In the words of Justin Timberlake, “It’s gonna be May.” As in this week. Here we are about to start summer vacation in just a few short weeks and things are about to get crazy with end of the year concerts, assemblies, graduation parties, and about a hundred other things. Now is the time to make a plan for summer bridge.
What’s summer bridge?
It’s a plan for making a smooth transition from one grade to another. I’m not an expert on what educators call “summer slide” or “summer learning loss”, but as a former teacher, I know how it affects students.
This discussion reminds me of when I played soccer in junior high. Soccer relies so much on running, those who are in the best condition are the only ones who are still affective at the end of the game. One year, I decided to do cross country camp to see if I liked the sport. Spoiler: I did not. However, when I started soccer conditioning the next week, I was totally fine when others were panting and vomiting.
It’s the same with learning. Kids who are learning over the summer come into the school year ready to go. Those who left their brains in their book bags like a forgotten lunchbox will struggle. According to iDtech.com, students lose up to 2 months of reading and 2.5 months of math skills over an average summer. So it’s not that they aren’t gaining anything over the summer. They actually go backward 2-2.5 months. If your kids are older and you’re thinking, “We used to do summer reading and educational outings when they were little, but now that they’re older, it’s not necessary.” The stats disagree. Learning loss is worse at higher grade levels. In other words, we’re setting our kids up to fail if we don’t make summer learning a part of our plan.
When your kids start a new school year, you want them to be like that summer I did cross country before the soccer season —fit and ready to learn something new, and not just relearning what was lost.
How to do it:
There are a lot of fun ways to combat learning loss. One solid, easy way it to buy bridge books. There are workbooks designed to act as a bridge from one grade to another. These books review standards they should have already learned in the previous grade and introduce new things they may not have learned yet. I like that because kids don’t like to just review. They like to learn something new. We’ve done a few different bridge books over the years in our house. This year, we’re doing the BrainQuest books.
They are awesome! Each book contains a map for tracking progress. All the subjects are mixed together so they get a little of everything. And they even include outdoor quests and a grade-appropriate suggested reading lists. Check out this progress map! I kind of wish they had bridge books for age 40 going into age 41.
Workbooks are pretty scarce for students 8th grade and up, so you may have to get creative. Don’t waste time on things like flash cards for older students. It’s not so much recall that is lost during the summer; it’s things like the ability to think critically, problem solve, and even hold a pen and write for any amount of time. My students would sometimes complain that their hands hurt after spending time writing at the beginning of the school year. These are the things that atrophy. Encourage your kids to keep a journal, write a letter to a relative, play board games that cause them to solve problems, or even visit an escape room. Our library loans board games. I’ve noticed that many of the games are strategy games that could be really fun for families. You can also use learning apps, SAT and ACT review books, or even have your kid tutor a younger student. It’s amazing how much one can learn from teaching.
Your library is your friend
I already mentioned this, but partner with your local library to get your kids reading. Summer reading programs are fun, and often offer prizes and incentives for reading. (They also have programs for adults too. Cash in on those goodies and crack open a book while they’re reading.)
Lastly, if you have the ability, take outings that encourage learning. One summer, we had our teen nephew come visit for a couple of weeks. I assumed he’d be completely bored doing some of the outings we love like the science museum or the zoo or the historical society. And he loved them. Turns out, those are places kids don’t outgrow. They may roll their eyes or protest, but once they get there, they'll have fun. (Even if they don’t admit it.)
You have to set aside time to do this. It won’t happen on accident. Be regular and do something to keep a record. We do about 20 minutes of work and 20 minutes of reading each weekday. After breakfast, we all sit down at the table and work together. Think of things your kids like, and make that a part of the quiet time. My kids like hot tea, so we brew some and play some quiet music. It's weird how goofy things like scented erasers or fun pens can make this time more fun. Our house is always loud with four kids, so my oldest craves the quiet time in the morning sitting and doing some work. In past years, when we didn't have a handy map to keep a record, we used this clip system. When they complete a lesson, they move the clip down to the bottom.
By the end of the week, we tried to get all the clips to the bottom. Did we complete it every week? No, but it was a goal to work toward.
“Avoiding the fight”
If you’re thinking, “This isn’t something we’ve been good about and I know my kids will fight me if I try to start something.” My advice is to just have the fight. It’s important, and we fight other fights all the time. Whether it’s chores, screen-time, social media, or even bathing, we have frustrating conversations with our kids. It may be a fight, but once it’s established that learning is an expectation over the summer, they’ll back down.
In our house, we do our best to make learning fun and something the whole family does together. Last summer, Grady was so little he only worked on coloring and holding a pencil and that was enough for him. If done right, your kids will actually grow and learn over the summer instead of falling behind.
Comment below with any tips you have for summer learning. I'd love to see what works for you.