How to Stop the Summer Slide: A Tale of Three Moms


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How can you keep your kids from losing academic ground over the summer? How do you stop the Summer Slide? Based on a quarter century of parenting our four kids to academic success, I can vouch for basic principles that work.  

The key way to Stop the Summer Slide is to read, read, read.

  1. Sign up for your library’s summer reading program. 
  2. Fill your road trips with movies, music and audiobooks. 
  3. Read aloud at bedtime. 
  4. Add reading to the summer chore chart. 
  5. Surround your kids with great books to choose from. 
  6. Get kids cooking to practice skills by reading and math skills.

There are proven methods that work, but implementing them isn’t always easy. Seeing three fictional moms in action can help you learn how to make the tips and tricks work in real life. Following their stories might surprise you.  

Enter the Three Moms

Excitement at Wilson Elementary is high. Only two more days till school’s out for the summer. Homeroom Mom passes out flyers to every child in the third grade about How to Stop the Summer Slide.  After she gets them all passed out, she joins Soccer Mom and Military Mom as they stand outside the school talking about plans for the summer. She tells them she bought workbooks for her kids at the warehouse outlet for $7.50 each, so she’s confident that the Summer Slide is not going to be a problem. 

“I’m actually dreading the summer,” said Soccer Mom. “My kids know how to drive me up the wall. They can’t stay out of trouble and they can’t quit fighting. I’d love to have a game plan that would keep them too busy to fight with each other.”

Military Mom skims through the flyer and sees lots of good ideas for her kids, but isn’t sure if she can pull it off alone. She has a calendar in her top dresser drawer that has the countdown till her husband’s deployment is over. 296 days left. Every day is a struggle. She’s more than tired of fighting homework battles on her own. She needs to win at this game. For her kids’ sake and for her sanity.

Enter Soccer Dad

When Soccer Mom brings up the ideas about stopping the Summer Slide, her husband isn’t supportive. He thinks it’s unnecessary and dumb. He thinks summer is for relaxing and playing and having fun, not doing school work. “Let them have a break. School is stressful enough. They need some time off.”

“Haven’t you ever heard of the Summer Slide?  Look how much trouble our kids have had this year doing homework. It’s just going to get worse if they play all summer and don’t do anything to help them remember what they’ve learned this year.”

She couldn’t understand why he didn’t see how important this was. She remembered with painful clarity all the embarrassment she suffered at the hands of other kids when she had trouble in school. She didn’t want her kids to go through that. It was worth whatever it cost to save them from that pain. He just didn’t understand. 

Enter Military Dad 

That night, when Military Dad calls on Skype, she tells him all her ideas for the summer to stop the Summer Slide. He thinks it’s a great idea. He suggests reading The Mouse and the Motorcycle out loud to them. It was his favorite book as a kid. He wants to talk to the kids. He misses them. 

Homeroom Mom starts strong

She looks up the information for the summer reading program at the library. She spends time making a chart of responsibilities for each kid over the summer. She’s got the workbooks for each of them. They need to spend an hour a day on those before doing anything else.  

She plans a Library and Lake Day for every Friday of the summer. On the first Friday in June it rains. Everyone’s disappointed. She takes the kids to the library anyway. They load up with huge stacks of books. She’s able to get a few for herself. She checks out some TV series sitcoms that she and hubby can watch together. 

After lunch, she tells the kids they need to read a book before supper. They start playing with legos, then they get into the video games. 

Her mother calls to update her on the latest family drama. She loses track of time. Suddenly, it’s 5 pm. She finds some pizzas in the freezer and sticks them in the oven.  Kids come to the table apathetic and lethargic. The delivery man comes to the door with a box containing a racetrack and cars that Dad ordered. The evening disappears with track set up and racing. 

The next day she announces that screen time will be limited to one hour a day for the rest of the summer. There’s no way her kids are going to waste the whole summer glued to their screens. 

When Mom leaves to go grocery shopping and run errands, they sneak past Dad to the basement for a couple of clandestine hours of screen time that mom will never know about. When Dad asks what they’re doing, they tell him they’re playing light sabers. 

Soccer Mom jumps in

She doesn’t care what hubby says. This needs to happen. She will make it happen. It’s what’s best for the kids. 

Good thing they already had a road trip scheduled to visit friends out of state. She made a list of snacks and drinks they needed in the car. She stopped to buy beach towels for everyone, flip flops for Sissy and board shorts for Little Brother. Then she went to the children’s book section and picked out two books for each kid. No movies on this trip. No music. They were going to read. There was no way her kids were going to slide this summer. She was going to stop it for sure. 

Military Mom makes plans

Military Mom stayed up late working on Summer Charts for the kids. She planned every week for the next six weeks until they left for vacation. They had inside chores, dishes and vacuuming, and outside chores, weeding the garden and feeding the dog, they needed to get some exercise every day and make their bed and do some reading. No screen time allowed till the chores for the day were done. No questions. This was the way it was going to be. 

On the first day everything went smoothly. 

