up to 3 years behind by the time they reach fifth grade. If you’re going to make your kid do one thing over the course of the summer in order to ensure they hit the ground running when school picks back up, it’s reading.
If you’re going to make your kid do one thing over the course of the summer, it’s reading.
• Lighten up: They’ll have plenty of assigned books during the school year, so let summer reading be about what they really want to read. If they insist that means comic books, maybe negotiate a one-book-for-one-comic-book agreement.
• Have them put on plays in the living room or backyard. Script reading requires pronunciation, memorization, and the adoption of hilariously bad accents.
Howell’s recommendation when it comes to writing skills is decidedly old school — a journal — but she encourages keeping one in whatever form is most engaging for your kid. Maybe they want to put their thoughts on paper at the end of every day, maybe they want to start a blog, or maybe they want to do a video journal — she loves all of it.
“Encourage that out-of-the-box thinking,” she says, “because it will support they’ve learned over the school year. That’s how you extend what they’ve done during the year, so it doesn’t become rote memorization.”