If you’re the parent of a school-age child, I’m sure you’ve heard about the dreaded “summer slide.” The highly feared loss of academic ground that occurs over our country’s extended summer break. If you walk into any bookstore (sigh, if you can find one these days) or do a quick search online, you will easily find a wealth of materials that parents can use to keep their child’s reading and math skills from declining during the summer vacation.
I have nothing against brushing up on academics over the summer. Certainly, most kids have time to include a little math or reading in those long days without school. But what I’m personally more concerned about is another kind of “slide,” the one you find at a playground! With all this talk about keeping up academically, I’m dismayed that nobody talks about the importance of other skills that need practice to be maintained.
Children who are not attending summer camp or an extended year preschool are in danger of becoming rusty at forging and maintaining good social bonds with their peers. It’s just as important (I might argue more important) as bridging the summer academic gap that kids continue to exercise their physical and social muscles. Your child might appear content to laze on the couch and watch TV or immerse himself in a video game, but just as a violinist must practice to ensure good technique, a child has to spend time socializing or he might return to school on uneven footing with his friends.
As adults, we forget how intricate the dance of friendship is for children. Kids should learn how to:
- Initiate play
- Enter play that is already ongoing
- Set and enforce rules for a game
- Deal with rule avoiders or breakers
- Know when to stand firm and when to yield
- Choose teams
- Handle being more or less coordinated than one’s peers
- Engage in imaginative play
- Disengage from play when one becomes disinterested or bored
- Be a good winner and a gracious loser
- Handle disappointment
- Take turns. . .
So this summer embrace the slide! Take your child to the playground; encourage him to seek out the neighborhood kids for a game of catch; spend some time at the city pool. If you don’t have children in your neighborhood or don’t feel that your neighborhood is safe for unsupervised play, schedule a playdate or sign up for a program at your local YMCA or another area organization.
Play is important to the life of a child, especially during summer vacation.