THE BLOG

Another School Vacation? How Parents Can Prevent the Spring Slide

04/01/2015 07:42 am ET | Updated May 31, 2015

Spring is here, which means warm weather, antsy children, and another school vacation. When the fun and relaxing times end, returning to school can be quite overwhelming.

Last week, a parent asked me after my therapy session with her child for advice on how to survive the upcoming spring break. She said that winter break had disrupted her child's routine. When it was time to return to school, her child was unmotivated to do his morning routine, did not want to complete his homework, and lost ground in math, which resulted in her needing to hire a tutor to review concepts.

Researchers call this phenomenon the "summer slide," but it can happen in any season. When children spend about a week or more away from school they tend to forget some of what they have learned. This means teachers have to spend time reviewing old concepts rather than introducing new material. During school vacations children fall out of their study routines and can even lose their ability to focus. Research shows that kids with disabilities, like the kids I work with, and those from low-income homes are particularly prone to the slide. The reason is that they have limited access to what we educators call "supplemental learning opportunities," like trips to local museums, the library, and the zoo.

Year-round schooling helps in some ways, but even that schedule includes extended breaks throughout the year that are on average two to three weeks long. This is why we should think about shortening school vacations altogether and instituting an extended year-round calendar. An extended year-round school calendar would increase the number of classroom hours by limiting school breaks to one week or less at a time.

That might sound extreme, but consider that U.S. children spend less time in school than most European kids, and a month less than children in South Korea.

I'm not arguing against all time off. Children do need a break from school to spend time with family, observe holiday traditions, travel, and to just simply rest. However, this should occur for limited amount of days to prevent kids from falling behind academically.

In the meantime, here are some tips for parents facing school vacations of any length:

Keep Similar Routines: This may be easier said then done however, keeping your wake-up and bed-times similar and filling the day hours with activities will provide your child a predictable, structured environment, a sense of stability, and decreased stress. By reducing the amount of unstructured free time, your child will be less restless and bored.

Keep the Children Busy: Find educational activities to engage in daily. This will limit the amount of time they are home watching TV, texting, or playing video games. Some resources to find community activities are your local Parks and Recreation Department, local newspaper, local libraries. You can also do this at home with board games, arts and crafts, academic tasks, meal preparation and reading.

Have a Daily Visual Schedule: The whole idea of school break may be confusing for the younger children since they are still developing the concept of time. Utilizing a visual schedule helps them understand the "what, when, where and why" of their day. It's also important to involve them by letting them choose what activities they would like to do and cross off completed activities and days before they go to bed. Within your daily schedule you can include a countdown as to how many days your child returns to school. This will assist your child getting mentally prepared for the transition back to school.

Read to Your Child: Children are exposed to literacy concepts many times throughout their school day. Continuing to expose them to books while they are home will only increase their language development, listening, and comprehension skills. Reading to your child also stimulates their imagination and facilitates a positive interaction where they receive one-on-one attention from the parent. Research recommends that parents set a side a scheduled time each day to read to their child (Raisingreaders.net).

Limit Electronics: Allowing a child unlimited access to TV and computer can lead to childhood obesity, lethargy, difficulty in school, and insomnia. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be limited to 1 to 2 hours of educational programming daily. Here are some ways to limit your child's access to electronics: First, keep them out of reach and out of your child's bedroom. Have your child earn their time with electronics upon completion of other activities. Specifically allocate times within the day that are appropriate for your child to have access to electronics.

Good luck out there, parents. And here's an activity children of all ages can do: research extended year-round calendar and lobby your community to consider it.