According to experts, children can lose 20-50% of their school year gains in reading and math each summer. These learning losses (called the ‘summer slide’) become even more dramatic as students move from elementary school into middle and high school, and they are bad news for teachers, parents, and especially kids. But there are things parents can do during the summer to prevent and even reverse the summer learning slump.
You might think a unilateral ban on all technology is the way to go, but I disagree. As a middle school teacher for ten years, I saw firsthand how technology opens kids’ minds and broadens their horizons. The key is setting limits while helping kids use technology as a tool for creativity instead of a means of mindless consumption.
Here are four ideas to get your kids out of player mode and into maker mode:
1. Encourage your kids to make movies and videos instead of watching them.
Creating media is a great way to prevent and reverse the summer slide. An old digital camera, laptop, or tablet is all you need to make a simple movie. Software like iMovie and MovieMaker make splitting clips and adding text a snap.
Does your child like to play with PlayDoh? Create a ClayMation video and make movie-making hands-on! Give them a costume box and ask them to act out a fairy tale or a favorite scene from a book. One year, one of my students animated an entire story using the animation features of PowerPoint! The sky’s the limit when you put kids in the director’s chair. If your child is ready for the next level, check out a local film center or theater who offer film making classes for kids.
2. Teach them to code.
Many kids like to know how things are made, and teaching them to code can open a whole world of possibilities for creative expression. Coding also teaches many valuable skills lost in the summer slide including critical thinking, problem solving, and math concepts like parameters, constants, and expressions. If you don’t feel qualified to teach coding skills, Portland has some amazing coding camps, and there are lots of free and inexpensive online resources teaching coding like Khan Academy, Code Monster, Tynker, and Coding with Kids.
3. Help your kids create a podcast.
The possibilities for podcast topics are unlimited. I helped my eighth grade students create podcasts featuring characters from the novels they were reading. I’ve seen podcasting used with kids as young as two. If they can talk, you can record it! Older kids can write scripts for their podcasts and practice using different voices and sound effects. With writing, critical thinking, and communication skills all embedded in one project, what better way to combat the summer slide?! They can interview friends and family, rant about issues they care about, or even make up conversations with fictional characters. Dust off your old technology…it’s new to your kids, and let them go crazy.
4. Let them make digital art.
There are many programs allowing kids to create digital artwork. My nine-year-old daughter loves using apps like Gacha Life to create anime characters and iBis Paint to digitally enhance her artwork. Canva and Inkscape are just an example of the many companies who offer free platforms for digital art creation. Helping kids create art isn’t just a skill for the future; it can help reverse the summer slide now.
Once your creative kids start building their bodies of work, find ways to let them share their creations. Post their digital art on your social feeds, hold screenings of their videos during family movie night, submit their work to a STEAM competition. Just be sure sharing is safe and age-appropriate. For now, we’re keeping our daughter’s audience small, but the confidence she gains from using technology to create her own portfolio is immense.
Of course we don’t spend all our time in front of screens in a quest to avoid a summer slide. Our summers are also filled with camps, trips to the pool, and camp outs, but when it’s too hot to play outside or we’re logging hundreds of miles in the car on a road trip, our minds are staying sharp and the only summer slide we find is at the playground!