Tracy Kampa

Some days I just feel inadequate. The message is big and important, yet I’m not sure anybody is hearing the message. I woke up at 3:30 this morning, with the usual “the school year is nearly over, and I don’t think people have any idea how critical the next three months are in the lives of children” thoughts. (You, too?)

“Summer slide” is real. Children, at this point in their school year, are brilliant. They know more than they have ever known, their minds are open, they are soaking up new information every day. Then school ends. For some kids, summer is a time for new, different, learning. These kids look forward to a summer of trips, camping weekends, museums, exploring nature, and new experiences of all sorts. While the possibility of summer slide is real for these kids, too, the effects are mitigated by the brain activity prompted by new activities. Many children, however, are looking forward to a summer of their same daily activities…minus school. (No judgement here; “enrichment” activities are expensive, and work is demanding. Society expects a whole lot from parents of middle and low income families, some of it unrealistic. That, however, is a conversation for another time.)

Summer slide is the loss of academic gains that children experience over the summer months. If you are interested in the science behind summer slide, an internet search will give you access to the studies. The bottom line is sobering: Students can lose months of academic gains over the summer. Newer studies are also showing that the older a student is, the more profound is the loss. One recent study showed that while second graders lost, on average, about two to three months of academic gains, eighth graders lost nearly 50% of the math knowledge they had learned by the end of seventh grade. Teachers, then, spend weeks and even months helping students catch up. Or, in some cases, the student falls even farther behind.

The very real concept of summer slide is a solid argument for year-round school, where breaks are, at the most five to six weeks long rather than 12 or more weeks. Our reality, though, is that our students face three months of time off with few academic opportunities. What can we do?

First of all, approach the problem proactively. Some kids not only don’t lose, but they continue to gain over the summer. What are those families doing that we can emulate? First, get to the library! Studies have shown that the number one activity that seems to immunize kids from summer slide is reading. And the even better news is that it doesn’t matter what they read. Reading promotes all sorts of brain activity that is conducive to brain health and growth. Graphic novels, picture books, fiction, non-fiction, it doesn’t matter what we read…it matters that we read. Second, families with little summer slide report that they take advantage of every opportunity to share new experiences with their kids. Pack a lunch and take day trips, plan vacations around new places and new adventures, take walks and explore! Of course, the questions that come up during such adventures can usually be answered by a quick trip to the library. (See what I did there?)

While we know ways to help prevent summer slide, the reality is that it will require changes in behavior for many of us. We know it is important for kids to read, hopefully every day, in the summer. In years past, kids could earn a new book, and “complete” their Grand Rapids Area Library summer reading program in just a handful of days. We realized that we needed to implement the science behind summer slide prevention, and now we won’t hand out any book prizes until the month of August. Hopefully, then, we can encourage our young patrons, and their families, to stay engaged with books throughout the summer. (As an enticement, kids can earn two brand-new books of their choice this summer!) Of course, there’s an exception to that rule: If you have grandkids or other family visiting for a few weeks, they are welcome to complete their logs in the time they are here, and choose their book before they go home.

In addition to a brand-new book log and approach for our older readers, we are offering a special book log for our youngest patrons. It simply asks that we read to our youngest little ones every day. It is easy to fill out, and even older siblings could be put in charge of the littles’ book logs for the summer. We start our Summer Reading program Saturday, May 18. For newspaper readers, that was yesterday, so please, come on down to the library, pick up your child’s (or neighbor’s) book log. It is so very important. Then, hopefully, we will all sleep better. Happy Reading!

This week at your library:

Tuesday, May 21, 3:30 p.m., Lego Club

Are you a kid who likes to build? Lego Club is open to everybody! Lego creations are displayed in the Children’s Library between programs. We supply the Legos, you supply the imagination!


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