It has long been known that children forget stuff in the summer holidays. Stuff they’ve worked hard to learn during the school year. That 6-week (or longer) summer holiday can cause what’s commonly known as the ‘Summer Slide’.
A study by American psychologist Harris Cooper and his team found that, typically, children forget between one and three months’ worth of schooling during the summer holidays. In maths, it’s about two and a half months’ worth. In reading, it depends: children from middle class homes tend to show a slight increase in reading ability while those from lower socioeconomic status tend to lose about 2 month’s reading performance. Cooper’s work analysed 39 different studies on the subject and discovered that children scored lower on maths tests at the end of the summer holidays than when the summer term ended. Not rocket science! And many other researchers have found similar results since, especially for children from poorer backgrounds.
The school calendar in the UK, Europe and North America is a bit of a historical anachronism. The extended summer break allowed children to work alongside their parents to bring in the harvest in the long summer days. But how many of our offspring do that today? Not many. Author Malcolm Gladwell suggests that these countries are now languishing behind Asian ones in education because we have clung onto the 6-week holiday (or more) while they only have a two-week break.
So, what’s to be done? Should we enrol our children in summer schools, top-up programmes and tutoring schemes so that at the very least they don’t slide, or, even better, make academic gains during the holidays? Or should we just resign ourselves to the fact they need time to wind-down, relax and just chill in the holidays, especially at a time where the mental health of our schoolchildren is never far from the front pages?
Perhaps we need to stop thinking of it as an either/or situation. Yes, youngsters need time to relax and enjoy their summer holiday. But it doesn’t mean their brains should atrophy! There are numerous ways that we can introduce activities which will keep their brains active and be fun at the same time.
Here are just a few….
Going abroad on holiday?
How about learning some useful words and phrases in the language of the country you’re visiting? Find the country on a map. Read a guidebook and plan some outings. Use the exchange rate to work out how much ice cream and drinks are in Sterling.
Driving a long distance?
Ditch the satnav and get your youngster to navigate. Do some internet research for places to stop along the route. Work out how long it will take you to get to your destination based on expected mph and number of stops. If we go slower due to traffic (say, half the expected speed), what difference will that make to our journey time?
Travelling by public transport?
Use timetables to work out what time to leave to arrive at our destination by a certain time. If we have a family rail pass, will it save us money?
Reading recipes, buying ingredients, working out how much the recipe costs to make (linked to budgeting), doubling or halving the quantities depending on the number of people to be fed, weighing ingredients and so on
What’s in the news?
Reading a newspaper (First News is good for children: https://www.firstnews.co.uk/) or watching TV news (Newsround for children), discussing the news items, finding evidence of bias or, dare I say it, ‘fake news’?
Arts and Crafts
Jewellery or friendship bracelet making, painting, mosaic work, card making, scrapbooking, marbling, bookmaking…the list is endless
Learn a new skill
Knitting, photography, chess, sewing, modelmaking, bridge, and so on
Try a new sport
Many sports clubs run taster sessions that are free or low cost. How about fencing, rowing, martial arts, scuba sessions in the local pool……? See http://www.trymysport.co.uk/
If you’re lucky enough to have a garden or balcony, get your youngster involved in tending a patch of their own and get them growing veg and herbs.
Writing with a purpose
Shopping lists, postcards to friends and grandparents while on holiday, lists of places to visit etc.
Bedtime stories, instruction manuals, the newspaper, guidebooks, postcards received, reading on journeys (unless your child gets travel sick)
Setting them for friends or solving them, working out clues, using maps, geocaching for older kids
The natural world
Minibeast hunt, bird spotting, leaf rubbing, flower pressing, how many kinds of x (birds, trees, flowers, butterflies, whatever takes your fancy) can you see on your walk? For more ideas, see the National Trust website, which has a list of things to do before you’re 11 3/4 – and there’s an app that goes with it too. https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/50-things-to-do
Board and card games
Time to dig out old favourites like Monopoly, Charades, Trivial Pursuits, Risk, Rummikub, Uno, Phase 10, Apples to Apples and so on.
What are your favourite summer holiday activities for children and teens?
Whatever you’re up to, have a great summer! Here’s hoping that all summer slides you encounter are fun ones.
 Cooper, H., Nye, B., Charlton, K., Lindsay, J. and Greathouse, S. (1996) The effects of summer vacation on achievement test scores: A narrative and metanalytic review, Review of Educational Research, 66, 227-268
 Gladwell, M. (2009) Outliers: The Story of Success, Harmondsworth, Penguin.