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Turning the Summer Slide into a Ladder Up

Dr. Kate Land is a Kaiser Permanente Pediatrician and mother of three. For more great advice from Dr. Land visit the KP Thriving Families parenting blog.

After our kids work hard all year long they are thrilled for the break of summer vacation! I remember well how great those seemingly endless days of sleeping in, playing outdoors and reading books in a sunny spot felt. But now that I am the parent, I worry summer months represent a time for my kids to lose ground academically and as a doctor, I know they can be months of slipping into unhealthy habits. Teachers know they send kids home in June at a certain level of knowledge only to expect them to return in the fall having slid down a bit lower. Summertime with its long, lazy days of freedom is a hallmark of childhood but can be a harm to children’s education and fitness.

There are far reaching benefits to the free-form days of summer. They can be a time of family connection and exploration into fresh ways to be active and healthy. You can focus together as a family on the value of fitness by heading out for a walk or to the park after dinner each night. Summer can also be a time to develop new skills. And the slide in knowledge base that teachers experience is something parents can help prevent.

Making regular reading part of those summer days at home can help kids avoid losing academic ground. A recent study: “Stories to Stop the Summer Slide: Books to Prevent Summer Learning Loss Among Low-Income Students” demonstrated this. Providing our kids with books (preferably of their choosing), the time and sunny space to read in should be one of our goals each summer.

We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La.
~ George R.R. Martin


Ideas to get started with:

  • Does your child have their very own library card? Time to get one! Many libraries have summer reading programs and competitions to motivate young readers.
  • Let your kids choose their books. Comic books? Age-appropriate graphic novels? Say yes!
  • Ask their teachers for ideas that fit well with your child’s current reading level.
  • Check out these reading lists for ideas:
  • Be sure to let your kids see you reading. In this electronically focused age it can be hard for parents to put the phone down and read something paper-based. Summer can motivate us to take time to relax with a good book too – let your excuse be acting as a role model for the kids!
  • Consider hosting a beginning-of-summer book swap party.
  • Start a parent-child book group. I have been in one with my daughter and her friends since she was in elementary school and have enjoyed reading their books as a way to bond and understand their world.
  • Choose a book to read as a family. One year we read The Calder Game together. It provided plenty of opportunities for conversation and we even tried making mobiles together!

This year at the start of school maybe our teachers will smile to see that our kids have climbed up a ladder to better reading over the summer! Because as they read this summer, our kids will have grown through the stories they soaked up – those of adventure and laughter, those of mystery and fantasy.

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