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The Summer Slump - Interview with 1st grade teacher Michelle Fikes

by Angela Forsyth

Every fall, teachers spend the first few weeks of the school year pulling students out of the Summer Slump. Many children, especially already struggling students, forget some of what they learned during the long break and have to spend valuable weeks in the beginning of the schoolyear relearning what they already worked so hard to learn before.

I asked my favorite Northwest Arkansas teacher, Michelle Fikes, to share some of her professional insight on the Summer Slump and how parents can prevent it.

Q. As an elementary school teacher, what has been your personal experience with the summer slump?

A. When my first graders begin the year, students who have not read at home consistently over the summer typically drop one or two reading levels from where they left kindergarten. I have experienced this trend for eighteen years. As a result, I begin students at lower reading levels than when they left Kindergarten. We start the year reassessing students and teaching routines and procedures.

Q. Which skills do you see decline the most: reading, writing, a specific math skill something else?

A. I notice the largest decline in student's reading level and writing ability. Students who don't practice reading, writing, or math skills during the summer tend to spend more time reviewing previously taught concepts in the beginning of the school year.

Q. What do you recommend parents do at home?

A. Please listen to your child read to you daily. Encourage your child to write lists for the grocery store, kindness notes to a friend or neighbor, write in a journal. Have a discussion journal between parent and child. You write a question. Your child answers the question in the journal. Your child can ask you questions and you write her or him a note back in the journal. Cook together and talk about teaspoons and cup measurements. Compare prices as you are shopping. Find a great chapter book like Humphrey, Chronicles of Narnia, or The Chocolate Factory to read aloud as a family. Keep a family journal to write ideas, comments, predictions, thoughts about the chapter books as you read it aloud.

Q. Any recommendations for what NOT to do?

A. Don't watch too much TV or spend too much time on electronic devices. Instead have conversations, especially at a restaurant. Turn off the TV's in vehicles as you are driving around town, talk about your day, what you are reading...just have conversations.

Q. Are there any community learning programs you would recommend?

A. The Public Library, like Bentonville, has a wonderful program for summer reading to encourage and motivate children to read. Go to Hobbs State Park Nature Center or Illinois Water Shed and read about the animals and trees in our area, hike, and have picnic lunch. The Amazeum is a wonderful resource and a fun place to explore. Crystal Bridges has special art activities during the summer.

Q. Do you have any favorite computer or board games for learning?

A. Please play games at home with your children. Board games are great for taking turns, thinking, and social skills. My family really enjoys playing scrabble, which is great for whether you are seven years old or ninety-seven. Card games like Crazy Eight, Kings Corner, and Spades are wonderful for strategy and fun. Some of my favorite memories as a child are of playing games with my grandparents, drinking a hot cup of tea or hot chocolate while eating butter tarts.

Great computer games are...
Epic, books for kids

Q. If parents are finding it hard to carve out time for learning this summer, what is the one thing you would pick for them to work on?


Michelle Fikes is a first grade teacher for the Bentonville School District. She's been teaching for 18 years, has a husband and two active daughters whom she loves spending time with outdoors.

Michelle Fikes is a first grade teacher for the Bentonville School District. She's been teaching for 18 years, has a husband and two active daughters whom she loves spending time with outdoors.

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