Don't let summer slide steal learning.
Greengate School teacher Brandi Sterling offers advice and resources for parents to help their children to design a summer program that incorporates, reading, math fluency, and intervention with the rest and relaxation your family needs.
After the school year, summer break offers a respite from the daily tension experienced when educating a student with dyslexia. However, it brings new challenges. Studies, most notably one from John Hopkins University, state that summer learning loss, often referred to as the summer slide, can cause students to lose an estimated month or more of academic learning over the summer months. Students with learning differences such as dyslexia may show a more significant loss over the summer in skills vital to reading and math fact fluency.
Students with learning differences such as dyslexia may show a more significant loss over the summer in skills vital to reading and math fact fluency.
Arguments about summer learning loss abound, but studies consistently show that students at an academic disadvantage, students with learning difficulties or students living in poverty, do experience a loss that can take up to six weeks of the upcoming school year to regain. So the question is, what should the parent of a student with dyslexia do to mitigate summer learning loss while providing a much needed break from the seemingly encompassing task of educating a dyslexic learner? Find balance.
With thoughtful planning, a successful summer intervention program can be developed that balances work and play.
Find a balance between rest and refreshing during the summer and a summer dedicated to intervention. Every child, and truthfully their families as well, needs a break to socialize, explore, create, and rest. There is much to be gained from following a passion and exploring it independently. But the very nature of dyslexia means that a long-term break, more than a week or two, can be detrimental to the progress the student has made.
Dr. Sally Shaywitz, the co-founder and co-director or the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity recommends maintaining regular practice during the summer because consistent practice and repetition is what helps a dyslexic learner commit to memory and automatize the parts of language that are inherently difficult for them. The same need for practice and repetition is necessary for students who struggle with math fact fluency as well.
It is possible to have a summer that meets the needs of the dyslexic learner while also providing a rejuvenating break from the hectic school year schedule.
How to Find Balance
A favorite saying of Orton-Gillingham practitioners is “It depends.”
Each student’s dyslexia journey is unique, requiring their intervention to depend on and change with the student’s current needs. The following questions may help decide the best course for balancing a relaxing summer that also maintains the skills needed for growth and progress in the upcoming school year.
- How pressing is my student’s need for intervention? A student who has just begun intervention will need to continue at the regular rate of the recommended 2-3 hour-long sessions a week, whereas a student further along in their therapy may be able to drop down to once a week with homework. Some remediation is better than none, as long as it is Orton-Gillingham based or from LindaMood-Bell and consistent. Meeting once a week consecutively will be better in the long run than 2-3 sessions a week every couple of weeks. Also remember that there is no quick-fix for “fixing” dyslexia, so don’t fall into the trap of flashy marketing and empty promises that some programs advertise.
- What financial restraints may we have? Tutoring can be expensive and financial considerations are important to striking that balance. If taking a break from individualized tutoring provides a much-needed financial break, look for a less expensive method to maintain skills such as a program that can be practiced at home, online learning systems, or less expensive tutoring. Although students may not show tremendous growth and progress, many of their skills will be maintained with regular practice.
- What learning activities can be done at home consistently? If reading aloud daily is already routine, continue. If setting aside thirty minutes a day to practice math skills is reasonable, add that into the routine. These are only effective if they are consistent, so be realistic: can this be done daily and not forgotten among the trips to the pool, bike rides, vacations, and playdates of summer?
- What issues, other than dyslexia, need to be addressed over the summer? Schedules during the school year are packed with activities and obligations which sometimes requires prioritizing one issue over another. Summer can be a time to address medical or emotional concerns that may have not gotten the attention they needed during the school year. Students with dyslexia, especially those diagnosed later, often carry the burden of failure or feeling less than because their brains are designed to process language in a nontraditional manner. Addressing feelings of inadequacy are just as important as skills intervention to addressing the needs of the whole child. Counseling and even family counseling can go a long way in easing the burdens that come with educating a child with dyslexia.
How to Balance Learning and Fun
Dyslexic learners need sequential, multi-sensory approaches when it comes to learning to read, but they also greatly benefit from authentic, experiential learning experiences that allow them to gain background knowledge and spark interests. There are many ways for students to practice and even gain skills in addition to intervention and classroom learning.
- Going on vacation? Let your student help plan the itinerary. Older students can use guidebooks or Internet resources to plan activities on your trip. They can look up museums and restaurants, check reviews, even calculate how long each activity will last to stay on schedule. This fosters critical thinking, reading, and abstract math skills. Younger students can help parents make decisions about where to go. All students benefit from being part of the planning process.
