Should I make my kid do workbooks over the summer?

I hear the same question every summer and it’s a subject that tends to produce a lot of mom-guilt: My answer is always an emphatic no … sort of. Studies show that learning can decline dramatically over the summer months. There’s even a name for it: the summer slide. However, I firmly believe that kids’ brains need a break from traditional forms of learning. More to the point, I think that it’s important for kids to learn in ways that school cannot offer.

Rather than launching an intense summer teaching program, I think it’s better to create and incorporate real-life learning opportunities. Carry the classroom lessons into the real world. Each academic grade covers several general concepts. Once you know these topics, you can find ways to highlight them in daily life. For more specific information, you can look up your state’s grade-level standards for Language Arts and Math; some states also offer them for Social Studies and Science.

Early Elementary

Kids in the early grades are focused on basic concepts. They learn how to read with sight words, sequencing (first, then, finally), and to understand what happened in a story. They grow from writing letters to words to sentences. In math, they tackle numbers, how to write them and determine their worth, grouping, and simple functions like addition and subtraction. Additionally, they learn about patterns, shapes, and calendar skills.

Find ways to practice these concepts with your kids. If an event is coming up, for example, ask your child some simple questions: What date will that be? What day of the week is that? How many days until then? What do you think we will do first/second/third? Look at a calendar together and help your child identify special dates and holidays. Read to them, and make sure they have books at their reading level to read themselves.

Later Elementary

Children who have been in elementary school for a longer time transition to higher-level thinking skills. There is a shift from learning to read to learning through reading. Kids should be reading informational texts, newspapers, graphs, and maps. They move into multiplication and division, decimals and fractions, and negative numbers. Writing also takes a leap forward as students are expected to write longer essays that need to have thoughts organized by topic with supportive facts.

For kids at this level, you can have them send postcards to friends, handle the money when you’re buying things, or keep a summer journal. Take them to the library often, and encourage them to read, read, read!

Middle School

Middle school students deepen their knowledge of the world and how to use what they learned in elementary school. They take in more complex information from varied sources, and must offer more organized and logical arguments in essays or reading comprehension. Math gets more individualized and students are required to apply more complex calculations and keep track of longer processes.

Encourage students this age to offer logical arguments and factual support for things they want to do. They can also plan menus, events, or activities requiring multi-step tasks and long-range thinking. Create plenty of time for summer reading.

High School

High-schoolers pretty much go their own way. It’s pretty unlikely that you’d be pushing the workbooks with your teen anyway. Summer activities for this set should focus more on real life experience like travel, work, pursuing specific interests, and following current events. Encourage your high school student to read.

To give you an example of what this approach looks like in the real world, let’s think about a trip to the grocery store, something that will almost certainly come up during your summer.

  • Your early elementary child can write or trace the shopping list before you head out. While at the store, they can try to find shapes, count objects as they go, add the amount of a specific item you purchase, or choose an item based on color.
  • Your later elementary child can handle the money, calculate the best deals from sales, compare calories or sugar levels, choose a special treat and explain why they should have it, or plan where in the store items might be located using signs.
  • Middle schoolers can write a grocery list based on a menu they created or the sales ads, calculate the price per ounce for a product, work off a budget, or incorporate nutritional information.
  • High school students can pretty much manage the whole trip themselves, giving you a break and your child real-life experience!

Hopefully, this perspective will help ease your summer mom guilt while keeping your kids engaged in learning. More summer learning ideas.