Tips to Help Students Avoid the Summer Slide

Tips from educators, librarians and parents on how kids can stay sharp while school is out.

Heather Lofy
Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Ohio holds a Summer of Success Program at five Columbus sites to help keep students’ skills sharp.

Summer’s here and your kids are happy—there’s no school, more free time and, if Mom or Dad allow it, even a later bedtime. But there’s also a need to keep skills sharp so kids head back to school in August ready for the new academic year.

If you’re looking for the best way to help kids avoid that summer slide, it turns out a little bit of structure can be key. One of the easiest tactics is to stick to a routine, says Brian Bowser, executive director of elementary schools for South-Western City School District.

“I tell parents it’s routines, routines, routines,” Bowser says. “One pitfall of summer is children crave and depend on a routine. Make the bed, have chores kids are responsible for, have a routine bedtime … these are all lessons that children need. If you do nothing else and academics need a break, find those structures to keep in place. It will make going back to school easier.”

Kaitlin Hall of Hilliard says her son Connor, 11, and daughter Bristol, 8, keep the same bedtime during the summer as they do during the school year. They also work on reading skills.

“Our kids have always read to us for 20 to 30 minutes each night, so we keep that up over the summer,” Hall says. “In the past, we have done the Summer Reading Challenge through the Columbus Metropolitan Library. The kids love that, as they are pretty avid readers. It’s an added bonus they get prizes.”

CML is once again hosting the Summer Reading Challenge, but with some pandemic tweaks. Participants can sign up online for the program, which runs through July 31, instead of in branch locations. And while historically participants got to pick out a book for finishing the program, they’ll now choose their book when they sign up. Books will be mailed directly to homes to encourage reading, along with an activity book of writing prompts and more.

“We want parents to understand summer is still a time to invest in your kid’s education,” says Kelli Bates, young minds program leader at Columbus Metropolitan Library. “Part of it is to motivate the children and help them understand reading is a portal into all sorts of information. There is so much to be discovered. If you don’t have the basic reading skills, you can’t get to that point of discovery.”

Most other local library systems also are offering summer reading programs, including the Bexley Public Library, Delaware County District Library, Grandview Heights Public Library, Pickerington Public Library, Southwest Public Libraries, Upper Arlington Public Library, Wagnalls Memorial Library, Westerville Public Library and Worthington Libraries.

Another organization with an educational component to its summer offerings is Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Ohio. Its Summer of Success program is held at five sites in Columbus—three traditional club sites and two school sites, the latter for children who attend that specific school.

“All programming we facilitate falls into one of four pillars,” says Germaine McAlpine, chief operating officer of Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Ohio. “These are academic success, character and leadership, healthy lifestyles, and social and emotional learning. During Summer Brain Gain, our summer learning loss initiative, we have fun activities our kids can do that are educational, but get them engaged with each other. Kids have been at home a lot lately [with the pandemic] and haven’t had that social interaction.”

The YMCA of Central Ohio partners with South-Western City School District for the Stiles Summer Learning Loss Prevention Program, which serves students from the district’s Stiles Elementary School. Bowser says it allows 30 to 40 children to stay connected and engaged with their peers.

“We have come up with a great system where we get recommendations from the principal and the teachers,” says Nancy Brody, executive director of school achievement for the YMCA of Central Ohio. “When we developed the program, it was a good marriage of doing focused literacy in the morning and more typical youth development that we do at the Y in the afternoon.”

Brody says parents will find an academic component in all YMCA summer offerings. Reading is a main focus, as is social and emotional learning (SEL).

“We work to weave in SEL skills because you can be very book smart, but if you don’t have the social and emotional skills to navigate through life, you’re really at a deficit,” Brody says. “This is very important this year with the pandemic where we were not always with people.”

And don’t underestimate the power of learning at home, such as spending time outdoors or even in the kitchen.

“My kids have taken more of an interest in cooking and baking with me,” Hall says. “They learn math skills, like halving or doubling recipes and working on fractions. It’s fun for them to learn that way as well.”