Why I'm Not Worried About The Summer Slide

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
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If you are the parent to a school-age kid, you’ve probably heard about the “summer slide” by now. Nope, it’s not some fancy new slide you’ll have to go out and buy. It’s the idea that during the summer months, your kid is apt to lose some of the academic progress they’ve gained during the school year (because, duh, they aren’t in school in the summertime).

The “summer slide” is not just a theory; there’s some truth to it. Studies have shown that kids can lose up to 2-3 months of academic progress during that time. This is especially true for low-income children, who might not have as much access to resources as their higher income counterparts. Children with learning disabilities might also be especially vulnerable to losing progress over the summer.

All those are real concerns, and I would be the last person to brush those concerns off. However, I personally am not worried about the summer slide. The fact is, if I am being totally honest here, I want academics to be just about the very last thing my kids concern themselves with this summer. For real.

My kids moan and groan about school just like the next kid. But they show up, they try their best, and they are lucky in that they are relatively successful academically. (Believe me: I know that I should count my lucky stars about that fact.)

But the fact is, whatever your child’s experience at school, I think we can all agree that school these days is A LOT. Our kids are there for at least 6 hours a day, 5 days a week. Most of their time is spent doing academic work, as things like art, music, drama, and even recess have gone by the wayside in many of our schools.

And when summertime finally rolls around, I think our kids just need a well-earned, much-needed freaking break. Their mental and emotional health depends on it.

This summer, I want my kids to sleep as late as they damn well please. I want them to laze around and, as much as possible, and I want them to get to experience whole days with zero activities scheduled. I want them to run outside in the sprinklers, throw water balloons out the window, and take as many dips in the pool as they please.

I want them eat s’mores for lunch, popsicles for dinner, and ice cream as a midnight snack. I want them to spend so much time outside that they come home at the end of each day with skinned knees, dirty ankles, tanned arms, and exhausted bones. I want them to feel a sense of freedom in their hearts and abandon in their souls.

I want them to get to feel like kids—and nothing else—for eight glorious weeks. And if reading a few books, or studying a few science or history facts is part of that for them, that’s totally awesome, and I’ll encourage it.

And if it isn’t…well, I don’t really give a damn.

Summer is short (maybe too short), and I just don’t think my kids need to pack it with any more academic pursuits than they already have to put up with all year. My kids are natural bookworms, and I do support that and even nudge them to it whenever possible. But I think they need at least a few weeks to just be and do whatever the heck they want to do.

In my experience, there is actually a lot of learning that happens in the summer anyway, whether it looks like school-work or not. There is almost always some kind of creative or techie project that one of my kids is working on during the summer. And there is the self-reflection and personal growth that happens when your child is away from the grind for a bit.

If left to their own devices, children have a natural inclination to learn, especially if you give them abundant opportunities for exploration and creativity. And summer—with its open, endless days—is just the right time for that.

And hey, if you want to move your kids in the direction of academic work to some extent, go for it. Maybe your kid really needs it. Maybe you just completely disagree with me. That’s fine—I just hope you will go easy, give your kids as much time off as possible, and keep in mind that all kids deserve a break from schoolwork this summer.

Summer just isn’t the time to vigorously push academics. Our kids have an entire school year ahead of them to do just that.

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