Mind the Gap: Summer Slip and the Return to School
It is hard to believe that August is already upon us. At this point in the summer, we are often torn between enjoying the last bit of summer and contemplating how to get our children prepared to return to school. Many of us who have children in our lives often worry about our children’s academic skills slipping over the summer - the so-called "summer slip". We try to come up with ways to support them over the eight weeks they are away from school (four weeks if your children are in year-round school programs). The question of preventing "summer slip" is even more pronounced this year than in any other as we continue living under the impact of a global pandemic.
Regardless of how your family has coped with the pandemic, the reality is that our children experienced a year of uncertainty, change to their predictable routines, and interruptions to their learning. Some students spent the last year learning online and others experienced a combination of in-person and online learning. Students donned masks to attend school and hand sanitizer became a regular part of their days. Students who were homeschooled likely experienced some interruption to their learning too through worry and uncertainty about COVID-19. While most of our children adapted well to these new expectations, it was a change and it had an impact on their learning.
We have all heard a lot about the “gap in learning” as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of us are wondering though: if everyone is experiencing a gap, is it still a gap or is it just where the students are? When school returns in September, teachers are preparing to meet students where they are and support their learning as schools potentially return to more normal learning environments this fall. These preparations bring about a new kind of worry for everyone: what will happen for our kids and their learning? What can we do about it?
The first thing we can do is breathe. Many mental health experts have recommended that the best thing we can all do is support our children through encouraging connections with peers and having some fun together. The next thing is to have some fun with them while including some reading and writing.
Reading & Literacy
Regardless of your children’s ages, there are fun ways to support literacy.
- Have a family game night with designated readers (the kids) who read the instructions, the game cards, and keep score (add in some math practice!).
- Put the television on mute and take turns reading the subtitles.
- Buddy read with your child: you read a paragraph then they read a paragraph (or a sentence or a page). This encourages your child to follow along with the reading and to track where they will be reading.
- For earlier readers struggling with sight words, put labels on items around your home and read them with your child daily. Ask the child to put something on the couch, point to the label “couch” and have your child read it back to you.
- Play rhyming games in the car: Let’s play a rhyming game. How many words can we rhyme with cat?
- Have a scavenger hunt using letters of the alphabet: Find me something in the living room (or outside at a park) that starts with the letter b (or its sound!).
- Look up lyrics to a favourite song and read them together and then sing them!
- If you are comfortable, consider a trip to the library to look at some new books together.
- Select a family book to listen to in the car and have a hard copy available to take turns following along.
- Paint words or letters on the fence or sidewalk with water and watch them disappear.
- Create a hopscotch using sight words or letters (include those vowels). The rules are jumper must make the sounds or read the words as they pass over each square.
- Have a mixed-up meal and have your child create the menu (writing it out and then reading it at the table to present the meal).
- Encourage your child to read to a pet or a stuffed animal, or anyone they are comfortable reading to (still using Facetime, or Zoom, or Google Chat, or WhatsApp… with grandparents, or special people? Consider having your child spend some time reading to these special people!
If you have already registered your child in a reading intervention program or a tutoring program, that is a wonderful support. Receiving explicit and direct intensive instruction is important for children diagnosed with Learning Disabilities. However, if you have not, you are not doing anything wrong. Now, more than ever, it is time to determine what will work best for your family. Even five minutes a day of reading is helpful to your child!
While we are emphasizing reading, please do not forget about math! Continuing to build foundational math skills regardless of your child’s age and grade is also important. Consider adding math skills to your child’s day every day.
Basic Math Skills
- Play War. Flip two cards and add them together. The largest sum wins the hand. Follow normal war rules. For a more challenging version, multiply both numbers and highest product wins. (Jacks are 11, Queens are 12, Kings at 13, and Aces are either 1 or 14). If your child is younger or struggling with multiplication, all face cards are 10 and Aces are worth 1.
- Play “Higher-Lower”. Roll two dies, add the two rolls together. Then guess is the next roll will be higher or lower. Then roll. If you are correct, you get a point and then guess if the next roll will be higher or lower and roll again. If incorrect, you lose your turn and then play moves to the next person.
- Play cribbage.
- Play Dutch Blitz (available at Toys R Us, Chapters, Superstore) and make sure you are keeping score. Have the person who is working on their math skills keep score. Keep in mind there are negative and positive integers to work with here.
- Have your child pay for a small treat (ideally with cash) and then predict the change they should receive and count it.
- When out for a walk count the lines in the sidewalk (by 1s, or 2s, or 3s, or 4s,…) or count steps or trees or flowers etc.
- Agree to meet at a particular time and then ask them what time it is now and how many minutes from now they will meet you.
- Change your hopscotch from letters to numbers. Consider using fact families for students struggling with basic math facts. The kids need to throw their stone onto a number and then find the second number that equals the target sum. For example, 10 is the target sum. I toss my stone on 1, I then need to jump to 9 and I would say 1+9=10; or 2+8, or 8+2, 3+7, 7+3 etc.
- Don’t forget about subtraction, multiplication, and division! Games like War can be played with subtraction and multiplication (Highest number still wins).
- Fractions? Do some baking and half the recipe or double it!
- Everyone does a math minute. Involve the whole family with doing math facts for one minute (set a timer). Everyone does what they can in one minute. Again, a theme is helpful here: only addition to a particular target number, or only subtraction using a fact family you worked on before. Example 10-3, 10-5, 10-6, 10-0 if yesterday we worked on addition to 10.
Preparing your Child to Return to School
As September 1st approaches, consider rehearsing the route your child takes to school. Whether your child walks, rides a bike, skateboards, takes the bus, or rides in a car, do the route with them a few times while having some fun:
- Take some silly pictures along the way.
- Hide a token along the route if you walk or bike.
- Pick out a favourite landmark along your route and make up a story about it.
This will help your child create some fun (and meaningful) things to do along the way to school and on their way home too. There is also the added benefit of potentially easing some worry and making the return to school just a little bit easier.
Remember, your children learn how to handle their worries from you. Learning can be fun and we are not going to close any gaps in one month. If we all take a collective breath and remember to balance learning with fun, connection, and patience, your child will continue making progress. Progress is ultimately determined by your child. One child’s success might be remembering the difference between the sounds "e" and "i" make, while another child’s success might be remembering 82+18 is the same as 18+82, while still another child’s success might be finishing their tenth novel this summer. The point is we need to measure our child’s learning growth against our child’s measuring stick and not anyone else’s.