Third grade teacher Alyssa Call got a bit of a shock when she returned to her classroom in the fall and saw the test scores of her students. She had taught several of the children the year before, as a second grade teacher, and she knew their scores had fallen considerably after taking nearly three months off for summer vacation. It’s a phenomenon so well known that teachers across the nation refer to it as the “Summer Slide.”
“It’s just kind of accepted in the teaching world,” says Call. “Most of us know the students are going to come back in the fall, and they’re not going to be at the level they were when they left in the spring, but it’s still sometimes shocking when you look at their test scores and see just how far they’ve fallen. The first month of school is usually spent refreshing what they should have remembered.”
Studies confirm what Call and other teachers see in millions of American school kids each fall:
- The average student loses approximately 2.6 months of grade-level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months. (Research compiled for an Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management Conference report.)
- Teachers typically spend four weeks reteaching or reviewing material that students have forgotten over summer break, according to John Hopkins Center for Summer Learning.
- Research shows ALL young people experience learning losses when they don’t engage in educational activities during the summer.
“It doesn’t have to be that way,” says Dr. Ken Gibson, author of Unlock the Einstein Inside: Applying New Brain Science to Wake up the Smart in Your Child (www.unlocktheeinsteininside.com). To avoid the Summer Slide, Gibson recommends brain games and exercises that target cognitive skills, the underlying skills needed to learn.
Thirteen-year-old Tyler Walner knows the power of targeting those cognitive skills. He was labeled “special needs” and tried more than a dozen reading programs before he took an intensive brain training course at LearningRx (www.learningrx.com). His family says they saw life-changing improvements.
“Before the training, I would sit right beside him for at least three hours a night making sure he did his homework,” says his mom, Marti Walner. “Now, he does it all on his own!”
One way to target weak mental skills quickly and effectively is through an intensive LearningRx brain training program, says Tanya Mitchell, Chief Research Officer for LearningRx. “With our intense game-like exercises we work on brain skills like logic & reasoning, attention, memory, processing speed, and visual and auditory processing. But, to help prevent the summer slide, parents and kids can use free, fun games and exercises at home, in the car, and even online.”
Here are just a few of the free and fun brain training games Mitchell recommends:
- Mental Tic Tac Toe: Similar to traditional Tic Tac Toe, this game uses a “mental” grid numbered 1 to 9. Players remember where their opponent has already been and call out an unoccupied space. The player who calls an occupied space loses.
What it helps: Attention, logic & reasoning, and working memory
- Needle in a Haystack: Take a page from a newspaper and time your child as she circles all occurrences of a specific letter. Focus on increasing both accuracy and speed.
What it helps: Visual processing speed
- 20 Questions: Think of a person or object and give your child 20 chances to narrow down what you’re thinking of by asking yes or no questions. To help them work on their logic & reasoning, teach them to strategize by using questions that will significantly narrow down the categories, such as “Are they alive?” or “Is it bigger than you?”
What it helps: Logic, reasoning, memory
- Poetry: Have your child choose four words that rhyme and then ask them to use those words to create a poem or a rhyming song. Or say a word, then have them come up with another that rhymes. Keep this pattern going as long as possible, then start with a new word.
What it helps: Auditory analysis, verbal rhythm, memory
Simply getting your child to read every day is another powerful way to slow the Summer Slide. According to Scholastic Parents Online, research shows that reading just six books during the summer can keep a struggling reader from regressing. When choosing the six, make sure they’re the right level—not too hard and not too easy.
Call says she’ll stress the importance of summer reading to her students before they head out for vacation. She also says that any reading or learning program that rewards or excites the kids will be beneficial.