Read This!

Photo courtesy of Deb Dunn

I’ve been thinking about camp for next summer. Yes, I’m one of those moms. This past summer proved to me how important camp experiences are for my son. I had always enrolled him in day camps, with the idea that summer is an ideal time to have new experiences and perhaps find new and unexpected passions. It’s always worked out great — until this past summer, when I gave in to lots of pleadings not to go to camp. What a disaster. All of the promises of getting outside and having adventures quickly turned into him wanting to watch movies, play computer games, and basically be a giant sloth (I say this with the deepest of love). Never again.

For parents who do not have the option of whether your kids stay at home or go to camp, do not feel guilty if you have to send them. I mean it. More important, why am I writing about this in December? Because it takes time and forethought to find the best camp experiences for your children. We’re lucky to live in a place where there are opportunities aplenty for younger children. And overnight camp? Finding the right one can take as long as finding a needle in a haystack. What does this have to do with reading and learning anyway? More than you might realize.

There is a very real and well-researched phenomenon called the summer slide. If only it was something kids climb up and swoosh down. That would be a whole lot more fun! Summer slide is what happens when children do not read and are not engaged in learning and exercise during the two months of summer. They work hard all school year and make measurable academic gains, but return to school in September having lost up to two months of those gains. It’s frustrating for everyone to then spend the first two months of school catching them back up to where they had worked so hard to get to in June. Those two months should be spent moving children forward, not spiraling back to where they’ve already been.

The good news is, the summer slide is 100% preventable. This is where camp comes in. Unstructured time is extremely important for children to allow freedom of thought, creativity, and imagination, which comes more readily with down time than during the hectic days of the school year. But this does not mean you should let them have free rein every day, all day.

Much to our surprise, most children thrive on (and even crave) structure. Having something in place for them each week gives your child security. Camp gives them a purpose, a social outlet, and hopefully even daily challenges. All of this leads to active learning and brain stimulation. So go ahead and start mulling it over. Team or solo sports? Lego robotics? Adventure camp? Acting or improv? Music lessons? The possibilities are vast and diverse. I was even brave enough one summer to plan “Camp Mommy.” Each week was a different theme, and we brainstormed projects and activities for each day that fit with the theme. It was a bit of work, but well worth it, and a terrific way to spend more time with my son. The fringe benefit was seeing sparks fly in his eyes as he did backyard science experiments, molded clay, biked obstacle courses, and so much more.

If this all seems way too overwhelming for the last day of 2014, I’ll leave you with one takeaway for preventing the summer slide. A sure-fire, proven and guaranteed way for your child to maintain the growth he experienced throughout the school year? READ EVERY DAY. Go to the library, bring home a stack of books and read, read, read! A minimum of 15 minutes every day, and your child will start school with pride and confidence. (Psst: It just might be fun, too!)