George Lucas Educational Foundation
Student Engagement

Parents: Preventing Summer Slide (on a Budget)

June 10, 2014 Updated June 2, 2014
Photo credit: Thinkstock

In an earlier post, I challenged the whole negative interpretation of summer slide, that tendency for students to "unlearn" an entire year's worth of material over summer break. I would argue, however, that a little slide is necessary, and that perhaps what students do isn't so much about unlearning as it is about packing away certain lessons in order to make room for others that are taught in different ways.

In that post, I also mentioned the Facebook meme I recently saw, the quote that declared, "A child only educated at school is an uneducated child." Now, while teachers can attempt to reach out during the summer and continue encouraging students to engage in learning, the fact is that this vital, additional education must come from the parents and families. The student who sits around all day playing video games is the one who returns with more academia packed away than the one who has been accessing their learning through out the summer months.

There are many ways a student can be encouraged to continue learning. And I'm not just talking about sticking them in some suspiciously named Acme-Higher-Learning-A+-Little-Stanford Academy that offers math and test prep and reading comprehension practice in a windowless room, taught by someone who makes commission on the number of As your student returns with on one test or another. I'm sure you can hear my opinion on these little pop-up after school "academies." (By the way, these schools must be vetted to ensure quality. Some are great, but some are merely test prep factories, and for whatever reason, schools pass out advertisements for these programs as if promoting them. I don't get it. There. I'll get off my soapbox now.)

Suggestions for Summer Learning

The wonderful thing about summers is that the learning can finally be as individualized as each kid. This is something that clearly teachers struggle to provide, but which parents can do far easier. So there are plenty of programs out there that will keep those brain juices pumping.

You don't have to spend a bundle, either. I mean, sure, you can. There are sports camps, cooking camps, theater camps, overnight camps, Lego camps, anything-you-are-into camps, and they are all well and good; but when it comes to filling your child's day with brain-building activities, you can get a lot for your buck with a little planning and research.

1. Get a "Job"

Now I don't mean a nine-to-five exactly. I mean a way to learn about responsibility and some skills. We all know people in one profession or other who might mentor a kid for a few days. Think on your own network of adults. For example, my family knows the owner of a dog ranch who boards and trains people's dogs. For two weekends this summer, our family friend is "hiring" my son in order to give my incoming third-grader some lessons in animal husbandry. He'll throw balls in the smaller dog pen, feed the parrot in the office, clean out the fish pond, and help prepare a pen for the new giant tortoise that's coming in the fall. I might slip a few bucks to our friend who will then "pay" by kid. Maybe you don't have access to a personal zoo, but do you know a firefighter who might need an eager student to help wash the truck? Do you know someone who might need help filing or sweeping or typing? Think about what you already have access to and what might be a new experience for your student to discover.

2. Go to Museums

And let the kids decide the donation to make. We all go to museums as a means to help the whole family discover art or history, but the added phrase here is key: Allow the kids who bring a little allowance or give them a little cash to decide what to donate to the museum. Open up the conversation to why we donate to museums and how the community can show their support for these cultural houses. Have them raise money for a museum of their choice. Check out for your local museum for visiting exhibits to discover with your student.

3. Join Clubs

Summer is a great time to find a local activity club. Is your student interested in the stars? Call an observatory and find out what night of the week the amateur astronomer club meets with their telescopes in tow. Does your student like gaming? I don't mean video games. I mean board games, card games, or role-playing games. Many game stores have gaming nights where novices can get together to play alongside expert players. Make sure it's age-appropriate, however. Some gaming stores even have family nights.

4. Travel

Sure, you can take a family trip to a far off land, but it might be just as educational for a child to merely schedule some sleepovers at Grandma's. Or, travel to the past and check out what a local history museum might offer in the way of sleepovers. Even aquariums have joined in on the sleepover fun, offering ways for kids to really "sleep with the fishes."

5. Read

There's nothing more to say about that. It's the best way to keep your kid's brain from going to gloop. Keep them reading. Read to them. Talk about books. Go to libraries and walk amongst books. Discuss books. Start a book journal that you each add to on your own time. Put it in a public room in the house, read your child's entry, comment on it, and add your own for your kid to read later. Make talking about books an interactive experience, an activity that could very well go on much longer than the summer months.

Remember to vary activities. Remember that oxygen is the best way to wake up a young brain. Get them outside. Get them moving. Keep them reading. Keep them learning. Then, at the start of the year, help them unpack.

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