When it comes to the school holidays, most parents have mixed feelings: Relieved to have a break from the routine of early school drop offs, homework and extra murals, as well as dreading having to find ways to entertain the kids at home.
Something many parents may not consider is the “Holiday Slide”. As fun as the name sounds, it is in fact a serious phenomenon that affects all students, and particularly those from low-income households.
Not a slide you want to go down
The Holiday Slide is the tendency for students to lose some of the achievement gains they made during the previous school term. Research spanning 100 years shows that students can fall behind an average of two to three months in mathematics and reading during the holiday break.
These effects are cumulative, with learning losses building up each holiday. For example, most young people lose about 2.6 years’ worth of maths computational skills over the cumulative school holiday months of their education. In addition, differences in children’s holiday learning experiences during their elementary school years can ultimately impact whether they proceed to institutions of higher learning later in life.
And aside from the direct impact of this on students’ futures, the Holiday Slide also affects teachers’ productivity and effectiveness. Nine in 10 teachers spend at least three weeks re-teaching lessons at the start of the next school term, meaning they fall behind in teaching the new curriculum, which in turn affects student learning outcomes.
The Holiday Slide also contributes to the achievement gap between low-income and high-income students. This is partly because higher-income students tend to continue to have access to financial and human capital resources (such as access to holiday programmes and parental education) over the holiday, thereby facilitating learning.
With that said, while holiday programmes can help keep kids’ minds engaged during the holidays, it’s just as important to ensure all students have the resources at home to help them keep learning over the holiday.
One can almost hear the sound of parents everywhere laughing at the thought of trying to get their children to read or do maths sums during their holidays. But there are several easy, cost-effective ways to make holiday learning fun.
- Time to get reading
Studies show that 90 percent of students who read for 40 minutes a day perform better academically. Even reading for 12 minutes per day increases academic performance by 50 percent. Allow your children to select the books that interest them and try to read the books at the same time as them so that you can engage them in discussion.
Reading helps improve in skills such as reading comprehension, writing style, vocabulary, spelling and grammar. Tools like Microsoft Learning Tools can further enhance this. A free resource that integrates with Microsoft Office, Microsoft Learning Tools assists with decoding, fluency and comprehension. It was originally designed for children with dyslexia but is now used in the classroom and at home by parents of emerging readers who can use some extra help.
- Solving the maths problem
Maths skills don’t have to deteriorate over the holidays – and children don’t need to feel they are being punished – thanks to several simple and fun activities. These can be as simple as getting your child to recite their times tables for a small reward or even collecting supermarket sales flyers and giving your children a make-believe budget to go on a “shopping trip”.
Technology also has a role to play in the form of several maths apps and programs. Younger children can learn number recognition, sequences, quantity, numerical patterns and simple addition in Endless Numbers; Illuminations offers 100 activities and online maths strategy games where players can compete with a computer or other students from across the world; and Slice Fractions is a fun and interactive game that has players slice through ice and lava to clear a mammoth’s path, all while learning about fractions.
Programs like this are particularly useful if you’re a working parent who doesn’t have as much time to create your own activities for your children.
- Coding for success
While reading and maths are touted as seeing the biggest skills drop-off during the holiday, developing your child’s coding skills in the holidays should also be a top priority.
The great thing about learning to code is that it embodies the idea that sometimes learning can be effective even when you’re not aware you’re learning – you think you’re just having fun. Ultimately, that fun translates into a set of skills and a way of thinking that will help today’s students make a success of tomorrow.
Coding teaches both critical and computational thinking, which helps to develop students’ problem-solving skills. It also gives them a sense of independence, which encourages innovation and entrepreneurship.
Minecraft: Education Edition makes this a reality. In simple terms, it’s a computer game about placing blocks to create the simplest shelter or grandest castle and going on adventures in randomly generated worlds. Minecraft has already been used in classrooms for years to help students learn more about maths, humanities, history and physics, and has helped build their digital literacy skills.
Have your children start early on learning the basic of coding with free Minecraft Hour of Code tutorials from Code.org that offer 10 levels for players to design their own solutions to puzzles.
- An activity for every occasion
Whether you choose to keep the learning informal or make it more structured, there is an educational activity for everyone.
Activities as simple as keeping a holiday journal to practise writing, playing a game of chess to develop reasoning skills or even asking questions such as “Why does a rainbow follow a rain shower?” during car trips, help to keep your children mentally engaged. Apps like Star Walk 2 and Earth 3D are also fun, interactive ways they can learn about the world around them.
On the opposite end of the scale, the Khan Academy offers free online practice exercises, instructional videos and personalised learning for your children to learn in a structured manner at their own pace.
An opportunity for continuous learning and holiday entertainment
While technology can never take the place of in-person learning, it’s clear that it has a role to play in helping students avoid the Holiday Slide. Students with working parents have the opportunity to learn online or via apps, and low-income students in particular can continue learning over the holiday break even if their parents can’t afford to send them to holiday programmes. In line with this, Microsoft and its partners also offer a wide range of Windows 10 devices for students of all ages, and to suit all budgets.
Finding fun ways to engage your children with academic content during the school holidays is a win-win: They’ll be on top of things when they return to school and you won’t be racking your brains to entertain them during the school holidays.