Stop the Summer Slide with Free-Range Learning


The summer slide is not the latest dance fad among teens, but a term teachers use to describe how students tend to lose information during the summer months. Students are out of the classroom and “free” from the constraints of learning, yet if the goal of education is creating life-long learners, summer is not a time to mentally check out. If anything, it’s a time to let minds run free and focus on areas of interest; something that does not happen during the school year very often.

While parents may be conjuring up pictures of kids sitting at the kitchen table working through SAT practice books or reading Crime and Punishment, I propose a different approach to summer work which I like to call free-range learning. The emphasis here is to let students control what and how they want to learn over the summer and have a more relaxed approach to learning. My own three kids were never the type to grab a book and disappear into their room for hours on end, so I had to come up with ways to “trick” them into keeping their minds engaged during the summer. Here are a few suggestions:

Travel or explore your city. Going new places and experiencing new things keeps minds active and fresh. Science shows that exposure to new places is good for your brain, so provide some of these experiences for students over the summer. Attend a local festival, try different ethnic restaurants, spend an afternoon in a new neighborhood, or visit a historical site.

Take up a new hobby. Interested in music? Art? Hiking? Summer is the perfect time to learn how to play the guitar or piano or go to art camp. If you can’t afford lessons, try some online learning forums to see if the hobby is something your child would like to pursue.

Journal. Encourage your student to keep a journal to record activities, feelings, and random thoughts. No rules for writing – fragments, doodles, poems – anything goes. Journaling offers students an opportunity to find their voice, one of the harder parts of writing. While most adults tend to be pen and paper people, students may prefer using an online platform to write. Penzu (private) or a WordPress blog (public) offer access through a variety of mobile devices so students can update from anywhere at any time. Be sure, however, to monitor any public postings for protection.

Bring on the games. Games are a great way to learn because most kids are so caught up in the fun or competition they don’t even realize they are learning. Card games sharpen math skills, word games aid in language development while board games foster thinking skills. An added bonus is games also are a great way to get in some family time and teach character.

Let kids choose what to read. Typically the thinking is my student didn’t do well in science, so I need to have him or her brushing up on science during the summer, or I would like for my child to get ahead by reading some of next year’s books. In reality though we all need to read for fun and give our minds a rest from school reading. Start a neighborhood book club for kids, read as a family, create an online book club with far away friends or read individually. Consistent reading, regardless of the content, provides opportunity for learning.

Free-range learning does require one thing: intentionality by parents. Decide this summer to keep learning the focus without your students even realizing it and prevent the summer slide.

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