Children can fall behind in their math and reading skills over the summer, so professors recommend children read at least 15 books and regularly do math games with family over the break.

Research shows students can lose approximately two months’ worth of school-year learning in math and reading skills over the summer which can lead to an achievement gap with their peers when classes resume. But York University faculty of education professor Sharon Murphy says the so-called “summer slide” can be avoided. And the best way is to keep kids learning during the summer break.

Murphy suggests providing engaging books to children at home, for example, especially if they’re in Grade 3 or below.

“In fact, if you give children 15 books each summer of their own choosing for four years in a row, you can actually eliminate the ‘summer slide,’” she told over the phone. “It’s just a little thing.”

Murphy, who’s done extensive research on literacy education, even counsels parents to encourage children to re-read their favourite books as a way to gain a mastery of the material.

Her work also focuses on using online learning tools to improve literacy.

“You want to leverage a kid’s interest. If they’re already on their phone, they’re interested in technology,” she said, encouraging parents to use e-books and apps. “The big thing is, parents need to be mindful of what those apps are.”

She mentioned getting electronic copies of kids’ favourite book series on their digital devices, for example, or loading them with educational apps involving reading.

Murphy cited a four-year study from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville that outlined how these tactics were the best way to close the gap. Murphy also added that the achievement gap in reading is largely a matter of socio-economic status.

“Children who are generally more affluent and have more resources tend to not fall back and their achievement levels are sustained … compared to kids who don’t,” she said, explaining that higher-income families will typically have more access to books and even tutors.

“It’s that simple.”

That’s why she suggests parents take advantage of the books and resources at their local public library.

“The library would be a place where kids can get stuff with basically no charge, but there is a charge of time (for the parents),” she added, so parents need to do their part.

Author Vikki VanSickle urged parents to take a personal interest in their children’s learning over the summer by taking advantage of the downtime during gatherings such as camping trips. But the choices they make have to have a simple theme.

“I think If you’re worried about your kid and summer sliding -- falling behind -- the number one thing you have to think about is: keep it fun,” she told CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday.

To keep the literary fires burning, she recommended “National Geographic Weird But True Canada,” “Shout out for the Fitzgerald Trouts” and “Mya’s Strategy to Save the World” because they’re books that can be read as a family.



Reading isn’t the only academic skill that can suffer the “summer slide” achievement gap.

In a press release, fellow York University assistant professor Tina Rapke said parents also have to make sure their children are keeping mathematics skills alive.

“Kids learn basic arithmetic gradually over time so you need to keep up during the summer,” she told over the phone.

“I’m a parent myself and it’s really important to slow down and talk to our kids and make our own thinking visible,” Rapke said, suggesting that summertime provides a good opportunity for relating math to day-to-day life.

“Often kids will say ‘when are we going to the park?’ or ‘when’s the playdate?’” she said. “And instead of saying ‘it’s two hours away,’ say: ‘look at the clock.’”

VanSickle also recommended “Count on Me” by Miguel Tanco for children younger than seven years old because it gives children a character who shows a unique passion for mathematics.

Other tips could include breaking down time another way: If something is three days away, ask children to figure out how many hours or minutes that works out to. Or asking them to add up or subtract loose change or a grocery list of shopping items.

These can include asking children questions about time and money; or outright setting up time to practise math problems.

Rapke, who also works with Ontario elementary schools staff to develop videos that help parents talk about mathematics, also suggests parents use games involving math to maintain children’s engagement with the subject.

Unlike reading, which requires kids to have books, she said that helping kids keep up with math only requires creativity from parents.