Summer Learning Slide! What’s Up? or Down?

What Do You Think? Is summer learning loss real? Yes, no, maybe so, depending. 

Is summer learning loss like walking up the slide?

For a couple of years now, always the same. I’m on the preschool play area and I spot one or two kiddos walking up the slide. I gently remind to slide down the slide, not walk up. Also, not to slide down backwards or push another kid down. Other weird things seem to pop up, like licking the slide, going up and down the stairs, then not sliding, watching a toy go down the slide, etc. Even though we are in summer, our preschool still serves kids. The slide gets a lot of action. So there is no summer learning loss, or slide for these lucky littles.

Last day of school most everybody seems pretty happy, summer break is here! Time to relax, take a swim, draw a picture, maybe travel with Flat Stanley, sending a postcard, old fashioned stuff. Maybe camping, a day at the beach, a family vacation or stay cation. But for the next couple months, by about the second week I notice parents and caregivers getting a bit tired of hearing “I have nothing to do.”

Many Amazing Summer Reading Programs

According to the The American Library Association (ALA), “The idea of summer reading programs first started in the 1890’s to keep children interested in learning and build toward a lifelong habit of reading.”

As I scrolled through summer reading and learning programs, locally and elsewhere, I was aware that this was the common thread, programs abound. I found no great debate whether summer slide or learning loss, really exists. Only ways to ensure children keep their brains active through unique projects, and loads of pleasure reading, alone and with family.

Summer camp for all? No, not affordable, maybe day camp, maybe not. Maybe just maybe, after kindergarten there are no, absolutely no planned activities, no field trips, no library, nothing planned to do for the whole summer. Ideas needed!

I really like this Forbes article, shared with me by a Twitter colleague. I appreciate rationale for children of all ages and stages to use knowledge learned during regular school year, to new advantage in summer, a time to reflect and perhaps activate that knowledge in some meaningful way, as a community project, or other. Really useful, the article includes ideas for craft projects, free kids activities, practice websites, etc. There’s so much in this one, check it out. But, again, will all children benefit? Hopefully yes.

Great programs may not be reached by a lot of kids. Truth.

Even when there are loads of summer programs available, perhaps only certain children still avail themselves, due to money shortage. Maybe no Internet access to look at the free websites. Maybe food poor, hungry! Perhaps no shoes that fit to go somewhere. No gas for car, no money for a bus. Poverty grinds away so that if living in one’s car, simply getting to and from a program is daunting. Schoolhouse all year long may be an answer to keep these children fed, clothed and engaged in meaningful opportunities for a better future.

On my wish-list, schools send home laptops and books for every child for summer learning. Oh, is this ever possible? I believe so. And why not send teachers, paid through grants, to do summer home visits and perhaps a little teaching? Realities are made from dreams, and we can really dream big!

Further, since schools are really community schools, perhaps all stakeholders can make opening up schools, perhaps for daily, Saturday school or weekly events for kids and parents, a reality? Not the regular curriculum, I’m thinking of future driven schools experimenting with no testing, grades, Genius Hour all day, every day, Maker Spaces, kindness and anti-bullying curriculum, STEAM, including arts and music into tech and science based activities. Also this is a perfect opportunity for PBL, project based learning, in conjunction with Adopt- A -School, mentoring by local businesses. While I’m not big on labels or acronyms, these count in the plus column for kids.

I know it’s possible. While Principal, we wrote and had funded a major grant for after school and Saturday school programs, comprised of counseling, basic skills and enrichment, meals and snacks. Of course!

At a minimum, we can ensure our own children read, a lot! 

There are so many choices now for kiddos, classics and titles meeting personal needs and interests. Reading in forts, under trees outside on a blanket, sitting at a picnic table, so many opportunities for summer reading and learning outside the schoolhouse, and hopefully some quality library time.

Are we wrong? Is summer slide made up, not really a thing at all? 

…and is it significant? I always thought so, still pretty sure, just based on experience. However, a thought provoking Edutopia commentary by Youki Terada, June 17, 2019, article really made me think. Can it be we have been so wrong all this time? “New Research Casts Doubt on the ‘Summer Slide”. No, I don’t think so. But I’ll come back to that in a bit. The author challenges the original study data which concluded the existence of a summer slide.