- Take a hike! Long-term studies have shown that exposures to natural environments significantly improved participants’ performance on attention, memory, and cognition tests. Children with learning and attention issues saw a reduction in the severity of symptoms including less impulsivity, better retention of skills, and self-discipline. These cognitive gains are in addition to the emotional and mental health benefits that regular exposure to nature provides. A day at the botanical gardens, hiking, fishing, or camping are excellent ways to expose children to the natural environments that improve cognitive attention, behavioral intelligence, and mental health.
- Rainy day? Go to the movies. Read a novel with your child that has a movie adaptation and compare the novel to the screen version. Comparing literature to other media sources is a national standard for middle school, so practicing in a relaxed environment will give students a leg up. A Wrinkle in Time, Holes, Hoot, Harry Potter, Divergent, The BFG, Matilda, The Hunger Games and countless other books have movie adaptations appropriate for school aged children. Talk about what was better and which version was preferred.
- Make the best of summer reading. Summer reading may feel like a burden, but it is in the student’s best interest to maintain their reading skills over the summer. Many schools have transitioned from assigning a specific novel to providing choice within a genre. Randolph's Lower School summer reading approach is based on choice and developing a habit of reading. Take a trip to the local library or book store and let your child explore. Choice and autonomy go a long way in motivating a student to read. Also, read with your child, whether you share the task, you read to them, or they read to you. The science is out, and it says reading with a loved one benefits children and teenagers emotionally and by providing more opportunities for thinking about the text and better practice with reading comprehension strategies.
- Play games. Board games, sidewalk games, card games, and occasional video games all engage the brain in critical thinking and problem-solving. Many encourage both math skills and mathematical reasoning in a way that makes it easy for a student to understand and retain. Others promote logic or expressive language skills. Beware. Some games are too straightforward in their intent which leaves the authenticity out of the experience and limits the critical thinking element. There is a time and place for skills specific games, but for family game night try some of the following: Qwirkle, Ticket to Ride, Sorry, Phase 10, Rummikub, hopscotch, jacks, and Yahtzee are great games to practice math skills. Rush Hour, Gravity Maze, Mastermind, and Q-Bitz all engage problem-solving skills and promote perseverance. Quiddler, Zingo, Go Fish, Bananagrams, Apples to Apples, Pictionary, and charades all improve language skills.
Local Resources for Summer Learning
Fortunately, resources to support learning are easy to come by. Local programs, digital resources, and assistive technologies can make summer learning easy and fun for children and their parents.
- Greengate at Randolph School offers tutorial sessions with Orton-Gillingham trained practitioners year-round and is a regional resource for training and support for individuals with dyslexia and their families.
- Summer programs and camps are great resources for summer learning. Greengate at Randolph School holds a 4-week Summer Reading Camp for students Pre-K through 6th grade: . If 4 weeks is too long, Randolph School offers a wide variety of educational summer camps:
- Check out the local library and books stores. The local library will have a variety of activities for all ages throughout the summer. Huntsville-Madison Public Library has a summer calendar full of activities in both Huntsville and Madison: 2nd and Charles in Madison has a summer events series for adults and children alike.
- The Land Trust of North Alabama has a fantastic Tuesdays on the Trail summer educational series. Students can canoe, learn about the water ecosystems of North Alabama, get up close and personal with local birds or prey, and spend valuable time in natural settings. Burrit on the Mountain and The Huntsville Botanical Gardens have programs and camps all summer for school aged children that teach about native wildlife and the history of the area.
- Online learning systems can help maintain specific reading and math skills. Prodigy Math, Zearn, and Cool Math Games are free online resources for math practice. Prodigy Math and Zearn adapt to your student’s level and offer guided practice and additional practice in areas it perceives the student needs extra help. There are not as many free quality programs for reading skills, but many are worth the investment to ensure your student maintains skills. Consult your student’s teacher or reading interventionist to help choose a program. For younger students, ABCMouse, KizPhonics, and Reading Bear are reputable choices that follow the Orton-Gillingham principles of sequential, phonics based instruction. For school aged children, K5Learning, Headsprout, ABCYa, and Mr. Naussbaum are available for reading skills and reading comprehension practice.
Students with dyslexia need consistency in intervention, but also need time to recharge after a demanding school year. A total break is not recommended, but with thoughtful planning, a successful summer intervention program can be developed that balances work and play.
Brandi Sterling has taught middle school students at Greengate School since 2005. She has an M.S. in curriculum and instructional design, a B.A. in elementary education/special education from UAHuntsville and has had Orton-Gillingham training at the Associate level.