Updated: Jul 25, 2019
The concept of the “summer slide” (the idea that students fall back in their learning and lose skills over the summer when they are not engaged in school) is based on a study that was conducted in the 1980’s. As a result, for decades, schools, teachers, and parents have worried about how to prevent learning loss over the summer and ensure that students enter the new grade in the fall set up for success.
Recently, however, after struggling to replicate the results of the original study, researchers have begun to question the idea of the “summer slide,” leading educators to rethink what summer learning could (and should) look like.
Researcher Paul T. von Hippel noted, “There is one result that replicates consistently across every test that I’ve ever looked at. It’s so obvious that it’s easy to overlook, but it’s still important: nearly all children, no matter how advantaged, learn much more slowly during summer vacations than they do during the school years.” If there are areas where your children need additional support, the summer can be a good time to give them that support, helping them to catch up in preparation for the school year.
Beyond that, summer is a good time to focus on areas of interest, passion, and importance for students. We at Einstein Academy believe summer is an ideal time to foster values and dispositions in real-world situations, giving students a chance to grow in different ways.
We describe empathy as understanding each other and showing kindness, which can be difficult for students, especially at a young age. In order to cultivate and strengthen empathy, students can put themselves in the shoes of others in different situations and try to understand that view point. If two siblings are squabbling, ask them to switch roles and share the perspective of each other. If your children are writers, suggest that they write a journal entry from the perspective of your family dog or a squirrel or the kitchen trash can. Read the weekly parshah (portion from the Torah), pausing to ask your children how different characters might be feeling at different points in the narrative and how they would act if they were in their shoes.
We describe perseverance as seeking challenges and persisting despite difficulty, which can be intimidating to all of us. In order to foster perseverance, encourage your children to try something new. Perhaps, as a family, each commit to try a certain number of new experiences over the summer. Start small (for example, try asparagus for the first time) and then encourage your children to each select a goal to accomplish such as pass the swim test at the pool or get to the top of the climbing wall or finish a book at a higher reading level. The key with the goal setting is for the goal to be a bit of a stretch, but still attainable.
We describe impact as acting with intent and creating a positive impact, which can be a challenging concept for younger children. In order to emphasize this concept, you could take on a family mitzvah project for the summer, volunteering together in order to create positive impact, but the value of impact can also be highlighted in smaller ways. When talking with your children about one of their actions, whether negative (pinching a sibling, not tidying a room before leaving, taking a ball from someone else at the playground) or positive (helping set up for dinner, sharing a toy with a sibling, getting dressed before being asked), ask them about their intent and the resulting impact in order to both get a better understanding of what led to the action and to help them understand why they acted in a certain way and what happened as a result (such as, “We were late to your baseball game because I had to put away the milk you left on the counter”). At dinner each night, you could also go around as a family and share one thing you did to create a positive impact.
We describe curiosity as asking questions and exploring to find answers, which is a disposition that is natural to all of us, but is sometimes suppressed as we get older. As a family, commit to exploring new areas of interest. Perhaps each member of the family could choose one topic or question to explore and share with the family. Exploration could look like finding relevant books at the library, going to different museums, or asking local experts such as neighbors or grandparents. Then set aside time, whether during dinner or on a Sunday afternoon, to learn from each other, asking questions and engaging in conversation about these areas of interest.
The summer is meant to provide different experiences as students transition from one school year to the next. Using that time, as a family, to reinforce values will help students glide into success the following school year.