Summer is time for ice cream, sunshine, swimming… right? Unfortunately, there is also a well-described international phenomenon called the ‘summer slide’. This is when children forget things they have learnt during the school year over the course of the long summer holidays, or slip out of practice. This means children go into the following school year knowing less than they did at the end of the previous year, having forgotten a lot of their learning in the absence of stimulation during the holidays. The renowned Brookings Institute in Washington reviewed what is known about the summer slide and, in a nutshell, it is estimated that children’s test results declined over the summer holidays by one month’s worth of school-year learning.

The year 2020 has been marked by substantial losses of learning time due to school closures because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is true for ECD (early childhood development) centres as well as primary schools and high schools. In a working paper by Prof. Ursula Hoadley from the University of Cape Town, she suggests more than 70% of schools were losing 50% or more of their contact instructional time in 2020. This is due not only to school closures, but also to the phased return to schools, as well as some kind of rotational model to adhere to social distancing guidelines (e.g. half the children in a grade go to school every second day).

On top of this disruption, children are about to have an extra-long six-week holiday, returning to school only at the end of January. Since their learning losses would have been more substantial than usual, it is likely the 2020 summer slide will be intense, with negative consequences for children.

Educational expert Dorette Louw provides practical tips on how reading to your children can help to beat the summer slide.

Stop the slide in its tracks

Reading is one of the best ways to stop the summer slide before it can even start. This is how:

Young children: Parents with young children should try and read with them regularly during the holidays. Talk about the stories with your child, act them out and have fun! Do simple activities that are based on the stories, e.g. ask your child to draw something from the story or ask them to retell the story. All this activity around the story and the regular reading builds memory, language and sequencing skills; everything that is important for young children to practise often.

Reward reading: Parents with older children can set them a challenge to read one book a week; one they should choose themselves. This will add up to six books during the December holidays! Promise them a reward if they manage to do this. The reward does not have to be costly but can be a fun activity or an outing.

 Read something every day: Encourage older children to use every opportunity to read: comics in the newspaper, online recipes, TV guides, their chosen storybooks, non-fiction magazines.

Read aloud: Ask older children to read stories aloud to younger siblings, friends or family members. This is excellent practise for the older children and the younger children benefit from having stories shared with them.

Use these free resources

If the aim is to stop the summer slide through reading, how can families facilitate this process without breaking the bank?

Join your nearest library: It is free, with a wonderful variety of works (fiction and non-fiction). If children choose their books, they are much more likely to read them. The librarians are reading experts who have interesting suggestions and can give good guidance.

Make use of reading materials made available by non-profit organisations: Local registered, non-profit publisher (145-694 NPO) Book Dash is one of the organisations that provide free stories online that you can read with the children in your life. This can be done on a phone or a computer. The Book Dash website is zero-rated on MTN and Telkom, which means you use zero data to access the site and read the free stories online. There are 146 original stories that you can read with your children (www.bookdash.org).

Relevant home-learning resources: Some organisations have websites with excellent home-learning resources, relevant to South African families. Try Wordworks where they provide suggestions for age-appropriate literacy activities and games (www.homeliteracy.org.za).

Visit credible, free reading websites: There are other good, free online reading sites that you can explore to see if the stories interest your child. Some examples are Story Berries (storyberries.com), Story Weaver (storyweaver.org.in) and the African Storybook Project (africanstorybook.org).

***Dorette Louw is the director of Book Dash, a non-profit publisher. The organisation, which publishes high-quality books for young children, aims to flood the country with books to address South Africa’s illiteracy crisis.

This article was published in partnership with Media Xpose.

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