The second day mutiny kicked in when it was time to weed the garden. There was whining and complaining and groaning and moaning. There were headaches and stomachaches and runny noses and watery eyes. To no avail. The timer was set for 15 minutes. Some might argue that the amount of complaining outranked the amount of weeding two to one. But, when the timer went off, all were still in the garden making pitiful progress. 

They seemed relieved to come in and read a chapter in their assigned books to check that off the list. 

The next day, they complained a little less about the weeding and not at all about dishes. 

Soccer Mom takes the kids to visit her parents

The blue minivan turned down the long winding drive in the dark and eased to a stop. Soccer Mom breathed a sigh of relief and sat in the darkness and stillness grateful to be there. The kids were asleep. The porch light was on, but her parents hadn’t noticed that they were there. 

She didn’t want to move and disrupt the peace. There were so few moments of peace in her life she wanted to enjoy each one. 

The next morning she stumbled into the kitchen to find her mom and dad making coffee. They offered her some and she eagerly grabbed a mug. Before she knew it, all her frustration was pouring out about all the fighting at her house. Fights with kids about chores. Bedtime fights. Mealtime fights. Fights over what to wear. Fighting with Soccer Dad. She was pulling out her hair and tempted to just walk away from it all. 

Of course, she loved her husband and the kids, but all the fighting was driving her up a wall. 

Her parents listened without saying much.

After church, her parents took her and the kids for Cracker Barrel for dinner. The place was packed and she milled around the gift shop while they waited for a table. The kids, of course, were enticed by toys that jiggled and jerked by themselves. Their grandparents indulge their wishes. Soccer Mom found herself looking at DVDs and music CDs. She ought to get something for the trip home. 

She remembered the advice from the flyer of playing movies based on classic children’s literature. She browsed the collection and found a couple. Then she bought a CD of patriotic songs and headed to the check out counter. 

That night her mom made hot chocolate and popcorn and dumped a 500 piece puzzle on the table. The kids were enticed. While they looked for edge pieces, Grandma grabbed a book of Robert Louis Stevenson’s poems and read The Highwayman. “Why does he gallop and gallop about?” Soccer Mom was just as mesmerized as the kids, but it didn’t last. 

The kids started fighting about who was kicking who, so she sent them upstairs for baths and bedtime. 

Her mom  mentioned in an off-hand way that maybe a family counselor could help them reduce the bickering in the family. There was no shame in getting help when help was needed. 

Military Mom finds books

Next weekend it would be her turn to host the sleepover, but tonight the kids were at friends’ houses. 

That gave her af little peace and quiet to do some research. She wanted to be able to bring home stacks of good books from the library that the kids could choose from. She wanted to surround them with good books. It turned out to be harder than she thought. Reading levels were pretty easy to find, it took a lot longer to discover the content of the books. Why didn’t books have ratings like movies? It was hard to know what was actually in the books. She certainly didn’t have time to read them all. 

Finally, though, she was able to put together a good list and bring home an overwhelming library haul. 

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Homeroom Mom and Dad take the kids on vacation

Homeroom Mom was excited about the family’s beach vacation. She has audiobooks picked out to play in the car. Dad drives. 30 minutes into the trip, she starts playing the first audiobook but the kids fall asleep. After they stop for lunch, she figures they’ve missed too much of the story and doesn’t start it up again. 

They have a great week. The kids love playing in the sand and water. Mom feels a little disappointed that her audiobook plan didn’t work. But, she’s thankful to have a happy family and a good vacation. 

Hope and inspiration from Gifted Hands

Military Mom was discouraged. Single parenting was a rough gig. The kids were at Grandma’s for the weekend and she was glad to have some time to breathe. On Friday night she made popcorn and put on her favorite chick flick. She fell asleep halfway through, so she got up and went to bed. 

On Saturday she rushed through her weekend chores and by 11 am she was ready to lay in the hammock with a book. Gifted Hands by Ben Carson was recommended by one of her kids’ teachers as an inspiration for requiring kids to read. 

Ben Carson’s mom was a single mom of two boys who struggled to make ends meet. She cleaned houses to provide for her family. She limited her boys’ TV time and made them read books. They had to turn in book reports to her. She even checked them and was still able to hide the fact that she was illiterate herself. 

Reading books stirred up Ben’s curiosity and his desire to learn more. As he read biographies he came to see that the poverty in his own life was temporary, that one day he’d be able to rise above his circumstances. His situation no longer had the power to cause him shame. 

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Disaster Strikes for Soccer Mom

Soccer Mom decided that she will have the kids help her one by one with cooking this summer. She made summer charts and posted them on the refrigerator. On the second day a summer rain storm flooded the back yard which flooded the basement. 

It took a team of restoration workers three days to get it all cleaned up. It was all Soccer Mom could do to keep the kids out of their way.  

Summer Charts were forgotten. 

On Friday, Soccer Mom saw them hanging on the fridge. 

This is never going to work she thought. She pulled them off and threw them away. Nobody mentioned them again. 

