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Engaging Minds

Ways to avoid the summer slide

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Ah, summer! Parents everywhere are ready for a break from pestering their kids to do homework and study. What parents may not realize, however, is that without this active engagement in learning, most kids will fall victim to the dreaded "summer slide." Children, especially those from low-income families, tend to lose some of the achievement gains they made during the previous school year over the summer break. Many advocates of instituting year-round school believe the only way to alleviate this summer slide is for kids not to take an extended break. Yet, there are many ways to engage kids outside of the traditional classroom to help combat this unfortunate trend.

Heather Chatam, who is the director of Samara Learning Center in Bend, describes the summer slide in terms of a mental pathway, much like a trail through a field of grass. The more one walks on the trail, the more defined the path becomes. The same is true of kids' mental pathways. "During the summer we should still encourage our kids to maintain the routes, strengthen our muscle memory/habits, and continually re-establish the mental-pathways they have been building during the school year, but we all can have a lot of fun and enjoy the scenery along the way," says Chatam.

One of the easiest ways to help reduce the summer slide is to make sure kids are reading. According to Bend-LaPine Schools, children who don't read over the summer vacation risk losing more than two months of reading achievement by fall and can be two years behind their peers by the end of sixth grade. This can be quite disastrous, according to the Beginning School Study. "Early summer learning losses have later life consequences, including high school curriculum placement, whether kids drop out of high school, and whether they attend college."

Requiring kids to read at least 30 minutes a day, as well as asking them to keep a daily journal, are small steps parents can make toward strengthening reading and writing skills. In addition, the Deschutes Public Library offers free age-appropriate summer reading programs, which are not only educational but fun for kids.

Math skills also tend to fizzle away over the summer at an even greater rate than reading skills. Aside from quizzing kids with flash cards, parents can expose their children to mathematical concepts in real-life situations. Kids can be responsible for counting money, figuring out how much the groceries cost and more.

Because parents play a crucial role in determining how their children spend the summer vacation, it is important for parents to think outside the box when it comes to exposing kids to learning opportunities. Visiting an art gallery, watching an historical documentary, signing them up for a multi-sport camp are all activities that can promote learning. What parents should avoid is leaving kids home alone to watch YouTube or TV or play video games all day.

Some parents simply don't have the time to provide teachable moments due to work schedules or other obligations. In this case, thoughtful planning is key. Many local learning centers offer summer classes for children, which include games, field trips and art mixed in with some educational review to keep kids on their toes. These classes are all about fun ways of learning outside the traditional classroom.

Setting children up for success by providing them with opportunities for continuous learning over the summer months will ensure that, come fall, they are ready to move forward into new territory without having to relearn last year's concepts. Learning is fun and interesting. If concepts are presented with enthusiasm, most children will engage and choose learning even if the sun is shining and the school doors are locked.

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