Teachers are routinely shocked when they return to their classrooms in the fall and see the first test scores of their new students. The initial reaction is generally, “What in the world did they do last year?” In reality, it’s not what they spent the previous year doing. It’s what they spent the summer not doing: exercising their brains. This phenomenon is often called “the summer slide.”
According to The U.S Department of Education, on average, children are set back by 25 percent in reading skills each summer. The average student loses approximately 2.6 months of grade-level equivalency in mathematical computation skills and all young people experience learning losses when they don’t engage in educational activities during the summer. Teachers typically spend four weeks re-teaching or reviewing material that students have forgotten over summer break, according to John Hopkins Center for Summer Learning.
It doesn’t have to be that way. The brain is like the body. Exercise improves it, but if you let it sit idle, it’s going to lose ability. The best way to avoid the summer slide is with brain games and exercises that build cognitive skills. Many are free and easy to use at home, in the car, on vacation and even online. Often they’re so much fun, your kids won’t even realize they’re getting a mental workout.
• Mental Tic Tac Toe: This game uses a mental grid numbered 1 to 9. Players remember where their opponent has already been and call out an unoccupied space. The player who calls an occupied space loses.
What it helps: Attention, logic and reasoning, and working memory.
• Needle in a Haystack: Take a page from a newspaper and time your child as she circles all occurrences of a specific letter. Focus on increasing both accuracy and speed.
What it helps: Visual processing speed
• 20 Questions: Think of a person or object and give your child 20 chances to narrow it down by asking yes or no questions. Teach them to strategize by using questions that will significantly narrow down the categories, such as “Are they alive?” or “Is it bigger than you?”
What it helps: Logic, reasoning, memory
• Poetry: Have your child choose four words that rhyme and then ask him to use those words to create a poem or a rhyming song. Or say a word, then have him come up with another that rhymes. Keep this pattern going as long as possible, then start with a new word.
What it helps: Auditory analysis, verbal rhythm, memory
Simply getting your child to read every day is another powerful way to slow the summer slide. According to Scholastic Parents Online, research shows that reading just six books during the summer can keep a struggling reader from regressing. When choosing the six, make sure they’re the right level – not too hard and not too easy.
If your child can participate in a few brain-building games each day, it will make a big difference. Your kids will notice it in the fall, and so will the teachers.