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The children and young people in our little town are celebrating the end of the school year. It’s summer!
It’s time for families to relax and enjoy 8 weeks of play and relaxation.
“Aaah, summer- that long anticipated stretch of lazy, lingering days, free of responsibility and rife with possibility. It’s a time to hunt for insects, master handstands, practice swimming strokes, conquer trees, explore nooks and crannies, and make new friends. “Darrell Hammond
Or is it? Just recently I’ve started seeing the topic of summer slide popping up all over social media.
What is summer slide?
Summer slide is the term used to describe the learning loss that typically occurs over the 8 weeks that students are out of school over the summer. Apparently parents are becoming increasingly concerned about this loss.
I’m curious about everything to do with learning, so I started investigating. I found all kinds of academic enrichment activities and strategies to prevent summer slide and get children ready for school.
It included things like workbooks, reading logs, educational schedules, and summer schools designed to beef up children’s academic skills
It all sounded absolutely awful.
I read dire warnings that children without access to learning opportunities lose up to 1 month of grade level equivalency.
At this point I was giving fervent thanks that my parents never had access to this kind of information! I have very happy memories of long lazy summer days filled with imaginative play. It certainly didn’t include enriching activities and summer school.
Does all this pressure really help children get ready for school?
As I read I started to feel a sense of heaviness. The educator in me began to ask questions.
- When do the children get to play?
- Isn’t it better to take a rest from educational outcomes for a few weeks?
- Is it really healthy to keep up this kind of academic pressure year round?
- How is this a holiday for anyone?
- What is the real impact of that lost month of grade level equivalency? Does it really matter?
I felt sorry for children looking forward to a summer filled with scheduled lessons and activities labelled as fun.
I felt sorry for the parents who feel obligated to create all these enriching activities, push workbooks on reluctant kids, and find the money for summer school.
What does the research indicate?
Then to my relief I found a really interesting article published in the Atlantic Magazine. This paragraph in particular caught my eye
“Unscheduled, unsupervised, playtime is one of the most valuable educational opportunities we give our children. It is fertile ground; the place where children strengthen social bonds, build emotional maturity, develop cognitive skills, and shore up their physical health.”
The article refers to a study conducted by psychologists at the University of Colorado. The scientists studied the schedules and play habits of 70 six-year-old children. They found that activities such as free play; daydreaming, risk taking and independent discovery are vital to the development of something called executive functioning.
Executive functioning is a fancy term for the skills that involve mental control and self- regulation. You can learn more about it here. Self-regulation has long been recognized as one of the most important skills in learning.
Here’s the interesting thing. The study found that, “children who engage in more free play have more highly developed self-directed executive function. The opposite was also true: The more time kids spent in structured activities, the worse their sense of self-directed control.”
And a highly developed self-directed executive function is closely linked to academic achievement.
The surprising conclusion
So if you really want to give your child a head start on the coming year you can ditch summer school and enriching activities.
Instead let your children play. That’s all. Just let them play.
Grant them (and you) a rest from structured activities. Let your children explore, get bored, get creative, read books for fun, climb trees, make camps, fight imaginary foes, discover their super powers and play with their friends.
Doesn’t that sound great? Doesn’t that sound saner?
What if I’m wrong about all of this?
What happens if you allow your children to play to their hearts content all summer? What happens if they lose that month of learning? Will they be doomed to an academic abyss?
Most teachers typically spend the first month of school revisiting all those lost skills, so all that structured learning will make absolutely no difference! Your children will still go over all that stuff anyway.
Isn’t it better to have your children return to school refreshed and ready to learn?
In the end that is far more valuable than spending hours on enriching activities, or trying to persuade reluctant kids that workbooks and reading logs are fun.