Using Common Sense: Resources to stop the “summer slide” in learning

If you’re extremely concerned about the “summer slide” in learning, keep this in mind: As they do every year, teachers will meet their students where they are, regardless of how the school year, or your homeschooling, turned out.

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This academic year has been unlike any other, and we may not know exactly what’s in store for fall until well into the summer. So it will be important to keep kids engaged in learning activities — especially those disguised as summer fun.

If you’re extremely concerned about the “summer slide” in learning, keep this in mind: As they do every year, teachers will meet their students where they are, regardless of how the school year, or your homeschooling, turned out.

If you’ve already subscribed to myriad podcasts, signed up for educational webinars and pinned dozens of articles on how to make sure your kids don’t fall behind this summer, great! But according to Peter Gray, author of “Free to Learn,” for school children, summer is a time for immersion in real life. “School, at best, prepares children for more school. Real life prepares children for real life,” Gray explains.

With that philosophy in mind, think about how you can prevent learning loss — especially in subjects like reading and math — while having fun and teaching kids real life skills. And remember: children still need a break. After all, it’s summer, and the past few months have been a real challenge for both you and your kids. The good news is that as families quarantined, parents already were picking up on some of the most educational ways to keep their kiddos occupied.

6 ways to prevent summer slide

Keep kids reading. Seek out the fun stuff like graphic novels, mysteries or fan fiction. Anything that captures a child’s interest is beneficial. Kids who read a lot over the summer not only maintain reading skills, they go back to school better prepared for all subjects.

Kids become lifelong readers for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes there’s one key book that captures a child’s imagination and opens up the exciting world of fiction. Other times, a teacher assigns great books in class, sparking a hunger for big ideas and fine writing. In some cases, parents influence a child’s appreciation of books by sharing their own love of literature and modeling reader behavior — always having a book to read, reading before bedtime, making regular trips to the library and bookstore, etc.

So make reading a family value. Read aloud, pick genres your children are passionate about, get them hooked on series books, count on the classics, find books about things that spark their interest. Funny is fine, and yes, comics are OK. Graphic novels are among the hottest trends in children’s publishing, and they can get kids hooked on reading.
Participate in summer reading challenges, including “Imagine Your Story,” by maricopacountyreads.org and promoted by local libraries. Common Sense Media also has a Summer Reading Challenge and summer reading lists.

Document memories: Your kids may not have a more memorable summer than this one. Encourage them to make videos, take photos and write stories about their summer. Use digital tools to collect videos, photos, stories and more in electronic journals. This keeps their minds active and engaged.

Watch the good stuff: Most of you are experiencing this, but another way to keep kids engaged is by watching movies together. Students can benefit from experiences that expand their knowledge — not just of math or science but of the world around them. Common Sense has created a list of the top summer movies that broaden kids’ perspectives, such as “Remember the Titans,” “Bend it Like Beckham,” “The Arrival,” “Coco,” and “The Iron Giant.”

Summer also can mean lots of TV. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Here’s an idea: Combine their favorite shows with cool activities to get them moving and thinking. For example, “Wallykazam,” recommended for ages 4 and up, is about a young troll named Wally who has a magic stick that creates objects out of words — which means great adventures for him and his friends. If your kids are just learning reading basics, walk around the house or a park together and come up with words that rhyme with what you see — for example, “cat” and “hat” and “tree” and “bee.”

Just remember to continue monitoring what they’re watching and how much they are watching. “There’s the good stuff and there’s the dark and yucky,” says Lisa Damour, a New York Times columnist and author of “Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood.” Damour participated recently in a Common Sense webinar called “Making Room for Uncomfortable Emotions.” She says it’s important to contain what kids are doing on screens and not to let screen time disrupt normal, everyday activities. Maintain the rules you set up before the pandemic, she says, and if you don’t have screen time rules, now is a good time to put them in place.

Have fun in the kitchen: Summer is the perfect time to whip out the chef’s hat, apron and all those measuring cups! Cooking is an excellent learning activity, because it builds up so many different learning skills. You read the recipe, measure out the ingredients, and pick up techniques all based on science (e.g., why would dropping an egg from the fridge straight into boiling water make it crack open?).

Enjoy classic games: Board games like Scrabble and Monopoly can build up your kids’ math and problem-solving skills. Have your child be the banker, and be patient as they figure out how much cash to collect from players, how much change to give back, etc. Get kids to read outloud the instructions on the Chance and Community Chest cards, and the rules of what to do if someone lands on your property. Scrabble incentivizes them to learn new words and improve their spelling, sharpening cognitive skills as they string words together with a limited set of letters.

Explore online resources: As a result of COVID-19, Common Sense launched a free education portal called Wide Open School to provide online resources including virtual field trips,hands-on activities, movement sessions and live events for kids. The curated content comes from top education, media and tech partners.

Apps, games, and websites offer lots of unique learning opportunities for kids — from DIY building projects to learning a new language. Computer programming apps and sites can teach kids everything from problem-solving to thinking and logic. They also encourage kids to become creators and not simply consumers of tech. Teaching everything from simple commands to complex programs, coding apps and websites come in a range of formats designed for different ages and abilities.

Remember, it’s OK — in fact, it’s beneficial — for kids to get bored, too. Downtime encourages kids to use their imagination and creativity and develop their inner selves — essential skills they can use all their lives.

Parents and educators can find additional distance-learning resources at commonsense.org, or by contacting Arizona Regional Manager Victoria Saylor at vsaylor@commonsense.org or on twitter @VictoriaKSaylor.


Ilana Lowery is the Arizona director for Common Sense Media. She can be reached at ilowery@commonsense.org.

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