How Do I Prevent “Summer Slide”? - The Self-Directed Homeschooler

How Do I Prevent “Summer Slide”?

You’re dying to know, aren’t you?

How do you prevent “summer slide” from happening to your kids?

Gonna hit the pause button here for a sec, and keep you in suspense for just a bit.  Let’s talk about “summer slide”.


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I’m sure you’ve heard all sorts of dire warnings about it.  An email about it - along with an offer to buy some math-related resources to prevent it - from a blog I follow landed in my inbox today.

The statistics are dismal:

  • “17% of the school year is spent reteaching forgotten material.”
  • “Students lose about 2.6 months of math gains over the summer.”

The United States Department of Education seems remarkably nonchalant about the issue of "summer slide," which is defines as "a time when summer learning loss can occur...(which) happens when children do not engage in educational activities during the summer months."

Why do we blithely accept "summer slide" as somehow inevitable?

Why do more of us not see this issue of "summer slide" as an indication of a much deeper problem with how children are taught in school (or at home with schoolish ways) and evaluated by adults?

Kerry McDonald of Whole Family Learning writes in her article, Summer Slide? There's No Such Thingthat "Summer learning loss is the symptom of a schooling model that equates testing with learning. The children who purportedly experience “summer slide” are the messengers. We should listen to them. They tell us, loudly and clearly, that our industrial framework of test-driven mass schooling doesn’t create learners. It creates mimics."

Boston College psychology professor Peter Gray writes in his book, Free to Learn:

Children are pawns in a competitive game in which the adults around them are trying to squeeze the highest possible scores out of them on standardized tests ... Thus, the drills that enhance short-term memory of information they will be tested on are considered legitimate education, even though such drills produce no increase at all in understanding.

By the way, it seems like I'm talking a lot about children in school, but traditional homeschoolers who don’t school year-round aren’t immune to worry and anxiety over their children somehow losing what they’ve learned, either. 

I’ve already seen ideas that include a Bingo game that has each square filled in with a supposedly educational and enriching activity that the child must do, summer reading lists, recommendations for tutors, and a list of educational camps to combat this “summer slide” being shared in homeschool groups on Facebook.

Thoughts and suggestions for preventing “summer slide” abound.

But almost no one ever seems to question why “summer slide” is even a thing.  Why does it even exist in the first place?

How is it possible that if children have actually, really, honestly, and truly learned something, 17% of the following school year will be spent reteaching that material?

How is it possible that if children have actually, really, honestly, and truly learned something, they’ll “lose” around 25% of it?  Where does that lost knowledge go?

In her article, What the Summer Slide Says About Mass SchoolingMcDonald writes:

The bigger question we should be asking about “summer slide” is: Are these children actually learning, or are they simply being tested on content in the spring that is then quickly forgotten? And if “summer slide” is real, then what happens after kids graduate? Do we all quickly forget what we allegedly learned once that final bell rings? What does that tell us about the quality and impact of mass schooling?

Why are we so quick to accept "summer slide" and the remedies for it suggested by Big Education?

Why aren't more people asking the sorts of questions McDonald raises in her articles about "summer slide"?

Could it be the cognitive dissonance we experience when we question our sacred cow?  

The late John Holt, a former educator in Boston, writes in his 1964 bestselling book, How Children Fail:

"No matter what tests show, very little of what is taught in school is learned, very little of what is learned is remembered, and very little of what is remembered is used. The things we learn, remember, and use are the things we seek out or meet in the daily, serious, nonschool parts of our lives."

The more honest us of will acknowledge that if "summer slide" is a real thing, then our children aren't actually, truly, honestly learning the material we're paying teachers (or, as homeschoolers, we're investing our own time, money, and energy into teaching)  to teach.

If we acknowledge that our children aren't actually, truly, honestly learning, then shouldn't the next questions be:

  • What is the point of having our children spend all day, five days a week in school?  
  • And furthermore, what is the opportunity cost - to them and to society as a whole - of such a travesty?

"Educating children, particularly disadvantaged youth, should be a clear priority," McDonald says, "but if the way we currently educate most children results in a rapid forgetting of content, should this approach really be replicated?"

Should it????

Should we be supporting the system that's failing our children by saddling our children with more of the same sort of failed practices in the summer?

What is wrong with us that we allow this to continue when we know better?

So here's my suggestion for preventing "summer slide": Stop trying to force your children to learn information they don't find useful or interesting.

So here’s my suggestion for preventing “summer slide”: Stop trying to force your children to learn information they don't find useful or interesting.

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Instead, focus on what is useful and interesting to them.  Then, there will be no "slide" to worry about.

Now, three things:

  1. What will you be doing with your kids this summer for some fun and engaging relationship-building?  Hit me up with your answer in the comments below.
  2. If you found value in this post, please share it with someone else who can be blessed by it.
  3. If you'd like more information about unschooling, subscribe to my blog and get your free copy of my guide, "5 Things You Must Do If You Want To Be A Successful Unschooler" by filling out the form below.

About the Author Becky

I'm a married, homeschooling mama of three who is passionate about self-directed learning.

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  • Before you buy this booklet, you need to know that I am an unabashed proponent of self-directed learning and that will be reflected in everything I share about my own experiences as a homeschooler.

    I’m giving this disclaimer so you aren’t surprised by the clear bias I have toward unschooling.  

    I want you to know, upfront, what you’re getting and what to expect from me.  The advice I give and the questions I ask you to ask yourself are all valuable and valid no matter what style of homeschooling you ultimately embrace, though.  

  • About the Author

    Becky Ogden has been homeschooling since 2003, and graduated her oldest in the spring of 2017.  In her early years of homeschooling, she too struggled with feeling overwhelmed and inept. In trying to do right by her children, Becky found herself embroiled in battle after battle with them over their schoolwork.  Until…

    Until she found a better way.  One that empowered her children to self-direct their own educations.  One that respected their autonomy. One based in “right on time” rather than “just in case” learning.

    Without many veteran homeschoolers around to serve as mentors, Becky had to muddle through it on her own.  She spent hours of time in research and reflection.

    In the years since then, helping other homeschoolers find their own way and solve their problems has become a source of great joy for her.

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