When school is in session, students gain not only academic knowledge, but life skills they can apply to be successful in school (EF skills like organization, prioritization, planning, etc.). Because some of these skills go relatively unused in the unstructured summer season, many students return to school in the fall with less knowledge than they ended the year with, and are often out of practice in terms of their executive functioning. We refer to this as the “summer slide”: over the course of the summer months, students regress and lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained the previous school year.
Due to the lack of structured academic stimulation throughout the summer, the summer slide can be difficult to prevent. Fortunately, there are plenty of approaches to combat this phenomenon. Some suggest involving a student in summer programs through their school, libraries, museums, or other learning institutions; others advocate for reading and practicing math to keep those skills sharp.1,2 It’s important to remember that each student is unique, and everyone will likely benefit from different approaches. Since the summer slide typically impacts two areas—knowledge and EF skills—there are two approaches to mitigate its effects.
Below are a few effective strategies to help students retain the knowledge gained throughout the academic year:
- Encourage students to read. Reading is among the most widely-recommended ways to keep students’ academic minds firing over the summer. When encouraging a student to read over the summer, consistency is key, and reading with the intent to really comprehend and retain the content is what prevents the summer slide. Making time to talk to students about the books they read ensures that you have the opportunity to gauge their understanding. The Children’s Literacy Initiative is in favor of a “Goldilocks” approach to selecting a book for a student: the book needs to be easy enough to avoid frustration, but challenging enough to prevent boredom while reading.3
- Engage in educational games. From the student perspective, summer is a time to engage in preferred activities as opposed to academically focused activities. While we want them to stay sharp and knowledgeable over the summer, we don’t want to enforce that concept with methods that will make them defensive or resentful. Work to find a middle-ground: vocabulary games, apps or websites where they “win” when they’re successful, etc. If you can find methods that provide dopamine in some capacity, like through the idea of “winning,” students are more likely to retain information, and do so in a more relaxed context.
- Practice writing.2 Writing skills really come down to practice, which is part of the reason that student progress is so hindered by the three months of summer. During the school year, students’ writing is usually limited to academic topics. However, over the summer, encourage them to flex their creative muscles and free-write about anything they want. Not only will this inspire students to write of their own accord, but it will help them write more easily the following year. This also helps students brainstorm with less hesitation or stress associated with the task.
As many students struggle to remember content covered the previous year, there are just as many students who struggle to maintain some of the academic skills they gained the previous year. Below are examples of effective strategies to help a student retain those skills.
- Find other opportunities outside of classroom learning to encourage experiential learning. Active opportunities, like encouraging volunteering, or spending time outside, can be turned into learning experiences.1,2 Applying the discipline and the sequencing processes (taught through experiences in the academic year) to non-academic activities that still have structure and require attention helps students reinforce their understanding of these idea through practice, allowing those concepts to keep their momentum and not get lost over the summer.
- Engage in team-oriented exercises. Some schools encourage group work in their classes, which necessitates many important skills for students to learn like communication, emotional regulation, and compromise. As group work can require lots of coordination and organization, it can be particularly difficult for students with ADHD to have time away from this practice. Sports, camps, time with family, and any other group activities are really beneficial in helping students maintain this practice during the summer.
- Make plans. Summer for students is often a long period of unstructured time, requiring little to no planning or time management on the student’s part. Parents and educators can model structured time and consistent routines, as well as help students to make similar plans over the summer in order to start managing their own time between their activities and free time.
- Set goals.3 Goals are a very helpful way for students to stay on track, especially when dealing with such a time period like summer. The nature of goals can be very diverse (reading, learning, athletic, or social goals), but simply having something to work towards can help students practice making and keeping commitments, which will serve them well when they continue into the academic year.
It’s generally accepted that the best way to effectively prevent the summer slide is to create fun opportunities to keep students in practice. It can be challenging for students to be motivated to engage in learning opportunities during the summer, so it can be easily applied in the context of fun, “summer-type” experiences. Creating learning experiences (both academic experiences and skill-building exercises) can also help the student remember these more when they return to school, as it may be easier to make a connection from a fun experience to what they learned from it.
The summer slide is one typical result common effect of the summer months on students; however, its effects can be mitigated by creating opportunities for effort and engagement for a student. Below are some of the strategies that were covered in this article.
Strategies to retain academic knowledge gained during the prior year:
- Encourage reading over the summer.
- Engage in educational games.
- Practice writing.
Strategies to retain academic skills developed during the prior year:
- Find opportunities to encourage experiential learning.
- Engage in team-based activities.
- Create plans to aid in time management.
- Set goals.