As the school year draws to a close, I am looking forward to the laidback freedom of summer with its less hectic schedule and longer daylight hours. If I’m being completely honest, there’s something really incredible about turning off my alarm clock for the foreseeable future. For me, it’s time to recharge, to reflect and to prepare to return to the classroom and library renewed with energy and ideas.
As an educator, I’m also keenly aware of the potential for kids to suffer from the summer slide—a loss of academic progress over the course of the summer months. According to a study done by the Colorado Department of Education, children in low-income households fall behind an average of 2 months in reading during the summer. And, summer slide is cumulative, with these learning losses building up each summer.
The basic solution? Stay engaged in learning: read, write, do some math.
I’m fully supportive of those ideas. To me, there’s nothing better than a nice glass of lemonade and a good book. I want that for our kids too. And while it may be tempting to pull out flashcards and stock up on workbooks, let’s not forget that life experience also teaches a lot. The more one’s horizons are expanded, the more we can comprehend when we read.
Learning happens when we do things we have never done before and experience places we have never been. As summer ramps up, it’s the perfect time to encourage your students’ families to take a few minutes to collaborate with the children in their lives on a summer bucket list. The collaboration part is key. Having some autonomy and being engaged in the decisions make the experience richer and more meaningful for kids.
It doesn’t have to be an expensive and exotic list to make a difference. The list can be as ambitious as your time and budget allow, so if you want to (and can afford) travel, that’s great… but even a shared trip to the home improvement store to buy supplies for a broken doorknob has value. What’s most important is that the list is full of doable activities that you appeal to you both.
At a loss for where to begin? Let me see if I can get you started…
- Explore the local park — swing on the swings, fly down the slide, do your best on the monkey bars
- Borrow a field guide from the library and identify native plants, interesting bugs, and colorful birds
- Learn to play Chess, checkers, or Dominos — all three are perfect for thinking more than one step ahead, and also give kids a chance to practice winning with grace (or losing that way too)
- Pack a picnic lunch
- Build a birdhouse
- Go fishing
- Dangle your feet in the water off the dock at a nearby lake
- Bake cookies (or even stir together the no-bake kind)
- Make real lemonade
- Walk the dog
- Invent something
- Create sculptures from recycled materials
- Dig out the Play-Doh
- Write positive messages with sidewalk chalk
- Volunteer at the local animal shelter
- Wander through a museum
- Hike a trail
- If you live in the city, head out to the country for a day… and if you live in the country, take a day or two to visit to the city
- Memorize a favorite poem
- Play basketball
- Host a baking competition and invite friends and neighbors
- Fly a kite
- Learn yoga
- Make musical instruments out of recycled materials and strike up a band
- Learn to shoot marbles
- Put together a jigsaw puzzle (some libraries even loan them out)
- Put on a puppet show with homemade sock puppets
- Go to the drive-in theater (if you can still find one!)
- Share an ice cream cone (or two)
- Play tag (even more fun when the lightning bugs come out)
- Visit a fire station
- Dig out the jump ropes and work your way up to double Dutch
- Pick berries at a local farm
- Put together a scavenger hunt
- Explore a local greenhouse
- Have a water balloon battle
- Go bowling
- Plant a veggie garden, in a plot in the garden or even a window-ledge container
- Play cards and learn a new game or two
- Learn to juggle — a little hand-eye coordination is great, but even better is the sense of accomplishment!
Of course, add “read lots of books” to the list, but also consider listening to an audio book while you run errands in the car (or on an epic road trip), savoring a bit of silly poetry, or flipping through the pages of a nonfiction title or two.
Need some suggestions here too? As a librarian, I’m always happy to oblige.
- “Long Way Down” by Jason Reynolds (mature themes, strong language)
- “Brown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson
- “Unbound” Ann E. Burg
- “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” by J.K. Rowling
- “The One and Only Ivan” by Katherine Applegate
- “Mr. Lemoncello’s Library” by Chris Grabenstein
- “Wishtree” by Katherine Applegate
- “The War That Saved My Life” by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
- “Esperanza Rising” by Pam Muñoz Ryan
- “Wedgie & Gizmo” by Suzanne Selfors
- “Clementine” by Sara Pennypacker
A sampling of silly (and not so silly) poetry and poets:
- Anything by Shel Silverstein
- Anything by Jack Prelutsky
- “A Poke in the I” by Paul Janeczko
- “The Blacker the Berry” by Joyce Carol Thomas
- “Meet Danitra Brown” by Nikki Grimes
- “Mirror, Mirror” by Marilyn Singer
- “Color Me a Rhyme” by Jane Yolen
And a few recent nonfiction titles guaranteed to draw readers in:
- “Speediest: 19 Very Fast Animals - Steve Jenkins
- “The Way Things Work - David Macaulay
- “Weird But True - National Geographic Society
- “First Generation: 36 Trailblazing Immigrants And Refugees Who Make America Great” by Sandra Neil Wallace, Rich Wallace and Agata Nowicka
- “Little Leaders: Bold Women In Black History” by Vashti Harrison
- “The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind” by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
- “Something Rotten: A Fresh Look At Roadkill” by Heather L. Montgomery and Kevin O’Malley
- “Interactive History Adventures” — an incredible series of choose-your-own-adventure style stories based on actual history, written by various authors.
If you can, stay connected with kids over the summer.
- Send them a postcard or letter and tell them about a book you enjoyed and invite them to send you one back.
- Plan a Google Hangout/Skype book club with interested members of your class.
- Invite your students to meet you at the local ice cream place (or the public library) just to talk about the books they’ve read so far.
- Encourage your students to form their own book club. To support their discussion, you can provide them with a set of generic book club discussion questions like these.
- Send home a list of fun reading comprehension activities like this one by Elizabeth Mulvahill on We Are Teachers.
Any of these have the potential to inspire your students to pick up another book, and another, and even another. Each one helps. Every single book they devour helps them sneak past that summer slide.
When the days of summer come to an end, and it’s time to pack lunches, zip backpacks, and head back to school, take time to talk to your new class not just about their summer vacations, swim lessons and goals for the new school year, but also about what books they read. And share your favorites with them too. It’s a great way to get to know each other.
Summer offers the perfect opportunity to explore new interests and develop passions. Give your students a little encouragement to play a little, to build stuff, and to get creative. And last, but never least, encourage them to read (a lot). I promise, they won’t miss the flashcards and the workbooks, and that summer slide won’t stand a chance.