Preventing 'summer slide': Keep your child's brain sharp during break

Published: Jul. 13, 2017 at 10:10 AM EDT
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Summer break isn't much of a break for families in Michiana. The calendar is full of sports, camps, and family vacations.

“There's a lot of distractions in the summertime,” said Elizabeth Miller, a Mishawaka mother of two. Among the distractions, according to Miller, are “tablets, games and hanging out with friends.”

Thursday is National Summer Learning Day. The National Summer Learning Association wants to encourage families to support educational endeavors over their summer break to help prevent “summer slide,” a phenomenon that represents the regression in academic skills that occur when school ends for summer break.

Experts say that, every summer, kids can lose two to three months of reading skills and about 2 months of math skills in the summer, according to National Summer Learning Association.

The organization also predicts that, by 5th grade, low income students can be two and a half to three years behind their peers.

“It's probably the most important time,” said Kent Kolbow of Sylvan Learning Center, Mishawaka. “I kind of relate it to sports with my students. During the off season, that's when you make the improvement. It's the same thing with academics.”

Kolbow says summertime is the perfect time for learning. It's especially helpful for struggling students who want to catch up.

“This is your time to close that gap,” encouraged Kolbow. “Every step that you make is closing that gap faster and faster. “

It doesn't have to consume too much time either.

To prevent summer slide, Kolbow suggests spending the following amount of time on academic instruction:

2 to 4 hours a week for kids in elementary school

3 to 5 hours a week for middle school kids

2 to 4 hours a week for high school kids.

That can also include SAT and ACT prep.

“The SATs are offered in the fall. So what we can do in the summer is really work hard at gaining that momentum and understanding those skills and strategies so they're ready to go when the SAT is here,” said Kolbow.

“I just want to dominate these tests in front of me and stay on top of the ball,” said student Andrew Shinnick. “I'm just a competitive guy.”

Andrew is heading in to his junior year. He's a bright student who attends summer SAT prep work at Sylvan to improve his scores. His dad had to talk him into going at first.

“You have to bring them there, and they might even be reluctant,” advised Mike Shinnick. “Certainly our son had a little bit of resistance. But once he saw what was going on, he embraced it and asked for more.”

“The world is competitive,” said Andrew. “Especially academically, it's super competitive. And if you can get ahead of other people, you gotta take that opportunity and do it.”

The cost of tutoring varies. Kolbow says you can expect to pay $30 to $45 an hour. The benefits? One-on-one instruction and a boost in confidence.

“When school starts, the frustration is lessened,” said Kolbow. “The confidence is increased. Self-esteem is increased. It's a positive positive win-win situation.”

A more self-guided approach is totally free, and it's found at your local library.

“We want to make sure that summer reading is fun,” said Jennifer Ludwig, the Youth Services Coordinator at Mishawaka Public Library. “So we don't tell them what to read. We just want them to read.”

Ludwig helps children pick new titles and series to read.

“Statistics have shown that if children read six books during the summer that are right about their level, that will help them from regressing and they will be very prepared to go to school in the fall,” said Ludwig.

Frequent library visits are common for the Miller kids. Third grader Harrison and first grader Lucy are strong students with good reading habits.

“I’m working with the library program to earn rewards and stuff like that,” said Harrison.

“I've been reading some of

Magic Puppy. The Pop Out Fish. Far, Far Away From Home

,” said Lucy.

This summer, they're working on a packet that was provided by their school, Mishawaka Catholic.

“They have to do reading, writing and math and create a bingo list,” explained their mother, Elizabeth Miller. “And do some short activities at home to keep them engaged.”

“My advice is keep studying,” suggested Harrison. “Unless you have really good memory.”

Good advice to avoid the summer slide.

Sylvan Learning Center:

Mishawaka Public Library:

National Summer Learning Association:

Area schools are doing what they can to combat summer slide. South Bend Community School Corporation started a program for elementary kids that provides free lessons online:

Year-round schooling, or balanced calendar, is another way schools are combatting summer slide. In our area, Rochester, Culver, Knox, North Judson, Oregon Davis, Plymouth and Triton Community schools will start the new year at the beginning of August.

Mishawaka Public Library

Summer reading book list suggestions from Jennifer Ludwig, Youth Services Coordinator

PreK-1st Grade:

Elephant and Piggie

series by Mo Willems

K-3rd Grade:

Magic Tree House

series by Mary Pope Osborne

We will be having a 25th Anniversary celebration of the

Magic Tree House

series on Wednesday, September 13 from 4-5 p.m. for grades K-3 at the Mishawaka Library. Registration is required and begins Monday, August 14 online at

4th Grade and Up:

Harry Potter

series by JK Rowling

High School:


series by Marie Lu