Avoid summer slide

Experts say it’s imperative to keep kids’ brains active on summer vacation

By: Tiffany Esshaki, Elizabeth Scussel | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published June 25, 2014

BIRMINGHAM/BLOOMFIELD HILLS — For many students and parents, summer is a time for swimming and sunshine, rest and relaxation. However, experts agree that keeping a child’s brain active during the summer months is of the utmost importance.

When school’s out, students forget many of the reading and math skills they learned during the year, according to the Michigan Department of Education. And this so-called “summer slide” requires schools and teachers to spend valuable time the next school year helping students relearn lost skills. This setback greatly reduces the time available to master new skills and subjects.

Most students lose about two months of grade-level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months, and research has shown that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer.

In order to sidestep this slide, experts offer a slew of educational and engaging activities to keep your child’s brain from hibernating.

“Preventing the summer slide doesn’t necessarily mean forcing your child to work in a workbook all day,” said Christina Tang, initiative coordinator at Eastover Elementary School in Bloomfield Hills. “There are lots of really fun and creative ways to reinforce curriculum during the summer months that don’t seem like traditional school work.”

Tang said something as simple as your child managing his or her own lemonade stand can reinforce money concepts and economics.

“Also, you could have your kids write postcards and letters to friends or have them do a trip or vacation journal, which reinforces writing skills,” she said. “You could get your kids and their friends together to form a summer book club or have them do a reading log challenge to encourage them to read over the summer.”

Also, asking children questions and encouraging them to make observations while out and about can be a great way to keep their minds active, Tang suggested.

“When you take your kids to the zoo, the park or on a trip, try to ask them questions, have them make predictions, or give them the opportunity to ask questions,” Tang said. “Don’t forget to try and tap into their natural curiosity over the summer. If they ask you about something, suggest a trip to the library or help them to search for the answer on the Internet. Kids can learn a lot from these types of conversations over the summer.”

Trips to local attractions are also useful, Tang said.

“If you want to encourage summer learning, you can take advantage of the many resources that we have in metro Detroit,” she said. “The Cranbrook museums, the Detroit Zoo, the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum and the Detroit Institute of Arts are all great places to visit and are bound to provide lots of learning opportunities and opportunities for cool conversations with your kids. Or you can go on a road trip, catch a concert, go fishing, go on a hike, or just do something that you don’t normally do with your kids.”

If you’ve got the feeling that your student could use a bit more of a structured academic experience this summer, you could always go the route of finding expert tutors. Keller Clinic in Bloomfield Hills, for example, helps students with tutoring and counseling throughout the year to improve academic success.

According to Laura Rodriguez-Kitkowski of Keller Clinic, she and her team of educators with master-level experience work with children in reading, science and math so students stay sharp until they’re back in the classroom.

“The concept is all about ‘if you don’t use it, you lose it.’ Anytime you don’t exercise something, it gets a little flabby,” she said.

Of course, not all students come pre-wired for academic success. Kids with learning, behavioral or social problems are already at a disadvantage compared to their peers. Tutoring might help, but only to a certain degree, explained Amy Firek, executive director and owner of Brain Balance in Birmingham. She said that to lessen the effects of a learning disability, the core problem must be treated instead of merely the symptoms.

“Our center works with kids that have a little bit of something going on. We determine, with their parents, whether they’re left-brain weak or right-brain weak, and develop a program to fit each child,” said Firek.

Brain Balance tailors its 36-session program to each child and ranges from nutritional choices to anxiety reduction skills, exercises and more. Sometimes reduced screen time is in order, and sometimes it might be something more. But, according to Firek, the summer months are the perfect time to address such issues.

“What happens is that we can help them get a jump start on growing those brain connections so they can be ready for the next school year and maybe help kids with some of those things they struggled with the previous year,” she said. “As soon as a mom has an intuition something is off, that’s when they should come. We work on addressing the functional disconnections and underlying causes that prevent a child from being successful, and you want to start that as soon as you can.”