Supporting growth and learning at home during summer and other school closings

School’s out and Summer is here. This year, following the lock-down summer of 2020 and hopeful after the widespread vaccinating drives of Spring 2021, there is much excitement as people across the country are looking forward to summer experiences as they used to be. Summer was always a time when most children put away their schoolbooks and enjoyed travel, visiting grandparents, hanging with friends, and attending hobby classes and summer camps. Unfortunately, the summer break in the American school system is unusually long, often stretching from early May (when many private schools end their academic year) to until after Labor Day in September. This gap of three or more months away from schoolwork will naturally result in the forgetting of some content knowledge that had been learned during the school year. More commonly known as Summer Slide it refers to the loss of knowledge and skills that occurs in the vacation break period between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next. Summer Slide may be less apparent with children who are enrolled in summer classes and camps.

To prevent Summer Slide there are several experiences families can plan for at home. Because of virtual schooling during the past pandemic year most parents have probably already developed a level of proficiency in designing learning activities for their children. Still, here are some basic guidelines to keep in mind for those who are still looking for tips.

Apart from the usual summer outdoor activities such as sports, swimming and hiking – all of which are very important – there are countless indoor learning experiences that can be planned around daily activities.

To keep children constructively busy during summer days a well thought out schedule is essential. The planned experiences for children should serve to support their growth in four developmental domains (cognitive, social, emotional, and physical), and also address some academic content learning in Literacy, Social Studies, Math and Science. This may sound daunting to parents but the good news is that several of these targets can be reached with a single interdisciplinary activity or experience that can touch upon all the above content areas. And each experience can be made as simple or as complex to match the age and developmental levels of your children, as well as cultural contexts of your families and communities.  

Say you decide to make Fruit Salad one day. This may be extended into a rich learning experience. First you can help the kids write a list of their favorite fruit. This may be followed by a short research project where together you read up on each of those fruits and discuss where they grow and their health benefits. The next step would be to do a quick grocery run to shop for these fruit and involve the children in adding up the prices and making the payment. Once you return home you can wash the fruit and set up cutting stations on the dining table – give each child a plastic knife a cutting board and a large piece of fruit. The kids would proceed with cutting up the large piece of fruit into smaller bite-sized pieces. Once all the fruit is cut up it is put into a large bowl and chilled. Children then look forward to an afternoon snack that they helped make. While snacking you talk to them about the taste, smell, color and texture of each fruit. This can be followed by a writing and math activity where you help them chart how many fruit tasted sweet or sour.

As one can notice, this entire experience if planned and implemented thoughtfully and mindfully leads to getting kids practice their Reading, Writing, and Math skills and concepts, learning about the Science of the human body and healthy eating. If done with more than one child it nurtures social skills as they share, communicate with each other, and take turns. It also supports fine motor development as they hold down and cut the fruit into small pieces. And cognitive skills as they explore each fruit and identify its color, taste and texture. This experience can be made as simple or as complex depending on the age of the children.

Another completely different experience might be getting children to help with laundry and using that opportunity to discuss how laundry machines work, different kinds of fabric, colors and textures, how detergents and soaps work to clean stains, and then folding each piece of clothing which would be great for motor skills development. Again, depending on the age of the child the underlying academic concepts can be discussed at simple or complex levels.

Whatever the household chore – gardening, grocery shopping, cooking, laundry, cleaning and organizing, taking a walk – can all be turned into experiences in sorting, classifying, sequencing, observing, predicting, sharing, helping, team building, and problem solving These experiences can also be used to reinforce academic content like Math, Science, Literacy and Social Studies. Running errands for the elderly neighbors, or cleaning up their rooms and getting them to donate their old toys and books to those in need promotes empathy and citizenship values. Setting up a lemonade stall on a hot summer afternoon teaches children the value of working and being independent while understanding how drinking lemonade on a hot summer day can prevent the body from losing minerals and salts, and becoming dehydrated.

A mindfully planned learning experience each day will go a long way in preventing loss of content knowledge during summer or other stay at home periods of time. Though reading and math are literally everywhere and all around us, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of reading books. Reading is a fundamental skill that eventually helps children succeed in all other content areas because everything is all about reading, comprehending what you read, retelling it in your own words, analyzing what you understood, and finally being able to apply what you read to a practical situation.

Read more on Summer Slide in the New York Metro Parents magazine: