For me, the summer of 1994 had to be one of the most exciting summers on record. Between Jim Carrey’s The Mask coming to theaters, the Rangers winning the Stanley Cup, and Weezer releasing their first album, I had an awful lot of things to distract me. But the fact is, all those distractions took their toll on what I’d learned in school.
You see, at the end of August, my sister and I were having a friendly competition to see who had neater penmanship when writing in cursive. By my memory, I was winning, until I tried to spell the word “question.” It’s not that I’d forgotten how to spell the word. I’d simply fallen victim to the “summer slump” and forgotten how to write a lowercase q in just two months.
I am by no means alone in this experience. All evidence suggests that the “summer slump” is a very real thing. Research has suggested that students lose two months of grade equivalent reading level during the summer months. We can compare the brain to an unexercised muscle that loses strength in the absence of use. But surely there are tips and tricks that every parent and student can use to avoid backsliding before September.
Here are a few suggestions to keeping our students’ brains sharp during July and August.
1. Visit the local library regularly. Having previously worked in the children’s section of a library for five years, I cannot say enough how useful it is to bring students to the library over the summer. New York State sponsors a summer reading program where children can earn prizes for completing books over the summer. Libraries often have special programs during the summer months specifically targeted to keep students thinking, engaging, and imagining. Visit your local librarian or library branch website for more information. And hey, it also helps that many libraries are air conditioned during those unbearable New York City heat waves! Nothing will stave off the summer slump better than regular reading habits.
2. Bring your child on experiences to keep them engaged. We live in the most vibrant and culturally important city in the world. Our kids have so much at their very fingertips that it’s almost our duty to take advantage of everything New York has to offer. Bring them to the Cloisters Museum right here in the neighborhood (admission is only a suggested donation) and see the look on their faces when you tell them that each one of the cloisters was meticulously moved from a church in Europe. Check out the American Museum of Natural History (again, a suggested donation) or the Hayden Planetarium. On Wednesday take a trip to the Bronx Zoo (they offer “pay what you want” Wednesdays) and see what the polar bear is up to in the summer. The New York Philharmonic hosts a free concert in Van Cortlandt Park on July 15. There’s so much more than I’ve mentioned. See for yourself just by Googling “free summer nyc.”
3. Help your child find a hobby. But first, let’s be clear on what a hobby is. Yes, going outside and playing ball or socializing with friends are fun activities–a great part of summer and certainly essential to adolescent development. But do not confuse these activities with hobbies. A good hobby piques a child’s interest and makes them hungry for more information. They’ll read about their hobby and talk about their hobby to friends. A hobby keeps the mind active and challenges the child to excel at it. Building and launching model rockets is great fun and educational (kits are available at Target). Learning a new craft builds creativity and encourages reading. My wife informs me that there are countless craft projects available on Pinterest. And while you’re at your local library, you can always check out a cookbook (reading skills AND math skills!) for family-friendly recipes.
By William Olsen-Hoek, William.Olsen-Hoek@inwoodacademy.org