As every teacher can tell you, there is a phenomenon that occurs in September called “summer slide”. It reflects the loss of academic learning that occurs over the summer and must be re-mastered before moving on to the new year of curricular content. But what if I told you the “real” summer slide is a lack of play? One of the great benefits of a long summer is that your child is free to pursue their passions and try new things. It might surprise you that a teacher is here to prescribe a summer of unstructured play as the best way to prepare your child for the coming school year, and here’s why:
Go Play Outside
Pick up some rollerblades at a second hand shop, dust off a your tennis rackets and go dig in the dirt! Teachers know that kids who have access to free and unstructured outside play time are better able to focus and remain on task during the school day. You can read more about the positive correlation between imaginative free play and future problem solving abilities here. And this article does a good job of describing how future anxiety and depression can be reduced with ample free play as a child. Sending your kids outside to play might be the best thing you can do for your child’s upcoming school year. Seriously! If your neighborhood is not suitable for kids running free, find a park, beach or series of playgrounds that you love and make them your backyard for the summer. If you are looking for child care or camps, choose ones that offer long periods of unstructured play time, beach days and playground visits. They’ll be less expensive too!
Turn off the video games and TV
The number one reason for summer slide today is immersion in non-mindful electronics over the summer. Children lose opportunities to engage in the world around them when they are plugged into devices that do not allow for meaningful human interaction. Institute an after dinner policy for electronics. Once chores, scheduled activities, free time and other daily responsibilities have been completed, kids can relax with a small amount of their favorite media. In my experience, starting the day with electronics makes kids sluggish and uncooperative for the rest of the day. It’s always a balance in modern households to keep screen time to a minimum, but knowing that long sessions of screen time lead to obesity, aggression and attention problems helps us look to the long term goal of happy, functioning adults, rather than a short term solution to bored kids.
Teachers know that less is more and that by removing options you actually create a more relaxing place to play. Children with too many options often suffer from the analysis paralysis of not knowing what to do when each choice means giving up time spent on another preferred toy. The result is children who flit from activity to activity without meaningful engagement in any. If you are looking to have your kids play with the toys they already have, consider purging the room of most of the toys. Watch them play enthusiastically with what is left. I also recommend giving kids time to be alone. It is a skill to know how to enjoy your own company and a gift to your children to learn it while they are young. Research is telling us that boredom might actually be good for kids.
Read, Read and Read some more
If you only do one thing this summer make sure you read with your children. Read aloud favourite novels, picture books and your local newspaper. Ask questions, make predictions, infer outcomes. If your child is one month old, read to him. If your child is 15 years old, read to him. Reading is learning and the best way to prevent the dreaded summer slide. Besides… engaged readers never get bored!
And here are some other great posts by super awesome people about summer slide. Please go check them out too!
Why free play is the best summer school by Jessica Lahey
Ideas for integrating science and literacy from Share it! Science News
Having fun to prevent the Summer Slide from 3 Dinosaurs
Fun activities that are also educational from Mama Smiles
Why I am not worried about the Summer Slide from Planet Smarty Pants
How to stop the summer slide with books from Thriving STEM