Tips and Strategies for Keeping Your Student’s Mind Sharp this Summer.
Ah, the summer slide.
For the past 25 years, education experts have been warning us about what happens to students’ brains during their summer breaks, ever since a landmark 1996 study indicated that students lose several months’ worth of learning when they’re not in school. Recent scholarship has questioned the longstanding belief in the extent of the summer slide, and most experts these days are quick to remind us that the slide affects students from different socioeconomic backgrounds differently. The most vulnerable students lose more learning over a typical summer, while students from privileged backgrounds lose less.
However, this isn’t a typical summer. Because of COVID-19, most students haven’t seen the inside of a classroom in months, and parents worry that the combination of at-home schooling and summer leisure isn’t going to help their students when fall semester comes around. Most parents aren’t content-area experts in English, Calculus, AP Human Geography, or other parts of their students’ course catalog, but that’s okay. When it comes to summer learning, it’s less a matter of content and more a matter of core skills: reading comprehension, math literacy, critical thinking.
Here are some things you can do as a parent to help your student keep their mind sharp this summer (without taking away all of their leisure time).
Encourage your student to read for pleasure - and recognize that what they like to read has value
The benefits of reading run the gamut from mental sharpness to emotional intelligence. Students who read more at home typically score higher on reading assessments in school. That doesn’t mean that your student has to read the Collected Works of Shakespeare over summer break or risk being left behind. In fact, it’s not a great idea to push hefty tomes into their hands and expect them to enjoy the experience. Experts say it’s important to let your student choose what they want to read. Their interest in sports, fashion, gaming, or movies can become a bridge to a wider love of reading. Writing for the Washington Post, Karen MacPherson notes, “One way parents can encourage their teens to diversify their reading is to explore different kinds of reading about the topics that interest them.” If your local library is still off-limits, they probably have pickup services or e-book rentals, so you and your student can stay well-read all summer long.
Incorporate math into your day with practical lessons, games, and puzzles
You don’t have to be a Calculus teacher to help your student keep their brain awake during the summer. Letting your student calculate the tip (without a calculator) when you dine out or order in takes five minutes and keeps their percent skills honed. You might consider doing a daily SAT math problem from the College Board and Khan Academy or a daily Sudoku puzzle from the Washington Post. You can make the experience more enjoyable for everyone if you participate as well: make a competition out of it to see who’s got the more nimble mind!
Consider a virtual summer camp
COVID-19 shut down a lot of summer camp activities this season, but some of these experiences have moved online. Obviously, there are things you can’t replicate in a digital mode: hiking, canoeing, or rock-climbing. However, by expanding your horizons, you can find a host of different activities that your student can take part in from home. Many camps have specific themes or focuses, so if you and your student can find something they are interested in - coding, drama, creative writing - they’ll be able to put their passion to work and keep expanding their skills. Staying active and engaged is a key way to avoid a learning slide.
Think holistically: make sure they’re healthy in body and mind
According to the CDC, “The academic success of America’s youth is strongly linked with their health, and is one way to predict adult health outcomes.” Keeping your student’s body healthy will go a long way towards keeping their brain healthy. Students should get enough sleep at night, even if they have no school in the morning (8-10 hours is key!). They should also eat healthily and participate in regular exercise as best they can under current social distancing regulations. Healthy brains live in healthy bodies.
This summer may be different from previous years, but it’s still an opportunity for your student to rest and recharge while keeping their brains healthy and engaged.