We’re in the homestretch of the 2017–2018 school year, and we’re sure you’re just as excited for summer break as your students are. But with vacation, no school, and sleeping in right around the corner, summer slide is gearing up to flaunt its ugly head, too. Summer slide, or the learning loss many students experience during summer break, disproportionately affects low-income students. At best, students learn little or nothing during long breaks from school, but at worst, they can lose many weeks of learning from the school year. Offering resources and tips to parents and guardians to help their students keep learning over the summer can help prevent the summer slide.
One of the most obvious ways to boost summertime learning is through a summer school program. So if your district offers one, you can encourage parents to enroll their students as an option for many learning opportunities, such as advanced classes and electives, credit recovery, intervention, and test readiness.
Promote Learning Outside of School
There are many ways parents can help their students keep learning over summer break outside of having them attend a structured program. Reading is one of the biggest ones, and we’ll touch on tips next, but here are a few other suggestions you can offer parents:
- Play board games, card games, or virtual games that boost various skills and strengthen connections in the brain. Building puzzles is also a great way to boost cognitive and problem-solving skills for students, and it offers many benefits for adults, too!
- Limit recreational screen time. Educational screen time is good for students, but if devices aren’t being used for online courses or educational games, they can quickly prevent students from participating in other activities they need.
- Build arts and crafts together. Here are some inexpensive, colorful summertime craft ideas for students of all ages!
- Visit outdoor markets, local parks and museums, the zoo, or somewhere to swim. Physical activity is beneficial for any individual, but places like zoos and museums can also provide a wide array of learning opportunities.
- Encourage exploration, especially while traveling. This could mean playing “I Spy” during a long road trip, digging through Grandma’s attic, or studying different types of leaves on a hike—just watch out for those poisonous ones!
- Push for those extracurriculars, such as sports, school clubs, and other school-/community-sponsored activities. Participating in extracurricular activities (any time of the year) helps students develop important skills, meet new friends (with similar interests), and improve academic performance.
Build interpersonal and professional skills with a summer job spent babysitting, mowing lawns, or walking dogs. Older students can seek out work opportunities at local eateries, summer camps, community centers, and much more. A summer job helps students begin to build a work ethic, learn about money management, and gain valuable work experience.
Encourage Reading Year-Round
Reading is one of the easiest ways to help students learn when they’re not in school. Provide parents with a list of good books of varying levels of difficulty for students to read over the break. It’s up to the parents to supply those books, whether that means a trip to the library or bookstore, or finding a digital copy, but with the vast number of books there are to choose from, having a list of recommendations certainly comes in handy. Additionally, it’s worth researching your local libraries to see what kinds of reading-related events are offered during the summer break (many offer summer reading challenges for students that reward them for meeting their goals). You can provide these recommendations to parents as well.
It’s also a good idea to provide a list of tips to help parents promote reading at home, especially for students who don’t like to read or struggle with reading skills. (This is a list of tips that could be used any time of the year for any student!)
- Read with and to students on a regular basis, even if they’re high-performing readers. Surveying children aged 6 to 11, one study found that when their parents stopped reading to them, more than a third of them wanted the reading to continue. Shared reading experiences are highly beneficial, and usually should only be stopped at the student’s request.
- Keep them engaged by taking on distinct voices for different characters, asking questions about the plot, and having them summarize what’s happened to that point and predict what they think will happen next.
- Discuss vocabulary words, concepts, analogies, and idioms that may be unknown or confusing to students. Parents should be sure to check in frequently with their student to make sure he or she is understanding and not just skipping words or concepts entirely. It’s common for students to hide their confusion, so they may need some prompting!
- Encourage them to visualize the story while listening (or reading to themselves) by telling them to form a picture in their heads as if they were watching television.
- Stay engaged and positive. In the study mentioned earlier, students described having poor shared reading experiences when their parent was distracted or overly critical. Sit down to read together during a time when you’re in a positive mood and can dedicate your full attention to your student.
With younger students, the reading tips above are more helpful. But when students grow into teenagers, here are five tips to help engage and motivate them to continue reading.
Champion Parental Involvement Everyday
On the subject of parental involvement, we’ll leave you with some tips on how you can make it easier for parents to engage in their students’ learning throughout the school year.
- Connect online: Whether through Twitter, Facebook, or another social media platform, use your streams to get messages out to parents. Of course, there are parents who don’t use them, so you’ll still need to send out important information the way you normally do, but opening up communication through a convenient, accessible, user-friendly platform reaches many parents on a familiar playing ground. (It’s also a good way to connect with students!)
- Be consistent: Many learning platforms, like Edgenuity, provide a family portal so parents can check their students’ progress and grades. But if the system isn’t being updated regularly, then parents have no reason to check it. There needs to be clear expectations on the backend for how often, and in what manner, systems are updated for parents.
- Share other successes: There are many ways to communicate with parents beyond just grades and homework information. Parents and schools are encouraging an environment of social and emotional learning, so sending home notes, photos, and videos about more than just academic progress can be particularly engaging. “Here’s a video of Hank pushing a 1st grader on the swings today!” “Today in class, Julie finished her project early and started helping another student with theirs.” These are things that can be mentioned during parent-teacher conferences, but sharing them more regularly helps build trust and promote regular communication.
Parents can be a great asset to a student’s learning and the school he or she attends. By encouraging their involvement year-round (especially over the summer) your students are in a better position to break the cycle of summer learning loss and start off the school year on the right foot!