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How to Prevent the 'Summer Slide'

Congratulations! You got your kid through another elementary school year.

The teacher gave you (whoops, make that your kid) a good grade on the book report. You recalled your papier-mâché skills just in time to help build that wildlife diorama. You drilled her on times tables and quizzed her during dinner about the difference between herbivores and carnivores, and guess what? The grades are in, and you guys (oh wait, we meant your daughter) will graduate to 4th grade come fall.

Phew! Bring on summer vacation!

Except now you're on the hook in a different way. Ever heard of the phenomenon called "summer slide"? Researchers at the Rand Corp. found that, on average, American students lose an entire month's worth of education each year due to the academic wasteland that is summer vacation.

But that's on average. There's lots of summertime intervention that can help. Here at mom.me, we know that you are overwhelmed enough, juggling your own responsibilities, as well as the kids' newfound downtime and the general schedule disruption that is an extended school break. So we've talked to Rebecca Silverman, the educational consultant for the PBS Kids show "Martha Speaks," about easy, doable ways you can help your kids keep their skills sharp during these fuzzy days of summer.

American students lose an entire month's worth of education each year due to the academic wasteland that is summer vacation.

The show itself aims to help. Leading into National Summer Learning Day (Friday, June 20), "Martha Speaks" sends its talking-dog heroine into language-based adventures involving Shakespearean English and world languages (Polish, anyone?). On the show's website, games and digital books aim to help children reinforce and build their vocabulary, word by word.

Silverman says one way parents can help kids enhance their language skills over the summer is simply by keeping one ear tuned to the programs their kids are watching. Later, "you can ask follow-up questions" about wording as well as plot, she says. "Ask them, 'What did you see today? What were the words that were interesting to you?'"

MORE: Family-Friendly Hotels for Summer

Screen-Free Options

Of course, kids are only too happy to have screen time. Reading is another matter. Some children will pick up books of their own volition. Others — those known in educational parlance as "reluctant readers" — take a bit more prodding. Silverman advises connecting reading material to subjects the kids are interested in, or what they are experiencing or going to be experiencing. So if your son is heading off to science camp, a book on electricity might be interesting. If the family is making a visit to Washington, D.C., bring home a picture book about the U.S. presidents, a pictorial on the city itself or, for an older child, a guidebook to the nation's capital.

Silverman also recommends finding books about projects kids can do over the summer. For instance, she says, she got her own son a book on things he could do with recycled materials, and now he can make some of the projects by reading and following the directions. Cookbooks with child-accessible recipes can accomplish the same ends.

Read Aloud, Then Talk About It

Children will also benefit from listening to books read aloud. Download an audio book from the library and while you're at it, check out the paper version as well, then have your child follow along. If that's not his bailiwick, fine, just have him listen while he doodles or organizes his baseball cards. Many digital picture books also feature text-to-speech technology, allowing new readers to hear the words on the page spoken as they follow along.

In addition, Silverman says children of most ages can benefit from listening to their parents read a book aloud to them. A parent reading aloud can introduce a child to stories that may be a little too complex for the kid on her own, says Silverman, whose own grandmother used to read her the school's summer reading books, all the way through high school. "The power of discussion is really important," she says. "And besides, then the parents and kids have that shared context."

Keep a Journal or Start a Blog

Writing skills can also lag in the summer, but here too, there are simple remedies. Silverman recommends creating a project involving writing — say, keeping a journal of the camping trip, or writing a blog about summer camp or the museums you're visiting. "In the summer when they just want to have fun," she says, "try to connect it to the fun things they are doing."

Work Math into Everyday Outings

Similarly, with math, try to incorporate the skill into your everyday experiences. Can your child add up the cost of the shopping items as you drop them into the cart? Ask questions like, if we have four people sitting at the table and one pizza, how can we cut it up so everyone gets three slices? And check out this great site, where your kids can download baseball score cards for keeping tallies during games and get a statistics lesson in the process.

Whatever the subject, pinpoint opportunities — whenever they arise, amid whatever else is going on that day — to incorporate learning. "Help kids keep that curiosity alive," Silverman says, "to use and develop their skills over the summer."

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