Summer is the season when children look forward to a long break from school—and parents dread the “summer slide,” aka academic skills getting flabby from lack of exercise. Well-off families often enroll their kids in programs that incorporate science, reading, and technical skills into fun activities. But what about the family living on a service-job income, where every dollar is needed for food, rent, and utilities?
Low-income households do suffer more from summer slide, but there are defenses against it.
Summer Learning, Free of Charge
Start the search with your nearest public library. Not only do most libraries offer organized summer programs, they’re your best source of books and other media for additional learning. The very act of reading (any theme or format) exercises mental-processing skills, imagination, vocabulary, and memory. And one library visit a month can supply enough learning materials to last the summer.
Other places that may offer free classes and resources include:
- Animal shelters
- City or county offices
- Community centers
- Community colleges
- Easterseals affiliates
- Public parks
- Religious centers
- Shopping malls
- Social-services agencies
- Summer schools
Check websites, local news channels, or library/restaurant/store bulletin boards for options in your area.
Virtual Summer School
If your household has quality high-speed (broadband) internet service, you can access a near-endless supply of resources 24/7, at little or no cost. If you’ve put off getting broadband due to cost concerns, consider applying to the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program, which significantly reduces internet costs and also provides for buying discounted computers.
If you do have decent online access but the internet is still unknown territory, look up “digital literacy classes” or “Digital Navigators” to see who’s offering low-cost instruction in your area. Make it a whole-family experience: your kids will love it! (And by learning with them, you’ll head off the embarrassment common in middle-class families, where parents have to ask their kids to teach them the latest technology.)
(For additional virtual-learning ideas, check our Summer App List.)
Set the Example
Finally, remember that even if you work outside the home 50 hours a week, your children are constantly learning from your example.
- If you nurse an attitude of “Nothing will ever get better,” the kids will pick it up whether or not you say it out loud. If your regular attitude is one of gratitude and hope, your children will absorb that too—and gain confidence to help change things for the better. (Note: If anyone in your family is struggling with persistent feelings of hopelessness, see a doctor and request evaluation for possible medical depression.)
- If you never open a book, your kids will assume reading isn’t very important. If you’re an avid reader yourself, and especially if you make a regular family activity of reading aloud to each other, your kids will learn to love reading and learning. (If you don’t read because you never were very good at it, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. And it’s not too late to learn. Ask a library or your children’s school about literacy classes.)
- If you treat learning itself as a necessary evil, so will your children. Always encourage them to get the most (not just good grades) from school and other classes. And be an ongoing learner yourself: skills don’t have to slide after finishing school, either!