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Stop the summer slide: Six ways to keep children engaged in reading and math activities this summer

Summer camps, field trips and splashpads: seasonal activities to make the most of long, hot days usually involve kinesthetic play and outdoor adventures. Keeping our youngest learners’ minds active is important and an ideal way to pass the time but this summer, staying engaged with educational activities is more important than ever.

After an academic year that involved virtual classes, disruptions and new procedures, now is the perfect time to try learning methods that feel more like having fun than classroom procedures. “The summer slide” is a term educators use to refer to learning loss during school breaks.

The tendency to forget grade-level material during time away from school equates to losing approximately one month’s worth of school year learning, according to findings compiled through a review of related data by The Brookings Institution. While socioeconomic factors, access issues and other disparities correlate with summer learning loss, children often experience measurable academic decline during time away from classroom settings., a national literacy advocacy organization, asserts that “reading aloud is the single most important thing you can do to help a child prepare for reading and learning.” The organization confirms that language acquisition, increased vocabulary, better grammar, understanding of phonics, the role of illustration, syntax and plot, reading comprehension and overall success in school are bolstered by being read aloud to from a young age.

Babies, toddlers and young children benefit from hearing stories and other printed material long before they are able to read, and evidence suggests a child’s brain does not process words from television, a tablet or other electronic device in the same way. Creating a positive bonding experience through the joy of a shared story during read-aloud sessions is also part of positive socio-emotional connections essential to forming pathways in the brain before age 3, the period of with the fastest neurological development. Just 15 minutes each day is enough to spark interest in the world, create a love of reading and pass along all the inherent benefits of early literacy.

Multiple studies have confirmed that the number of books in a household correlates with exposure to books, more minutes per day reading and higher levels of literacy overall for its members, even those not yet old enough to read independently. Developing literacy skills throughout early childhood is essential for future success. The Brookings Institution also found skill declines in math to be sharper than lost literacy skills. Prevent the summer slide with these six suggested activities:

Start a reading routine: Dedicate reading time each day. Turn off screens and read together for a set period of time each day, such as 30 minutes to peruse a book. Picture-walking is the process in which children who are not yet independent readers enjoy a book by observing its illustrations. It also counts toward literacy goals. Encourage reading aloud, reading quietly or looking through stories.

Indulge their interests: Sometimes, children enjoy a genre totally different than what their parents would ever choose. Fantasy, historical fiction, tales of alien takeover, talking lizards: your child’s choices might surprise you but give him or her free reign to choose a new book or decide what to read next. Even silly selections can be just what your child needs.

Join a summer reading program: Free to join and often with prizes for participation, summer reading programs can help children quantify their reading and stay motivated.

Check with your local library. The Metropolitan Library System’s 2021 Summer Reading program theme is Tails and Tales, with open participation for all ages, including adults. Sign up at Retailers such as bookstores and restaurants may also offer programs with incentives.

Make math part of life and play: Summer reading often covers a variety of academic subjects but teaching math requires a second look during summertime, too. Consider how your child learns best and be open to trying new methods. Counting when playing games like hide-and-seek or when jumping rope, explaining fractions with pizza slices or using oven temperatures to explain counting by hundreds are all valid methods. Connecting math with practical skills may be more effective.

Teach life skills and following simple instructions: Simple recipes written for children often include safety tips and step-by-step instructions. Teach toddlers how to be safe and know what to do next by listening to instructions. Understanding how information is applicable to real life situations is part of literacy.

Model continued learning: Let your children see you reading. Whether at home or in the classroom, make what you enjoy reading part of the conversation. Teach children that learning is a lifelong process by sharing information about new skills you have gained.

Find more learning resources and ideas to encourage summer learning at

Rainbow Fleet Resource Center update: Our Resource Center, a lending service stocked with developmentally appropriate books, toys and games for early education use, will resume services July 1. Membership is available for both parents and teachers at an annual cost of $40. A specialist can help you determine which materials are suitable for your unique needs. Items will continue to be professionally sanitized upon return. Additional details will be announced as they become available. Find more information at


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