Embracing the Summer Slide

Celebrating Summer

By Kate McConnell

There was a time not too long ago when the term “summer slide” would bring about images of a long tube like structure in the midst of a playground. Or perhaps a metal ramp glistening in the sun that would make your skin sizzle if you tried sliding down it mid-day is what pops up for you? Maybe a curvy blue structure that ends in a pool is what comes to your mind? These summer slides harken to carefree days of fun in the sun.

Today the term, “summer slide” has educational administrators, teachers and parents around the world slipping into bouts of panic. When educators use the term “summer slide,” they are referring to the slip in learning that can be measured through assessments. In other words, there is what educators often refer to as “loss of learning” that must be “made up” when students return in the fall.

With the temperamental nature of technology, the juggling of schedules, and services becoming virtual across the board, the “summer slide” of 2020 is looking more and more like a muddy avalanche.

Questions on many parents’ minds are:

  1. Will my child be behind where he should be?
  2. Will transitioning back to school be more difficult?
  3. Should I be worried?
  4. How much learning has been lost?
  5. What can I do to make sure my child is ready for the fall?

As someone who believes very strongly in the gift of academic rigor, my answers may surprise you.

  1. Will my child be behind where he should be? Yes, your child will likely be behind where she should be. However, so is everyone’s child/ren. And the professionals in education know this. And they are already planning on this factor for the 2020-2021 school year.
  2. Will transitioning back to school be more difficult? Some children are going to be thrilled to get back to school. Others are going to think they are thrilled and not want to stay once they return because stamina for the new routine is going to take a while. And some kids are not going to want to return at all. Again, educators are preparing for this. And as we get closer, I will be sharing tips and tricks to help smooth the transition. But, not just yet. (See number 5 for why.)
  3. Should I be worried? As my grandmother, Mom Rehrmann, used to say: “Worrying is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but gets you nowhere.” If we hadn’t embraced the idea prior to the “stay-at-home” orders, we should be embracing it now: life is full of unpredictable obstacles and the best gift we can give ourselves and others is enjoying the moment.
  4. How much learning has been lost? Not as much that has been gained. Maybe students have slipped in the areas that we educators measure through formative and summative assessments. But much has been gained. If you are the parent of an only child, perhaps your child learned how to entertain himself for long lengths of time. If you are the parent of siblings that used to constantly fight, perhaps they have learned how to get along at least once in awhile now that they are each others’ only playmate. We have no idea how this quarantine has affected kids and won’t really know until they are adults and in charge. But, I always bet on the kids. I have a feeling that what has been gained far outweighs any loss.
  5. What can I do to make sure my child is ready for the fall? Most importantly, enjoy the summer. And read. The best way to make up any traditional learning loss is to read, read, read. Take time to enjoy a book for yourself and make sure your kids see you reading. Listen to books on tapes. Return to the now opened libraries and get out books. If there’s one academic “to do” that I would recommend it is to read. But, I would also say make it as enjoyable as possible.

The best gift we can give our children this year is time to recharge. Let’s reclaim the relaxing, joyful images of summer slides.

I think we all appreciate a bit more how little we are in control, and that life is like a slide. We can grasp onto the edges and cautiously crawl our way down, or we can let go and enjoy the ride. I say, let’s do our best to enjoy the ride this summer and give students the gift of enjoying it too. They’ve certainly earned it.

I sincerely hope that everyone reading this prepares for the fall by choosing to slide joyfully into summer…and to read a little every day.

Katherine (Kate) Schuerholz McConnell is a 20-year veteran of education, serving as the Director of Inclusive Education for the Archdiocese of Chicago. Prior to becoming an educator, Kate was a trade journalist covering the Satellite Communications Industry. She holds a masters of education degree in special education from DePaul University (’01), a masters of education degree in administration and supervision from Loyola University (‘20).