Military Mom runs into trouble

Kid #2 is pitching a fit about his selection for required reading. Military Mom doesn’t want to cave. But, she sees his point. The book is a little girly. She heads back to her trusted list. Surely she can find something a little more manly. Bingo. There it is. She’ll let him swap it out. This isn’t a defeat. Just a momentary setback. 

She takes a look at the rest of his list. Yep. She’ll need to make a couple more changes down the line. It’s okay. This is going to work.  

Family counseling isn’t so bad

Soccer Mom finds a family counselor who has room in his schedule. Soccer Dad isn’t excited, but is willing. The first session with the whole family goes well, the kids like the toys in his office. For the next three sessions, he wants to see Mom and Dad alone. They talk about communication, decision making and expectations. They’re amazed about how much is going on under the surface that they didn’t realize. It feels good to get it out into the open. 

They realize they need to be on the same team especially in front of the kids, so the kids can’t divide and conquer. 

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Military Mom drives solo

Military Mom was nervous about taking her kids on vacation by herself. She’d never done it before. During the last long deployment she only had one baby at home. The only vacation she took that year was with her parents. 

This was different. Three kids for a week at the beach by herself. 

There were so many things to do to get ready for the trip. It was more work than staying home. She certainly hoped it was worth it. After she got the food and clothes figured out, she concentrated on wholesome entertainment that would also be educational. She actually hired a babysitter for the afternoon so she could go to the library and get stocked up. 

She had her lists ready for audiobooks, music CDs and movies for the trip. She also had lists of books based on the ages and reading levels of her kids. She wanted them to have lots of books to choose from. 

The six hour trip went as well as could be expected. She didn’t even try to play the audiobooks, but did put music CDs and movies in to entertain the kids and keep them occupied and happy. A few of her choices got voted down, but a couple were hits. 

When they stopped at Mickey Ds for lunch, she ordered the kids’ meals but didn’t let them eat. Their job was to play on the playground while she ate her salad and watched them. They could eat in the car. Cleaning up a few french fries was a small price to pay for the chance for them to burn some energy climbing and playing. 

The beach house was a big hit. 

Watching the kids playing in the sand and water for hours on end made Mom happy. Most meals were cereal or sandwiches, with a few treats thrown in. 

They fell into a nighttime routine. When the sun finally went down and the kids were showered and ready for bed, they climbed up on Mom’s bed. She set the timer for 5 minutes for pillow fights and jumping on the bed. Then they had to settle down. She read a few chapters of The Penderwicks. Then she put on a movie. The Hobbit or The Wizard of Oz or Wonder

Most nights, she would sneak out halfway through the movie and climb into one of their beds for a peaceful night of sleep without little arms and legs poking her. 

On the trip home, she started playing one of the audiobooks she had checked out from the library. The protests were so loud and persistent that she took it out and played the audiobook version of Wonder. This one caught their attention and they listened to it for most of the six hour ride home. 

Two weeks into the new school year the Moms meet up

Homeroom Mom collars the other two and jumps in,Did you get your kids’ academic evaluations in the mail last night? Boy, what a mess. They’re impossible to understand. They just don’t make any sense at all. I don’t know who makes up those dumb tests anyway. They don’t tell you anything. 

But I do know one thing for sure. The teachers here at Wilson Elementary are still giving way too much homework. There’s no time left after school for a kid to be a kid. They need to have time to run around and climb trees and enjoy life. Kids can’t be happy when the school has such unrealistic expectations. And the school can’t expect the parents to enforce such ridiculous demands.

All I can say is that at least we have a happy home where kids can be kids.”

Military Mom had gotten her evaluations in the mail, but she wasn’t going to say anything. She had to do some internet research plus look up a few terms in the dictionary before she could figure out what they meant. When she finally got it decoded, the gist of it was the kids were at grade level or above in all the language arts areas. They slid a little bit in a few of the math areas. Now she knew what to work on. 

She’d have to dig up some information and make a plan for how to bring those up. But, she knew she could do it. She had the confidence in herself and her kids. She knew she could plan the work and work the plan. Even if there were false starts, some things that worked, some that didn’t. She knew if she kept searching, kept trying and kept holding the kids accountable, they could all win this game. And only 257 days to go till her hubby came home. 

Soccer Mom had also gotten the evaluations in the mail, but she, too, kept her mouth shut.  It took a couple of hours for her and Soccer Dad working together to figure out how the kids scored. The short version was they had lost a little ground over the summer that they would need to make it up now. 

That was okay. They had a new routine in place that was working and Soccer Mom was certain that as the school year progressed there wasn’t going to be problems getting those scores up to where they needed to be. 

Every night after supper, Dad played soccer with the boys. Then Mom bathed the boys and read easy chapter books to them after bath time. Big sister was able to shower and get herself ready for bed. Then she read out loud to her dad a chapter or two from Boxcar Children and then he read to her from The Hobbit, one of his favorite books as a kid. 

It felt so good to be on the same page and be working together towards the same goalIt took more energy and discipline to stay engaged with her kids all the way through bedtime instead of watching sitcoms on TV, but what a huge relief to have peace at home instead of fighting. 

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