Guest Opinions

Idaho kids still can avoid ‘summer slide’

Marie Hattaway
Marie Hattaway

I love summer, but as a parent it can be stressful to keep kids safe and busy. Fortunately there are summer programs to help. If you have a child engaged in one, you may also have the peace of mind that they are likely offering much more than safety and fun. Summer programs can also offer extended learning opportunities and help prevent the “summer slide.”

Summer slide refers to the two months’ of learning loss that can occur when students don’t have access to activities that allow them to read, write or solve problems. Though teachers will spend the first three weeks of each school year remediating this pitfall, students who experience the summer slide year after year will struggle to maintain school-year gains. Studies from the National Summer Learning Association reveal that by the fifth grade, these students can be years behind their peers.

While every student is at risk, the slide is more likely to affect youths from lower-income households. Regardless of a school’s performance or the student’s ability to learn, overcoming the summer slide year after year requires students to achieve larger-than-average gains to keep up with their grade level, and the consequences to do so may last a lifetime. A study from Johns Hopkins University found a correlation between a lack of summer learning opportunities in the elementary years to a lower probability of high school graduation and going on to higher learning. Again, students from lower incomes are at a higher risk.

Yet, programs don’t have to be expensive. Idaho’s libraries have an amazing variety of activities that are kid-centered, fun, flexible and free. Free online programs or websites like Khan Academy or Code.org can complement summer learning. Many programs offer low-cost programs, scholarships or fees on a sliding scale, such as 4-H, YMCA, Parks and Recreation, Boys and Girls Club, Girl and Boy Scouts or local summer camps.

Though we are midway through summer, there is still time to prevent the slide. It just requires exposing children to opportunities where they are reading, writing and using problem-solving/math skills. This can be done in so many ways. Programs offer a variety of topics, in which students can practice these skills while still having fun. Great examples here in Idaho include robotics, gardening, coding, raising animals, music, art and many blends of it all.

If families are unsure where to locate programs, the Idaho AfterSchool Network (IAN) has a new interactive directory of out-of-school programs at idahoafterschool.org. The directory lists more than 220 programs, searchable by location, age, cost and interest. Programs are also added regularly.

Only 16 percent of Idaho’s youths enroll in summer programs, compared to the national average of 33 percent. Idaho families and communities would be wise to not just view summer programs as something to do while school’s out, but as an essential and fun part of their foundational learning. Let’s help Idaho’s schoolchildren have a fun and safe break while avoiding the summer slide.

Marie Hattaway is program director of Idaho AfterSchool Network, a program of Jannus Inc.

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