May 30, 2017 by Carrie Gajowski, MA

Every year, parents and educators work hard to help their children and students learn as much as possible, squeezing in all the high-value knowledge they can. But come the end of the school year, a solid percentage of that learning — anywhere from 6 to 12 weeks — is lost during summer vacation. This is especially true for children with learning challenges.

Here are 5 tips for helping struggling readers get ahead this summer.

1. Read, Read, Read…But Don't Do It Alone

It makes sense that if you read more, you'll be better at reading, right? Not so fast. If your child is struggling with decoding, fluency, and/or comprehension, it turns out that silent reading may not be helping at all. Research shows that independent, silent reading does not increase proficiency for struggling readers, but "guided oral reading" — reading with an expert reader by your side — does. 

This summer, make sure your child gets help when a word or passage is too difficult (which is exactly what Reading Assistant technology does), so that time spent practicing moves reading skills ahead. Also, take turns reading a story to each other. Talk about the story, model what you're thinking, and ask open-ended questions, e.g., "I think Betty is feeling hurt that her friends are leaving her out. If I were her, I would find new friends. What would you do?"

2. Get Back to Music

Decades ago, families gathered in the evening to play music together. How things have changed! Still, summer is a great time to break out the instruments. Music is good for the brain, so if piano practice has gone by the wayside during the year, or if you like to play the guitar and sing, summer is a great time to bring your child in on that activity, or to get started on some new lessons.

Research has shown that actively learning about music and playing a musical instrument has positive effects on the reading brain. In one study, six months of formal musical training resulted in positive changes for participants, such as improved perception of pitch in spoken language and improved processing of speech, which correlate with better reading and language skills. The study authors concluded that a relatively short period of training — just 6 months — can have a significant, positive impact.

3. Cultivate a Growth Mindset

Summer is a good time to try some new activities! And with new activities come new struggles. Regardless of your child’s ability, the right attitude is essential in fostering perseverance in learning. Research has shown that learners with a “growth mindset” who believe that struggle is good, that abilities change, and that life is filled with opportunity, thrive on new and challenging experiences. Those who believe their ability is fixed, or that everything must always be right or perfect, are more likely to balk at challenges. This is a mindset most of us adults can benefit from revisiting as well!

To develop a growth mindset:

  • Explain that the brain develops new connections in response to challenging learning experiences.
  • Give your child a challenge, and provide support by praising effort and progress rather than intelligence ("You really worked hard on that." vs. "That looks perfect!")
  • Model a growth mindset for your child — take on a challenging learning opportunity of your own and be up front when you encounter difficulties. Talk with your child about how you plan to overcome obstacles that you encounter, and then follow through.

4. Address the Root Causes of Learning Struggle

There's a difference in the foundational cognitive skills of typical readers and those who struggle. Skills like working memory, focused attention, and processing speed (the most common culprits of reading struggle) often go unaddressed.

  • A child must be able to hold information in working memory in order to complete all the steps in a multi-step task, and to stay focused on the task long enough to complete it.
  • A child’s brain must also be able to process information rapidly enough to keep up, and to put all the elements in the right order to comprehend and use that information.

If a child is struggling during the school year, the summer is the best time to fill in missing skills and simultaneously improve these foundational cognitive abilities. The best summer interventions are intensive, personalized to each learner, are easy to fit into a busy family's schedule, and address the core issues.

That's how Fast ForWord works: it is a neuroscience-proven reading intervention program for learners who are below grade level. It is ideal for parents who are looking for rapid improvement over the summer, so that next year, your child enters school with more confidence, better reading, and feeling ready for the challenge ahead.

5. Unstructured Play

While it’s easy to write off summer vacation as downtime from learning, it’s important to remember the importance of unstructured play in a child’s development. Summertime can provide your child the freedom and opportunity to grow and explore in ways not possible during the busy, and often over-scheduled, academic year.

Your child uses play to develop a host of important characteristics such as self-confidence and creativity, as well as social skills like negotiation and working in groups. Opportunities for active, physical play set the groundwork for lifelong healthy habits and promote physical well-being. Physical activity is an effective way for the body to rid itself of the stress hormones that build up during the challenges of daily life. Make time for play!



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