Our kids our vibrating right now and we – their parents – are, too. It’s the time of year when school exhaustion has set in and the kids have their noses pointed squarely toward the fun and freedom of summer. Parks, pools, playgrounds – the 3 P’s of summer are just around the corner and we’re excited for them to be on their bikes, riding or ambling from one fun summer activity to the next, with no eye toward subject academic for at least three months.
We worry some in our house about the “summer slide” or that period where children put aside structured learning in the classroom and go about their summers of fun and frivolity. And because we’re so embedded in a school culture where homework and activities and all those things that we do or feel obligated to do, we worry about how summer can have an impact on that.
I’m here to assure you, however, that the summer slide is a myth that adults amplify and perpetuate. We live out this idea of the summer slide because teachers tell us that it’s real. And, to be honest, our children might regress a little bit with some of the traditional learning they’re doing during the school year.
That traditional, and even rote, learning, can come back relatively quickly or be prompted during the summer with good traditional (workbooks, Khan Academy) and non-traditional (see some below) activities. Let’s be honest: we don’t forget how to do the basics of math or how to read once we’ve learned how to do it. A little tune-up and we’re back in the flow.
The truth is, when we think about the summer slide in our house, we ideally think about it less as a “slide from something” than a “slide into something.” It’s true that we’re eschewing the rigid schedule and discipline of the school year, but in exchange we get something pretty special.
That something is an opportunity for families like mine to unbridle ourselves of the constraints, structure, and “busy-ness” of the school year and slide into learning that is more unstructured, emergent, and exploratory. What does that unstructured, emergent, exploratory time look like?
- Planned but unstructured (in terms of time or “have to see” items) trips to the park, zoo, farms, or museums. The whole point of these excursions is not to rush from thing to thing, but follow your child where they draw you and what draws their interests. We live in the country and we encourage the kids to, quite literally, “go outside and wander around, find something to do, or bring back something interesting.” They never fail to delight themselves and us.
- Learning new skills and things. Summer is a great time to teach your child to do something new that can be a lifelong gift or to have grandparents, relatives, or friends do the same thing. Set a goal with your young child to make a piece of clothing for the summer, grow flowers in pots or a garden, or create a piece of art every week using different media.
- Let your child explore with no schedule in mind: if they can ride their bike, set them out on a photo scavenger hunt with your phone or an iPod. Send them to the neighborhood library and bring it home. Go to the park with a friend and meet them there after for ice cream. Always be safe, but untether them and their time so they learn how to explore a little on their own.
The summer slide is a myth that we create because we lose the structure of a school system that imposes one on us, our children, and for economies in education. Rather than seeing the summer slide as one that represents regressing, let’s think about it differently: the summer slide is “into” new opportunities to learn, connect, and have adventures that a highly structured school environment simply can’t provide.
About the Author
Bill Anderson is a father of 4 who shares his experiences about parenting and life with Guidepost Parent.
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