There are issues with the replication of the studies and one wonders how big an issue, in this case, when common knowledge, appears to believe, as common knowledge, the contrary. Whenever there is conflicting research I always look closely to decipher what I think is accurate and in this case, I clearly have no idea.

So here I was, flipping through relevant research, not cherry picking facts refuting summer learning and reading losses, and there it was. Staring at me, daring me to read it. So I did, posted it on Twitter and Facebook and changed my blog topic idea, a lot. I am not refuting the notion of summer learning loss, it is real to me for many reasons. Bet, you too.

However, I was compelled to include the Edutopia article, to be fair and better understand what the ramifications are, including my extension to year round school. Although to clarify, this is not a blog about the benefits of year round school in terms of stemming summer slide.

Here We Go Again

Seems like every summer, old arguments for and against year round schools pop up. Back when I was a Principal, our school Site Council studied pros and cons of making a switch and ultimately our district decided against it at that time. I recall looking at successful school implementation of various track plans, discussing with staff, families and community stakeholders. Researching and visiting working sites, then a ‘no go’, but we all learned a lot.

One reason we were considering a calendar change, was the high transient rate, with kids coming and going erratically, living on the edge in grinding poverty, some homeless, some underfed and clothed, school, their lifeline, and way behind in basic skills.

A frequently quoted concern about summer slide is that of equity, to level the playing field, so to speak, which hasn’t happened yet, perhaps two plus months of no schoolhouse makes a tough transition back to school each fall. At least we have always believed so. Is it true under-performing children, challenged by no fault of their own, but zip code, money aren’t further behind each fall, assuming they are not a transient rate statistic? I doubt it.

Here we are, maybe that pendulum swinging toward year round schools again, for a variety of reasons. One big one, the notion of ending the summer slide, the longer vacation, hypothetically means less learning and more memory and skill loss. So, just maybe, change the calendar, solve the problem.

Possible benefits of year round school calendars

  • Better use of school facilities
  • Maximizing staff and resources
  • Less vandalism to campus
  • Feeding hungry children
  • Safe, enriching environment
  • Continuing learning without a pause
  • Instead of sliding, gliding toward new year

But the big question now?

Is the summer slide real? Here’s a short, but I think great article clearly defining summer learning loss or slide, and what’s at stake. I like this Nova article, offering how to minimize summer slide, so obviously Nova thinks it’ real. And every other article I read.

If we believe so, how do we minimize summer learning loss?

How do we lessen summer learning loss? Here’s a neat video for you, from Education Week.

To be honest, I really had no idea there are so many resources discussing learning loss or slide, and what’s at stake; look at this interesting HuffPost article, clearly demonstrating rationale for offering all children, especially those already challenged, summer filled with engaging learning.

I wrote a blog recently about summer reading for kiddos.

What can we do to help? Read my “Summer Reading Fest For Kids”, chock full of ideas for helping your children read better or faster, enjoy lots of classics and interesting personal choices for summer reading. I’ve written a number of blogs about family reading, but this is my new favorite!

No slide, glide! Going up? or Sliding Down?

New research may cast doubt on the summer slide concept, but I am not. I think a lot depends on what’s available for a child to do. A print and language rich environment need not be expensive, the gift of time and energy may be the most important thing. But obviously, it all depends, so many factors involved these days.

Starting the year with review, bye summer slide, going up!

Nearly all teachers start the year in review, of some sort, to excite those kids who slid down the summer slide, but why not? All good lessons start with a review before setting the new learning, or hooking to the prior learning. Parents do it, too, pretty instinctively.

For me, instead of worrying whether the darn slide exists, let’s think on a bigger, more global scale, how can we ensure all children have access to summer learning and reading programs, whether online, in brick and mortar building or other configuration we may not even know about yet. How very exciting! In any event, the best event or celebration of all, is just lots of old fashioned family reading time, long past toddler, and more than twenty minutes a day.

Our purpose and passion, defining moments, helping others.

And whenever possible, besides staring at clouds, drawing unicorns and sharing great literature, remember to take time to breathe this summer, refresh, plan engaging activities for your kids and other kids, each one teach one, tutoring, knowing your dreams, your vision becomes reality through action. Maybe starting a little Lending Library for old friend books, just start with something doable. The joy of reading is a joy forever. On whatever level, give that gift.

Leaving footprints on your reading hearts, Rita.

Leave a comment