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Help Your Little One Stay Sharp

During the summer, kids can lose about 20% of everything they learned.

The “summer slide,” a learning loss that many kids experience from June to September, is not limited to older children. If you have a child in preschool through 2nd grade, it’s important to keep your little learner’s skills growing during the summer.

“Kids can lose about 20 percent of everything they learn,” says Christine Viteo, founder and director of the Prodigy Learning Centers in Philadelphia. The good news: “There’s lots you can do during the summer to keep learning fresh in kids’ minds,” she says.

What You Can Do

“One of the best things parents can do is talk to their child’s teachers,” says Brenda McLaughlin, a vice president of the National Summer Learning Association. “Ask them what skills to practice with your child, and how you can reinforce learning of those skills over the summer.” You can also ask teachers at your child’s next grade level how you can preview concepts and materials for the year ahead.

Educators agree that reading with a parent helps little kids continue to learn.Many libraries offer a summer reading club for kids of all ages. These clubs usually start in June. They offer a free book or prizes for reading for a certain number of hours. This year’s summer book theme, selected by a national library coalition, is One World, Many Stories.

Read out loud to your child and talk about the story. “Read-aloud time helps build a rich reservoir of listening vocabulary, which is very important for reading comprehension,” says Pittsburgh educator Dorit Sasson.

Head Outside!

When asked how to keep little ones learning over the summer, MetroKids Facebook fans emphasized getting out and about. “I make sure I get out of the house with my 2-year-old every day,” says Newark, DE mom Wendi Focht Jacobs. “We go to structured classes in the community for art, music and swimming. One day a week we go to a park, library or a field trip of some kind with our play group, and one day we 

Media, PA mom Joanne McGeoch Needs suggests a trip to a public park or a nature center hike, and likes to visit the nearby Tyler Arboretum’s tree houses. “Nature is the best teacher in the summer, as she encompasses, science, biology, botany, history and perhaps most important of all — inspiration,” she says.

“I remember as a youngster, piling into the car and having my uncle just drive to an undisclosed location,” says Lansdale, PA dad Detrick McGriff. “The anticipation of unknown destinations is part of the fun of summer. One day he took us fishing. The sun shimmered on the ripple of water. The smell of the lake, the coolness of the water along with the sounds of the lake creatures made for a sensory extravaganza. Any place which activates the five senses of a toddler is a winner.”

Other Ideas

Here are some teachers’ ideas for low-cost ways to keep your little one learning this summer.

  • Collect a few bugs and look at them under a magnifying glass. Or catch butterflies or fireflies. Let them go after you’ve talked about them.
  • On a walk in the woods, look inside and under logs. On a beach walk, talk about the signs of sea life.
  • Pick your own fruits and vegetables or buy them fresh from a local farm or market. Talk about how they taste or how food grows.
  •  Additional Resources

    The Horn Book has published a 2011 summer reading list of great kids' books for all ages.

    The Michigan Department of Education has created home learning worksheets for kids in grades PreK, K, 1 and 2.

    The National Summer Learning Association has created parent tip sheets on how to make summer reading effective and how to keep kids’ skills sharp.

  • Learn the names of birds or flowers in your yard and neighborhood.
  • Write words about summer in yellow, then let your little one trace over the letters in regular pencil.
  • After it rains, mark a puddle’s size with chalk and see how its size changes. Make a kid’s weathervane and talk about the wind’s direction.
  • Make ice cubes using different types of juices and liquids.
  • Go to an age-appropriate performance. (For current performances, see our searchable calendar..)

Stanley Thomas is a local freelance writer.

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