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We Shouldn't Worry About 'Catching Our Kids Up' In School This Summer

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At the end of the school year, parents are always worried about the next school year. Summer can be long when you’re worrying about your kid’s academic success. “Summer slide” is a thing many parents are worried about — kids don’t retain everything they learned the previous school year. And with the pandemic, school has become even more stressful in that regard. The end of the 2019 school year was an absolute shitshow, and while the 2020 school year was better, it was still challenging. Of course parents are going to be concerned about what their kids are lacking academically going into the 2021 school year. But this summer, we need to make sure we’re prioritizing fun. Spending time outside, playing, taking it easy, etc. are very important after the school year our kids have had.

Yes, this year has been incredibly difficult for all kids in one way or another academically. It’s normal to have seen how much our kids may have missed and think we need to fix it. We as parents often worry about the dreaded backslide during the summer. For a lot of kids, this entire school year has felt like a giant backslide. And even though it feels like we should spend the summer trying to make up for the work lost, that’s not the approach to take this year. Nothing about this school year has been without struggle, and our kids need more of a breather than they usually do. Academics are important, but there is plenty of time to make sure they know how to spell or do algebra or whatever. This year has been downright traumatic — kids are suffering. They need a damn break.

My son is finishing first grade. We live in Los Angeles, which was virtual for a large portion of the school year. And even when the county decided to reopen schools, his school chose to stay remote. First grade isn’t easy when you’re learning on Google classroom. My son has been doing incredibly well, but that doesn’t mean this year hasn’t been a struggle. It’s hard to grasp the fundamentals of learning when you’re doing it on a computer. Especially when you’re a little kid with a mediocre attention span. He’s seven — they’re designed to not be able to sit and focus. And my kid hates video chats and computers with the fire of 1000 suns. So most of our time was spent just pleading with him to sit still and stay engaged with the live instruction.

I’ve never been big on setting screen time limits, but this school year, I’ve really thrown it out the window. He has to have at least one hour of screen-free time, but otherwise, anything goes. The poor kid is trapped in a small apartment and couldn’t spend time outside for a lot of the school year. We probably won’t change much in terms of screen time this summer, but there will be more of a balance between the time he spends watching YouTube and the time he spends doing other things.

“Physical activity, being outside in nature, free play, using your creativity, trying on new skills and things that maybe you don’t normally do during the school year — that’s an important part of summer,” Denise Pope, founder of the nonprofit Challenge Success and senior lecturer at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education explained to Vox.

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I’m thankful we will be able to spend more time outside this summer. My partner has been taking my son to the playground after school so he can run around and be with his peers a little. One of the hardest parts of this year has been not having a place that could serve as a physical outlet. This kid has a lot of energy, and like I said, we live in a small space. He needs a few hours to run and climb and jump off things. In summers before COVID, we’d spend hours at the playground. After the hellish year, I’m looking forward to being able to do that again. He’s a really active kid, and even though we’ve been taking him to the playground, he’s been far more sedentary this school year.

When he was in physical school, they had multiple recess breaks, plus gym class and other opportunities to get their energy out. In virtual school, his teacher has done a great job at letting the kids take “wiggle breaks” and doing other activities that involve them jumping around. But now that it’s summer and he won’t have those opportunities, we need to make sure he’s getting outside at least a few days a week for as many hours as we can stand. The fresh air will do us all a world of good.

Pope also shared with Vox the importance of kids having time this summer with their peers. “Kids need to be around other kids this summer,” she explained. “They need to practice those really, really important social skills, communication skills, friendship-building skills,” which are things that are crucial for their development which they didn’t get much of this school year.

My son needs to run around with kids and have a good time. He’s been interacting with his peers mostly through a computer screen. So prioritizing him getting to be around other kids this summer is a big one for us — safely of course, because there’s still a pandemic happening. We will continue with our regular park visits and try to set up playdates when we can. Seeing him around kids in person is a great reminder of what they’ve all lost this year. It’s almost like they’ve forgotten how to be kids. There is so much tattling that happens, mainly because they’ve forgotten how to solve problems for themselves. Being around other kids close to his age will help brush up those skills before he does go back to in-person school.

Our biggest goal for the summer is to just enjoy it, and to go with the flow as much as humanly possible. The easiest way for us to navigate virtual learning was to create a daily schedule, much like a typical school day. We did schedule downtime into his day, but only if all of his tasks were done first. This summer, I want him to have as much unscheduled time as he can. I want him to have whole days where he doesn’t get out of his pajamas if he doesn’t want to. Decompressing is always the theme of summer for me, but this year, it’s especially important. We’re teaching him that after you’ve worked hard, you need to make sure you rest.

Kids have been through so much this school year. And while some of them definitely do need to prepare for the next school year, we need to make sure we’re giving them time to just be kids. They deserve it. Mr. Rogers said, “Play is the work of childhood,” and this summer, no work could possibly be more important.

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