How to Help Your Kid Avoid the 'Summer Slide'


Illustration for article titled How to Help Your Kid Avoid the 'Summer Slide'
Photo: Andrea Chu (Getty Images)

Every year, as summer approaches, parents and teachers across the country begin worrying about the summer slide. The phenomenon, in which some students regress academically during the months off of school, is thought to most predominantly affect younger kids and children from low-income families. And it was already a concern after nice, normal, non-pandemic school years.

No one is really sure what is going to happen to an entire generation of children who just had arguably the hardest and most ineffective school year of their lives. But it’s safe to say that those who would typically be at risk for summer learning loss are even more at risk for it this year. Those kids—really, all kids—would almost certainly benefit from a bit of academic work over the summer. Here are some ideas to keep them learning, depending on what’s available in your area.

Sign them up for actual summer school

No child I’ve ever met appreciates the combination of the words “summer” and “school.” However, after a year of remote learning, they may warm up to the idea faster than you’d think. Summer school programs, which are offered through public school districts (and may also be available for charter and private school students within the district), often include a combination of academic lessons and extracurricular activities. They can offer a chance not just to catch kids up on academic skills, but also to provide them the long-awaited opportunity to interact in person with their peers.

And, as the Washington Post reports, many districts are expanding their summer school programs to be available to all students right now, simply due to the sheer amount of kids who struggled during the pandemic:

“Traditionally, summer school has been a program for kids that have not done well in school to try to make up. This year’s going to be different because now that applies to everybody,” said Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators.

High school students who need to attend a summer session to secure missing credits toward graduation will still be able to do so. But many districts, Domenech said, are also targeting elementary school students who need extra help keeping pace with their peers and special-needs students who weren’t able to get the in-person instruction they required during the pandemic.

Your district’s website likely has information about the makeup of your local summer school program and details on how to register—but you can ask your principal about it, too. You should also talk to your child’s teacher to get their input as to whether they think it would be necessary or beneficial for them to attend.

Continue your kid’s learning pod (or start a new one)

When we realized that school was going to be mostly (if not entirely) virtual this school year, many families chose to set up small “learning pods” to keep their kids interacting and learning in person with a smaller group and in a safer setting. If you did, one easy way to keep them engaged throughout the summer without committing to a full schedule of summer school is to have the pod continue meeting regularly.

My own 10-year-old has done this all throughout the pandemic with a group of three or four other kids. It’s part-learning and part-playdate for a few hours a week, and even though the kids are now all back in school four days a week, we still get them together on days off.

If a summer learning pod sounds like a good fit, here are some tips to get you started.

Keep kids reading during the summer

If you do nothing else academic this summer, one of the best things you can have them focus on is reading. Reading is most likely to be a priority for them if you offer up fun incentives, so your own local library’s summer reading program is a good place to start. Scholastic also is hosting a virtual summer reading program that offers free stories, games, and virtual rewards.

You know what else motivates kids to read? Pizza, that’s what. Pizza Hut is again offering its beloved BOOK IT! program, in which kids in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade can read books to earn certificates for free, one-topping personal pan pizzas.

If none of that strikes their fancy, we also have more tips for how to create your own summer reading program at home.