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Keeping your child from falling behind in the classroom during the summer months

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A child's mind is like a sponge, but when they aren't learning in the classroom, they could be falling behind. 

The weeks from May until August when children are away from the classroom could mean trouble for their education. 

It's a phenomenon known as the summer slide. Education experts, like Kim Davis from the Mahoning County Educational Services Center, say that studies have proved that children are likely to come back to school in the fall several milestones behind where they left off the previous spring. 

But there are ways parents can help their students stay ahead of the game. 

A simple solution is to make a summertime practice of reading every day. National education experts say 20 minutes a day is a minimum. 

But Davis says there's more to it than that. 

"You need to take reading a step further," Davis said. "You know with older kids, with high schoolers, you might want to read the same book as they are reading, and then have conversations about it." 

Parents don't necessarily need to ask school-like questions, but rather stick to conversation starters, things like asking the child what they thought, what they enjoyed, and what they think might happen next.

"Children are social learners," explained Davis. "When you read a book and you have a conversation about it that's where the vocabulary blooms off the page. It's because of that conversation." 

It's part of a three-pronged approach that Davis says parents can use to help keep kids learning during the summer- without lesson plans and classrooms. 

The three prongs- Intentionality, Observation, and Communication, are a guideline to help parents make a decision. 

The process is simple, intentionally set aside time to do an activity together- whether it's baking, hiking, making dinner, or even helping plan a family event or chores around the house. 

Use those activities as an opportunity to explore and observe. 

Davis provided the easy example that June is the month of the planets- "Go outside. Look at the night sky. Look at the morning sky. What did you see, now talk about it." 

Once you and your child observe the world or moment around them, communication comes in to play. 

Davis says it's important to ask questions and have a conversation with your child while not talking to them like a child. 

She explained that since children learn through the talks we have with them, adults should use correct language and terms to discuss. 

The best course of action is to pick an activity that relates to your child's interests, which could be as simple as taking a walk to find bugs, looking for constellations, baking cupcakes, or even dancing around the living room. 

"You have to make it engaging," said Davis. "It has to be engaging." 

That's why Davis said it's best not to put time constraints on experiences or reading amounts. 

"Then the kid starts thinking 'ugh, I have to finish my hour of learning before I can go play'," says Davis. "When sometimes that play can actually be hours of learning." 

But planning an educational rich experience doesn't have to be a ton of work for parents either. Davis says they can be integrated into everyday moments. 

"It's not anything that the parent has to worry about and say 'Oh, I'm off work now and I need to plan an educational experience for my kids now'. If you just think about it and ask them questions, have conversations with them, and look around and think about how can my child learn by riding this bike trail in Mill Creek Park," Davis explained. 

For older kids, Davis suggests asking them to help budget a family outing or plan for an event, not only does it help students keep their math skills sharp, but it also makes them feel as if they've contributed to the family. 

It may take a little parental creativity, but the efforts are worth it. 

"Kids who have rich experiences over the summer actually come back ahead of their grade level," said Davis. 

She also cautioned against enrolling children in too many organized activities over the summer- saying that things like soccer, dance, appointments, and so on can leave children with too little time to explore and imagine, limiting educationally rich experiences. 

In addition, Davis said families should consider limiting screens, tablets, phones, and computers. And that includes parents. 

Davis said that a present parent is more likely to engage their child in conversations that will leave an impression. 

But most of all, Davis said parents should strive to enjoy the time with their kids. 

"Above all, just enjoy your children," she added. 

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