How to Avoid the Summer Slide

If we can all be honest with each other for a moment, at this time of year, we are fully looking forward to summer. We are heading full steam ahead toward vacation, and not taking much of minute to look back. But, I'm going to ask you to slow down for just a second.

Since the beginning of school, your students have heard your voice (probably in their sleep) telling them to read, practice, read, review, read... you know what I mean. In a few short weeks our voices will start fade, and the excitement of summer will take over. All of the work you and your students have done this year will be replaced with ice cream brain freezes. Then when the students return in the fall, you wonder where all the hours spent practicing and progressing last year went. Then you remember...

THE DREADED SUMMER SLIDE! It gets them every time.  

I hope to share you with some information about what the research says about the summer slide, ways to make books accessible to your students, games you can use during summer school for additional reinforcement of skills, and a few freebies that can help you, help your students, fight the summer slide.
Dr. Richard Allington is an Education Professor at the University of Tennessee, whose research has included reading/learning disabilities and effective instruction, especially in classroom settings. He has done amazing research that looks at the "summer slide," and ways you can set your students up for summer success.

To summarize some of his research:
      • Low income students lose 2-3 months of reading development over the summer. This accumulates to 18 months lost by the end of 6th grade.
      • Middle-High income students typically gain a month of reading development over the summer. 
      • When books are GIFTED, the effects on reading development for low income students is greater, than when books are LOANED
      • Over time, low income students read more than 1/2 year better than those who do not receive books for voluntary summer reading.  

After looking at and reading an extensive amount of articles and research about the summer slide, I started to notice a trend. Students first need ACCESS to books. I will dig more into this point in just a second. Students also need to be reading texts that INTEREST them, and are self-selected. This means assigning summer reading projects may not be in the best interest of your students. The texts the students have access to should be LEVELED, so they can practice appropriate skills and strategies throughout the summer months. Lastly, if students have access to a summer reading program, it is best structured like a "CAMP" - for example encourage learning through exploring and having a less structured environment. These "camps" have the greatest impact for students in grades K-2 and 9-12.

Now that we know what we should do for our students, how do we make that happen? We have to get books in our students' hands and I have complied a list of ways that you can do just that. I recommend working with a team. These summer access solutions cannot be done alone. You will need support of administration (financial and general awareness) and additional man power (parent volunteers can help).

Dr. Allington suggests:
- Allowing students to check out a significant number of books from the school library at the end of the school year. Starting small (5 books) in May or June, then when books are regularly returned, increase the number of books going home. This plan would require extended library hours during the summer so children can come back to school after families get out of work.
- He also recommends having a book fair during the last few weeks of school. This allows the opportunity for students to increase their home library right when they need it most.
 - Another idea of his, is to start an "honor library". An "honor library" would be a selection of books which the students can take, and on their honor return, so they can get another book. This is different because there is NO library loan - the books are left accessible outside of the school entrance.

Start a book bus.  The Oklahoma City Thunder NBA basketball team outfitted a school bus to be a mobile library.  Now while is may not be realistic on a teacher salary, or even for your school to construct, you can still keep this concept alive.  If you strip this bus of all the fancy, you have a MOBILE LIBRARY.  If you have car, truck or van,
you can meet your students to make books accessible. Set a day and time each week that you can meet them at the local park or a highly populated neighborhood. This is when some additional man power would be great - rotate with your colleagues or volunteer families. But if you are consistent and they will come.

If your students are having a hard time getting to you at the park or another summer hot spot, keep thinking. They are somewhere, and that is where the books
need to be.  When I realized that my school was a summer lunch spot (free lunch for children of low income families), I knew I had found THE SPOT. When students come to get lunch, they can browse, exchange and read books. Our summer access library follows the honor system, and we have had good luck.

Team up with your local library. Your school may not be in favor of loaning out such a high number of library books - I completely understand. You may not be in favor of turning your car into a library - I COMPLETELY understand. Then you might want to work with your local library to establish some summer programs. Come mid-summer, your students miss you and are very excited to catch up. Again share the responsibility with your colleagues. The students would be happy to see teachers of years past, or get to meet teachers they have yet to have. You can help students pick out books and host a few book talks - nothing like gentle persuasion.

Now, I'm sure you're asking where do you get all of these books?
You can ask for donations. Children change reading levels quite frequently and families with a lot of children and/or books are happy to make some room.
You can also check out this link HERE. This resource is from, and is a wealth of information about getting free books for your school. Use your team to research these options and find out what will work best for you, your school and students.
Giving your students access to books over the summer would be the best parting gift you could give them. However, I know how limited resources can be, whether it financial, time or man-power, it isn't easy getting a variety of books, at a variety of levels into your students' hands.

I have a few ideas that can help you keep your students engaged throughout the summer months, even if they aren't reading books. If you are teaching summer school, or at a summer camp, these ideas will also help you to start planning summer learning fun.

My students love to play games, because they do not know they are practicing skills while they are having so much fun. Besides the learning, the games help build community and
positive communication. Starting the last few weeks of school, you can send home copies of a literacy center your students are familiar with. Inform families that by revisiting these activities, their students will be reviewing skills crucial for the next grade level. The low prep games will be best received, because just like us, our students' families are busy too. If you are teaching at a summer program, recycling your literacy centers would be a great welcome activity before you get your days started.

If you are looking for a few more games to end your year, send home with families, or for a summer program, I have just what you need.  You can check out my sight word prep GAME CARDS.  These game cards are great for playing Go Fish, Memory, Around the World, Bam! and MORE! If you are looking to encourage phonics skills practice, my students love playing these BINGO like games with a partner.

But by far the HOTTEST game in my intervention room is ROAD RACE. It is a game of repetition and great for sight word practice. I have created a summer version, that emphasizes words that describe the summer months - baseball, barbeque, vacation, and more. Not only is this a game, but I use the word cards as part of a writing center. You can encourage your students to play and keep a journal as part of their summer skill practice.
You and your students have worked hard this year to achieve so much growth! Take a minute to pat yourself on the back.  Congratulations, you did it! You brought this group of kiddos from where they were in the fall, to the confident set of readers you will be sending out the door in a few days (or weeks). Wait... there it is again... the summer slide! NOOOOO!! 
But, you have a great resource, maybe one that you haven't tapped into as much as you could have this year.  Your students' families.  They want exactly what want - success for their child. Share with them the research about the summer slide, let them know that you will be sending books home, and let them know what they can do to help this summer.  

I have two freebies for you to share with your students' families. 

Here is an awesome resource from Two Little Birds that explains the Summer Slide, gives suggested book lists and it includes a reading log and book bingo.

I also have a FREEBIE for you! This tips handout can help provide families with the information they need to help their children at home. Use this handout for open house, parent-teacher conferences AND most definitely before the end of school to prevent the summer slide. The tips suggested are best geared toward Pre-K to first grade, but it could definitely help support struggling readers in 2nd grade.

This two page handout has been well received by my students' families, and I am excited to share this resource with you. Included in the list of tips, are picture examples to help visually explain some suggestions.
I hope all of this information and the resources are helpful, as your plan to send your students into the most successful summer they have had yet! If you have any questions about anything I shared, please let me know, I'm happy to help in any way I can. 

Enjoy the last few day with your students, and enjoy your summer!! You have definitely earned it.

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