Where did July go? It always seems to blow by as quickly as it comes, like a hot breeze in the night, arriving and fading like a firework. If you’re anything like us, we had parts of the summer meticulously organized: summer camps, vacations, social events, you name it; it was quite the bazaar. But then interspersed in between these regimented weeks of organization was copious time of… well, not much. Indecision, madness, chaos, lethargy: frenetic nothingness. This is where summer slide occurs, I’m convinced…
Last summer, I spoke to a parent who has a son who meant to be learning to read. With much care, his kindergarten teachers sent him home with detailed instructions on which texts to read, how often, which activities to conduct, etc. These were excellent directions until it came time to actually conduct the work. You see, the family had three other children with three other agendas and parents struggling to balance professional and family life, a family that in addition to usual demands, required more planning that during the school year. And so, the parents complained to me, he wasn’t really learning anything at all. Mostly, he had just been playing a lot of video games and watching Dino Dana (quality show, by the way!). While summer camps, and vacations to the bahamas and hikes in the woods were incredibly fulfilling for the family, the boy was nowhere closer to learning to read. In fact, he was further away from it, for he was actively forgetting the lessons from the school year. The young brain (and the old one, too, for certain) forgets information as quickly as it acquires it.
We set the boy up with a tutor on a regular schedule, Tuesdays and Fridays for an hour in home, with a literacy specialist. She worked with him, utilizing exactly the instructions that the school had sent home with the boy in June. She even spoke directly to his kindergarten teacher (or the equivalent, as it was a Montessori school, and thus integrated grade levels). She bridged the materials, using some of her own materials to set him up for first grade. In eight weeks, the boy was reading the number 2 reading level books, or roughly at a late first-fourth grade reading level. The relationship was so productive that she continued working with the boy into first grade as he began school in the fall, utilizing one day after school and the weekends.
As parents, we all want to believe that we can educate our child or that they will magically educate themselves without guidance, which is simply fallacy. Caught up in our own madness and chaos, it’s simply not a practical plan for what are critical gaps in a child’s education in the American system. The beauty of tutoring, and what inspired me personally to migrate to tutoring and away from teaching, is its ability to fill those gaps in learning that exist everywhere in a naturally flawed system. The successes of traditional education are so often accidental: they meet the right teacher, or they find the right subject, or the stars align on the way they feel one day and what they encounter in their learning. But in tutoring, you can be as intentional as you would like, as intensive as is needed; it’s fully customizable in ways traditional education simply isn’t. It’s efficiency is thus infinitely more malleable. Excellence in education shouldn’t be an accident, not with what is ultimately at stake. And the downtimes when serendipity isn’t even possible are all the more critical to manage. Summer has enormous potential to take a hold of the education of young children, or to see it slip back to levels below where they were in the previous academic year. When the pools warm and the oceans crowd, the students that ultimately succeed, swim in the summer, and the ones that ultimately flag sink indifferently into the sand.