Written by: Samantha Ruge
Summer is typically a two or three month break for students to relax, recuperate, and make memories with friends and family. Children learn to develop social skills, creativity and friends all during the summertime. But for some families and children, the break can be a more stressful time than the school year itself. Many families struggle to keep their children healthy and occupied during the summer break due to a number of factors.
According to Feeding America, there are almost 16 million children in America at risk of hunger. Food insecurity is a problem that many face year round. During the school year, though, students have access to free and reduced lunch. The pandemic has also made free and reduced lunch unavailable or harder to access, only increasing the number of people facing food insecurity, among other stressors.
Common Threads recommends getting children involved with grocery shopping and cooking, teaching them how to make smart decisions at the grocery store so that they can maximize their dollars at home. Common Threads has a number of easy, affordable and nutritious recipes that are great for summer snacks and meals.
“It is important to involve children in cooking and grocery shopping, especially during the summer months as there are many benefits that result when kids are engaged in the kitchen,” said Ashley Roth, Registered Dietitian for Common Threads. “Some of these benefits include kids gaining skills in STEM and math through learning how to measure, interpret ingredients, and divide food into proper portions, as well as life skills like learning to plan ahead, select ingredients, weigh produce, and budgeting money.”
The “summer slide,” otherwise known as summer learning loss, is the loss of acquired knowledge during the school year over the lengthy summer break that students have. The summer slide disproportionately affects low-income children and has lasting effects on their future. A study by professors at Harvard and the University of Virginia reports that more than half of the gap in reading scores between 9th graders from under-resourced families and their more affluent peers could be attributed to differences in summer learning accumulated between first and fifth grade.
When children aren’t in school, they don’t always spend their time focusing on learning. Resources and socioeconomic status also play a part in the access children have to learning activities and growth experiences that over summer.
The pandemic has vastly altered the learning progress of students, as well.
“Despite the school system’s best efforts to educate students virtually, it is clear that in person learning for elementary aged students is more impactful,” said Frankie Wilson, West Homestead site director of Touching Miami with Love Ministries.
There are many ways that families and communities can combat the problems that face families and children during the summer months. First, families can take advantage of the resources that are now available for students. The free and reduced lunch program helps children get access to food during the school year. But, when school is not in session, the Summer Food Service Program provides free meals and snacks to children during summer, as well as other school breaks. The USDA announced this new access on March 9, 2021 due to the 12 million children that are living in households where they may not always have enough to eat.
Physical activity is commonly recommended by educators, as well.
“Play outside, go for walks, ride bikes, and take free trails in natural parks,” Wilson said. Wilson acknowledged that extreme summer heat can play a factor in many communities, but he recommends, “There are YouTube activities that we do as a family such as Just Dance. My kids love when I blast the music and I shout Dance Party and we all copy the moves.”
Jessica Salgado, resource coordinator at Metropolitan Family Services, also recommends physical activity, recommending “walking classrooms” that allow students to listen to a lesson on a podcast while enjoying a brisk, 20-minute walk outside.
“Now it is at home where students can do the most to introduce healthy habits and exercises… a cool idea is doing a walking classroom,” Salgado said. This is a great way for kids to learn while walking.”
Wilson recommends families use the summer months to reinforce basic skills students learned in the previous year.
“Studies show that we need to hear and see things multiple times before it is stored in our long term memory,” Wilson said. “So for example, you are a parent to a child leaving Kindergarten and starting first grade in Fall 2021. Ensure your child knows all their letters and sounds easily. Next, work on sight words and sounding out small words like cat. This can all be done via games orally in the car, on a walk, during bath time, at the park.”
Keeping children happy and healthy during summer can have long term benefits into their futures. We can start creating healthy habits by making nutritious meals at home, some of our favorite summer recipes include: Roasted Salmon with Citrus, Summer Fruit Salad, Mango Strawberry Popsicles, and Strawberry Pineapple Agua Fresca. Common Threads’ aims to help families by connecting them to supporting resources, recipes and food distribution. Summer health is an important topic when it comes to the growth and development of students. You can learn more about how to help fight food insecurity and beat the summer slide at www.commonthreads.org/summerhealth
ABOUT COMMON THREADS
Common Threads is a national nonprofit that provides children and families cooking and nutrition education to encourage healthy habits that contribute to wellness. We equip under-resourced communities with information to make affordable, nutritious and appealing food choices wherever they live, work, learn, and play. We know that food is rooted in culture and tradition so we promote diversity in our lessons and recipes, encouraging our participants to celebrate the world around them.