Summer sliding not good for son

Published 12:01 am Friday, July 31, 2015

The stack of papers on the dining room table looms over our family’s busy summer like a vulture looking for its next prey.

Printed on the top of the pile are the words “Summer Packet Kindergarten” accompanied by drawings of boys and girls enjoying various summer activities.

You might as well have drawn a picture of a skull and crossbones with the word “poison” underneath.

Email newsletter signup

I remember those days from my childhood when summer seemed to last forever and the schedule packed with fun things to do left little room for anything remotely related to school.

Knowing what would happen if our son waited to the last day to crack open the packet, my wife and I have encouraged to Gibson to do a few pages each morning throughout the summer.

At first he did a few exercises willingly, almost as if he were playing school.

Since then, it has taken my best lion tamer routine to coerce him to answer the simplest of questions.

To be honest, I don’t ever remember summer homework when I was in elementary school. I do remember lists of recommended books to read during the break. Since my mother was a librarian, reading never seemed like a chore.

What I do remember most from my elementary school days is walking back into the school from summer vacation and realizing many of the things I knew before the break, were no longer in that little head of mine.

This was especially true during those years when I must have learned, forgotten and relearned my multiplication tables several times over, all thanks to summertime fun.

Now that I am a parent, I watch my son go through the same struggles.

When school ended he was more confident in his writing abilities than he is as the new school year approaches. Instead of forming letters and numbers from memory, he scans the pages to remind him what the characters look like.

Turns out my observations are common among parents and teachers who affectionately call the academic losses during the break “the summer slide.”

This measurable drop in academic learning forces teachers and school administrators spend the first few weeks of the school year re-teaching students basic concepts they forgot during the summer break.

That is a large investment of time these days when education standards are constantly raised and learning in the classroom is more rigorous than ever.

Studies have shown that students lose approximately two months of grade level skills in math after the summer break.

Some educators and parents suggest that year-round schools are the answer to the problem.

The traditional school model which was created during a more agrarian period in our society, no longer makes sense, they say. Children are no longer needed to help work the fields and prepare for the harvest.

Proponents of the year-round model point to studies that show students in such schools score higher on standardized tests.

Even still, year-round schooling has its detractors.

Like my son and his resistance to summer homework, some parents and teachers balk at the year-round school notion, fearing that they would lose out on their summer vacations. Year-round schools would interfere with students’ summer job opportunities, they point out.

Is year-round schooling the answer to my son’s summer education woes? I don’t know.

But until then I will have to rely on the dreaded Summer Packet.


Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by email at