Remember that classic scene in "The Karate Kid" where Mr. Miyagi teaches Daniel the seemingly pointless tasks of "wax on, wax off," "paint the fence," and "sand the floor"?
This scene beautifully illustrates the power of repetition and reinforcement in learning as Daniel realized he had been learning fundamental karate moves and his arms remembered the motions even when his brain didn't.
As an admissions consultant focused on helping students to unleash their potential by helping them, among other things, to develop many critical life skills, I have come to recognize that without repetition and reinforcement to build muscle memory, these skills don’t stick. And make no mistake about it, the brain is a muscle!
So when I read how students power down for the summer and then return to school with significant learning loss, I am not surprised. Shutting down is problematic because it impedes the reinforcement process required for retention. Students have to spend time relearning topics they have already learned and that chews up valuable time that could be used to move on to more advanced topics. The more significant area of loss also tends to be in the more quantitative areas such as math and science although it can be across the board. This is also an issue that starts very early in a student’s life and that accumulates over time as more and more summers aren’t utilized.
Now, all this does not mean that students need to go to school or take additional academic courses during the summer. In fact, staying engaged during the summer should be fun. Valuable intellectual stimulation can differ from day to day and can even come in small doses, as long as it is ongoing and consistent.
Heading Summer Slide off at the Pass!
So what can students do beyond the traditional extracurricular activities to keep the fire burning during the summer? Well that depends on their age but let’s take a look at some ideas to help you get started:
5-10 Years Old:
Storytime: Participate in library-run storytime events or set up a daily reading time at home.
Nature Walks: Explore local parks and nature reserves, discuss the different plants, insects, and animals.
Craft Projects: Use household items to create crafts, enhancing fine motor skills and creativity.
Puzzles: Work on age-appropriate puzzles to develop problem-solving skills.
Number Games: Use everyday activities, like grocery shopping, to identify numbers and do simple addition or subtraction.
10-15 Years Old:
Book Clubs: Organize a summer book club with friends, including discussion and related activities.
Science Experiments: Conduct simple at-home science experiments to explore various scientific concepts.
Math Challenges: Make math fun with board games that involve strategic thinking, or apps that present math challenges. My personal favorite when I was around 10 years old took place during nightly family dinners. My father would make up math problems on the fly “8x5+9/7*4+2/6*5+2/3=???” He threw out numbers as quickly as he could enunciate them doing the math in his head as he went along. My older brother and sister and I would follow along and whoever blurted the answer out first when my father stopped won. Every night he would do 4 or 5 of these at the dinner table and to this day I can trace my facility with math back to those nightly problems. So what do you think is the correct answer? Hint: PEMDAS doesn’t apply when doing math verbally.
Writing Project: Write a short story, comic book, or start a summer journal. If journaling, the goal should be to write one page per day.
15+ Years Old:
Coding Camp: Join an online or in-person coding camp to develop computer programming skills.
AI Prompt Engineering: Learning to generate quality output is a function of creating quality prompts. It is definitely a case of garbage in, garbage out. Learning to craft detailed prompts that yield the desired results requires real critical thinking and this is a great way to exercise and develop this skill. While many question whether it is ethical to use AI, the fact is that it is coming. We can either embrace and learn how to harness it or get left behind.
Documentary Club: Watch educational documentaries on a range of subjects, followed by a group discussion.
Virtual Tours: Take virtual tours of museums, art galleries, or historical sites around the world.
Creative Writing: Start a blog on a topic of interest or write poetry or short stories.
Standardized Test Preparation: While many colleges are test optional, some are reverting back to requiring students to submit an SAT or ACT. Today, students that have the wherewithal to prepare for and take an SAT or ACT should do so. Doing this however, does not mean spending a month or two before the test cramming. First of all, this is not a formula for success and retention of information. In 9th or 10th grade, download an SAT or ACT application on your students mobile phone and have them invest 15 minutes per day and do one math and one EBRW question. The daily repetition and reinforcement alone will embed the necessary learning of how to approach these questions so that when it comes time to take the test, it really shouldn’t be necessary to study as your student will have developed the “muscle memory” required to do well. Of course, when they get any practice question wrong, it is important to review the question explanations thoroughly so that they understand exactly where they went wrong. A couple of my personal favorite apps are: Khan Academy and Magoosh
Reading List: Tackle a summer reading list of both classic and contemporary literature.
TED Talks: Watch and discuss TED Talks on a variety of topics to broaden knowledge and spark debate.
So while this article focuses on ways to mitigate the Summer Slide, many of these activities can and should be pursued on a year-round basis. Additionally, whether your student is 2, 4 or 10 years away, when it comes to preparing for a future college admissions process, providing the mechanisms and the opportunities for reinforcement and repetition to keep your student intellectually engaged beyond the classroom during summers and year-round in general will bode well for their future prospects.
If you’re ready to dive deeper into your college application, check out the guide that our college admissions experts put together to help you navigate all the criteria admissions committees look at.
Second, if you are interested in more personalized guidance on how to manage the college planning and preparation process, PCC is here for you. Get in touch with Princeton College Consulting today.