There's no doubt that summer holidays are a welcome break for children from the routines of term-time – six weeks of lazy mornings in pyjamas, outings, catching up with friends, bike rides, park trips, making dens, and even getting a little bit bored. Surely it does them a world of good?
Well yes in many ways but some teachers and educational experts believe that such a long stretch of kicking back and chilling out without school can also mean children slipping back with their learning.
Significant research in the United States shows this to be the case and although their 'summer break' is much longer than ours, the same still applies on our side of the Atlantic, according to experts.
Sonia Sodha, a research fellow from the UK-based Institute for Public Policy and Research has written on the subject. "Educational research is unambiguous: a long summer break is an impediment to children's learning. Studies carried out in the US and the UK show what should be intuitively obvious: with a long break from studying maths and English, children's abilities take a dive over the summer in both areas."
Some children do seem more vulnerable to a summer slide than others though according to former teacher, now tutor, Rachel King: "I think so much depends on the individual child. Some do fall behind in six weeks if they already struggle, but others don't."
Mum, Lyndsey Cooper, certainly spotted the phenomenon last summer with her son, now seven: "He back slid so much it seemed like we were starting from scratch all over again in September and it has taken him almost the whole year to get to a point where he can make progress. This has only happened in the summer term, and we're about to finish school again!
"I'm worried that by the time he gets to this September he'll be back to where he started. After all the hard work he's put in, I figured I should really help him to at least maintain his level!" So Lyndsey will be getting her son to do a little reading and writing over the holidays to keep his hand in, but not everyone feels the same.
Mother of two Tanya, says: "I have such lovely memories of that huge stretch of free time in the summer from when I was a child that I really don't want to try to get them to do any school work."
Personally, I'm of the view that a little bit of stealth learning – hidden in other activities so they don't really notice it – does more good than harm.
Think board games when you're stuck indoors because it's raining, working out the change at the shops or how many minutes it is until their favourite cousin arrives for lunch.
Ten minutes of this sort of thing most days still leaves the average school age kid with about 13 waking hours for climbing trees, riding their bike and of course driving you mad yelping 'I'm bored' at regular intervals! It's but a miniscule fraction of their day.
So, if you do want to keep things gently ticking over for your child, check out our best ideas for sneaky summer learning below:
1. The Summer Reading Challenge at your local library
The Summer Reading Challenge runs each year at almost all UK libraries and is a brilliant and free way to encourage school children to read during the holidays. Children who read six books over the summer get a certificate at the end, with some schools handing these out in assembly at the start of term in September.
2. Sign up to Reading Chest
If you can't get to the local library for whatever reason, Reading Chest offers a clever book rental service for four to nine-year-olds. It works a lot like DVD rental by post schemes such as LoveFilm. You sign up for a monthly subscription (this starts at £9.95) and four reading scheme books will be sent to your child. Once they finish them, simply return the books in the pre-paid envelope provided and Reading Chest will send another batch, up to a set number of swaps per month depending on which package you signed up to. You also get a colourful star chart and printable certificates to help motivate reluctant readers. Books are banded according to commonly used levels in school but if you aren't sure which level is right for your child, you'll find examples on the website.
3. Get them to write a holiday diary.
Teacher Catherine Jones recommends the old classic summer task, the holiday diary: "A diary is a great activity to work on with parents, giving them the avenue to talk about things they have done and have a lovely project at the end with photos and tickets too."
Heading to the shops together and letting them choose a funky exercise book or scrapbook and even a new set of coloured pencils or pens will help them along with this.
4. Send Granny some postcards.
An often appealing stealth writing task is postcards to the grandparents/ their best friend. Your child gets to boast about all the fun stuff they've been doing whilst they're quite literally keeping their hand in with writing.
5. Read anything and everything together.
With younger children who are just learning to read, the back of the cereal packet or a sign in a shop can be great reading practice. Back off if you can see it's annoying them though - it can get a little tiresome if mum or dad are sounding out words to you every two minutes.
6. Incorporate some sneaky learning into their everyday activities.
Counting that pile of coins that's been sitting on your bedside table for six months, measuring ingredients when baking, calculating the total cost of those three or four tickets to the cinema, pointing to the odd and even numbers on car registration plates as you walk up the street...there are loads of little things they can do like this.
Again, don't do it all day every day but now and then, especially when they're feeling a bit bored anyway.
7. Get them writing their own book!
Katie Krais, an educational consultant who runs www.educatingtogether.co.uk recommends the Creative Writing 4 Kids site set up by children's author Antony Lishak, which allows aspiring writers to create their own books for a small monthly fee (the first month is free).
If your son or daughter is unsure at first, tap into their interests for this – you could suggest a football story where they're the hero of the match for example. Anything which relates to their hobbies is more likely to appeal.
8. Get topical with some Olympics themed reading
Depending on age and reading level, they could read the sports section of the paper or set up a medal winners' league table for each country (and then look up where those countries are in an atlas for a bit of stealth geography!) Or organise your own mini-Olympics in the garden with some friends and put the children in charge of keeping score. Or why not compete in our Olympics quiz.
9. Dust off those board games.
Brilliant for rainy days and most incorporate a little maths – Kerplunk for reception age kids involves counting who has the most sticks and the difference and snakes and ladders counting where their die roll takes them to. Monopoly is especially good for older kids, dealing with money and addition, subtraction and multiplication.
10. Think about non-school skills your child could benefit from learning over the summer too.
Riding a bike without stabilisers, swimming, doing their coat zip up, or for older ones who are ready, getting confident crossing the road on their own.
Do you leave your kids to it over the summer?
Do you think it's best to keep them in the habit of learning or give them a break?
Liat Hughes Joshi is author of Raising Children: The Primary Years
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