You've done it before. You know you know how to do it. But as you put your hand to the task before you, the months of doing other things and the lack of practice catches up with you. It's gone. You've forgotten what you once knew.
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In academic terms, it's referred to as “regression,” and the academic regression that causes the most frustration to students, teachers, and parents is summertime regression. While all students regress some during the summer, this regression hurts students the most who were already behind academically.
Just imagine: it can be so incredibly frustrating for everyone when your child worked so hard to make sense of long division, only to master it beautifully by May, and then to find in August he/she can't remember any of it. Time to start all over again.The tears, the frustration, and maybe even the anger mount as your child tries to make sense of why he/she can't do this anymore. It doesn't matter that it's fairly normal to forget. The stakes always feel higher to a child with a learning disability, and forgetting what he/she once knew certainly doesn't add a lot to your child's self-confidence.
In fact, generally students lose the most skills in mathematics. There might be many reasons for this, but largely it may be because there's no mathematical equivalent to a public library for allowing students leisurely interaction with math in the summer. Students lose on average an equivalent of 2.6 months in mathematical skills every summer!
Reading seems to vary based on income levels (which probably could be better called instead “opportunity levels”). Students in middle income households, on average, actually make slight gains in reading during the summer! (Again: think public libraries and lots of free time for your child to read what he/she enjoys reading) Low income students, however, lose close to the same the amount in reading as in mathematics with again more the than two months lost. These students' parents may have less time to take them to the library, less education and comfort reading to their children, less disposable income to spend on books, and the least knowledge about why it's important to encourage reading the during the summer. Every summer the gap between the reading abilities of low-income and high-income students increases.
Clearly, if your child is already behind or has struggled so hard to catch up with his/her peers, you can't afford to simply passively allow the usual summertime regression. You all worked too hard to let it just go by the wayside. Your child's self-esteem deserves better. Your child's academic career requires better.
Thankfully, the school year may be over, but the story of your child's academic successes does not need need to be. This summer, even while your child enjoys the extra hours of leisure and summer activities, keep investing the time and energy in to your child's learning to make the next school year less stressful.
How do you keep learning a priority during the summer?
Books – Take your child to the library and don't leave until a book has grabbed his/her attention. Keep exposing your child to wonderful universe of stories and knowledge that arise from reading. The more your child reads, the more likely your child will actually enter the new academic year ahead in reading of where he/she was at when they left the last school year.
Games – Hiking and swimming are some of my favorite summertime activities, but I'm really grateful for the time my parents spent with me as a child, playing cards (there can be a lot of mathematics in card games) and board games and engaging me in riddles (try these kids riddles here, some silly math riddles here, or more challenging math riddles for your teenage kids). All of these forms of play gave me opportunities (unbeknown to me) to use the mathematics and critical thinking I had gained during the school year, while increasing my vocabulary and having fun.
Summer Programming – Find out what opportunities exist for camps or other events at the public library, YMCA, community center, local churches, or any other group that you know of. Many of these will have summer programs that, while fun and full of experiential learning (there's definitely a physics lesson in throwing a half-empty water balloon, which therefore doesn't burst), will also include opportunities to keep fresh the more traditional academic skills.
Getting Off the Couch – Whatever you do, don't let this summer be the summer your child memorizes every episode of his/her top 5 favorite TV shows! There's plenty of research linking physical activity to academic success, so while my favorite activities of hiking and swimming as a child, may not have been directly helping me memorize my multiplication tables, it turns out they were probably pretty important too. Hide-and-go-seek and water fights might also have fit that bill as well.
Keeping On Keeping On – Lastly, while it's absolutely true that your child needs to run and play this summer and burn off some of the academic fatigue that builds up during the school year, it may be wise to keep up your regular practice of a few certain skills. Summer time can be a great time to continue or even increase your brain training, as this is usually associated with less stress than traditional academic practice. If you haven't started brain training with your child, now is a great time to start, making this the year your child overcomes his/her disability. You may wish to additionally take some specific academic skills, where your child made considerable gains during the year or where your child needs remediation, and concentrate on those. Work on them, but don't stress. Keep summertime a relaxing time, without losing those important skills.
What if my child has reached academic burnout?
For children who have struggled in academics the last thing they want is more academics. They'll avoid them like the plague and you will be hard pushed to get your child to child to attempt anything resembling homework. If you are in that boat I have some tips that will help:
- Think less academics and more about the fundamental skills that make up learning. If your child is struggling in reading then concentrate on the primary skills that are needed to read. Exercises to build these skills can easily be disguised as games and fun activities. Building up skills such as visual and auditory memory, visual and auditory closure, and visual and auditory discrimination. When a child struggles to read these are typically the skills that are missing. It's pretty easy to know if there is a problem there. If your child hates reading that's a pretty big clue. Children naturally love to learn, unless they are embarrased about their learning skills. These same skills will help in math and other academics
- Look for opportunities to build confidence. The trick here is to set the child up for success. You want things to be slightly challenging but not so much that anxiety comes on. Keep building on small successes and soon that anxiety will go away. With it will go the outbursts, avoidance, and freeze ups that you might be seeing around academics. Hint: those same exercises you use to build up the primary skills of learning can be used to build confidence also. You just have to administer them at the correct pace. Just a little at a time. With summer being less rushed this is the perfect opportunity to do this. A few minutes per day works great.
- Integrate lots of physical activities that require learning new ways of coordinating the body. Of course we are partial to Shou' Shu' Kung Fu. It has so more cross lateral motion than any activity we know of. Plus it takes developing lots of concentration. Some forms of dance are pretty good for this also. Also don't forget old school playground games. Hopscotch, jump rope, and even pat-a-cake have plenty of cross lateral motion and coordination.
- Take advantage of the time immediatly after these games. These cross lateral physical exercises cause new neurons to grow. Especially in the hippocampus. If you use them immediatly those neurons stick around. What that means is just afte these exercises the brain is primed for learning. This is when neroplasticity kicks in. There's a misconception that we are all stuck with the brain we were born with. It's simply not true. Our brain changes all the time. We can guide that change to be positive change. You do it through combining cross lateral coordination type exercises with working on fundamental learning skills right afterwards.
I've just given you our secret three part concoction for building up learning skills. It's especially powerful if there is a problem such as dyslexia or dyscalculia. To recap:
- Build confidence
- build up fundamentals of learning
- Use cross lateral coordination exercises to spur new neural growth
Summer time is the best time to do that because you can disguise the exercises as games. Your child will love doing them and enjoy the break away from academics. Little will they know you are helping them all along (Mwahaha). Summer is coming fast. Get ready
In short, don't let the school calendar determine your child's success. Instead, have the most academic-inspiring summer possible, and let your child reap the benefits of it this fall.
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