Within days, just ask any student or teacher in K-12, the spring semester will draw to a close. All the long days of instruction and evenings of study will take a hiatus for the summer. While it’s a rare student or teacher who longs to stay just a few days longer, there are some dangers of taking total academic holiday for the duration of the summer break.

What is key, is not what has been learned and evidenced, but rather what has been learned and retained in one’s long-term memory and processing center. In order to ensure that students can hold onto critical skills and knowledge during this respite time, it is critical that they exercise their minds during the summer. In order to keep the skills which will be called upon as a foundation for new learning accessible for the fall, students should practice what they’ve learned. While the idea of any form of school in the summer is likely to make many a child roll his eyes or run from the room to escape the image, summer practice doesn’t have to be delivered with the structure or confines or lengthiness of a normal school day.

Summer practice is simply an easy, quick, and efficient way to boost a child’s cognitive skills for the fall and to ensure that his mastered skills from the previous year don’t fall prey to the summer slide, where all tenuously attained skills and understandings become buried under yesterday and require re-learning just to begin again. Summer practice is especially helpful for children who may struggle with reading fluency and/or cognition. It is also one of the easiest skills to practice and to differentiate. The marvelous thing is that the child can find books to read which may pique his interest rather than having to read only the titles required for class. The more he reads, the better reader he will become. It’s easy, it’s free and it’s in the area.

Math skills are another area where student can either maintain their ground or even gain ground by some summer enrichment. Now, if the students thought that practicing reading was a bad idea, they are really going to bolt over practicing math. However, there are ways to reiterate content and subtly introduce a few ideas which will provide an excellent platform on which to launch the math concepts the next year, proving much less painful and perhaps even a little fun. In addition to the library, just a cursory search on-line can provide a plethora of level specific practice sheets (and answers) and even tutorials for concept clarity. Math is one subject, in particular, which builds upon itself each year. Therefore, if a child struggled in math in the previous year, it’s a good idea to use the summer to go over some of the concepts which provided the stress. If a child excelled but wants to continue that trajectory, summer offers a perfect opportunity for some self-paced practice.

The end of days in the school year, they are a-coming! By keeping students engaged in some basic cognitive exercises, even just 30 minutes 3 times a week, real subject strength in one’s academic core can be achieved, helping avoid that perilous, cognitive, summer slide.

Angela Farmer is an assistant professor of educational leadership for Mississippi State University, a certified Myers-Briggs trainer and a former P-12 educational leader. Readers can contact Farmer at asfarmer@colled.msstate.edu

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