Preventing The Summer Slide

Summertime provides children a welcome break from the classroom. Summer vacations means fun – playtime with friends, family gatherings, adventure and lazy days.

But when children spend two or more months away from the regular exercise of learning they are at risk of the “summer slide.” Kids not exposed to ongoing summer learning, such as reading and solving math problems, can lose anywhere from one to three months of what they learned in the previous grade. When that happens, children start the next year playing catch up. If they suffer the slide continually in the early years, it creates a potentially life-long problem. We already know that children who are not reading proficiently by third grade tend to stay behind in future grades, and that they are four times less likely to graduate from high school.

The summer slide is especially devastating to children from low-income families.  Summers without academic practice contribute to the big achievement gap that exists between disadvantaged kids (who qualify for free or reduced lunch) and their more advantaged peers.

The good news is, there are many fun and enriching educational experiences parents, families and communities can do to halt the summer slide. We organized a few of our favorite recommendations here for parents of toddlers to second graders.

Read, read, read

Reading is the single most impactful activity for young children in the summer. A summer reading program helps maintain and advance reading and language comprehension from one grade to the next grade.

Recognizing this fact, Governor Bill Lee recently committed $5 million to the Read to be Ready summer camps for rising 1st through 3rd graders as a feature of Tennessee’s efforts to help young kids a strong start.

Schools and local libraries offer reading programs and resources so that children can read grade-level books throughout the summer.  Make it a family effort – with siblings, parents and relatives devoting regular time to reading and reading aloud to young children.

Numerous free options abound. Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library sends a free, grade-appropriate book every month to children from birth to age 5.  Several websites offer free, online PDFs of children’s books and bookstores such as Barnes & Noble provide children with free books as part of sponsored summer reading programs.

Embrace family time

Visit one of Tennessee’s many public libraries or museums as a family. Challenge your child to think about what they learned from the experience by describing interesting details of what they learned or what they still want to know.  Ask them questions that stretch their thinking, such as “Why do you think that?” or “What would happen if…?”

Cook together and have the children reference the recipes and make shopping lists using their creativity and emerging writing skills, even if they are only able to draw pictures and “scribble”.  Each one of these early steps prepares them for writing in school.

While at the grocery, challenge your children to find items on the shelves by looking for the first letter in the title or a picture of the item.  Ask children to guess how many pasta shells are in a box or ask them questions about what they notice – like the cold and warms parts of stores. Shopping can be one of the most enriching learning activities for young children!

Whatever you do, make it fun and interactive.  Your child will enjoy new adventures, especially if they are with the people they love most in this world – their parents and families.

Encourage play

Although it might be hard during the long summer days, families can halt the summer slide by limiting screen time. Replace it with activities such as an art project, a nature scavenger hunt or free play outside with peers. 

Encourage your kids to play consistently and often with other children.  Oral language between children of similar and different ages contributes significantly to their reading comprehension and vocabulary, as well as their social-emotional skills – all of which will prepare them for the grade that lies ahead in the fall.

Spring a Great Time to Get Kids Moving

Spring is a welcome season here in Tennessee with the budding of new flowers and the emergence of warm weather. The season is typically filled with delight for young children as they participate in egg hunts, picnics, and outdoor play, as well as relishing baskets of goodies with plenty of
chocolate! The season is also a perfect time to optimize your child’s healthy growth and development by getting them outside to move and explore. Let the weather assist you to nudge your children away from screens and into nature.

Movement is as fundamental and essential to children’s healthy growth and development as loving care, rest, and nutrition. Active movement is not only a stimulus for physical growth; it also provides children with an outlet for expression, creativity and discovery to learn about themselves, their environment and others.

In the first five years of life, children’s bodies and brains grow rapidly. We can’t see it happening, but inside their small bodies massive changes are taking place in their bones, muscle tissue, nervous system, immune system, circulatory system, and brain architecture.  In fact, by the time a child reaches the age of 5, 85% of their brain has developed and all of their fundamental motor (or movement) patterns have emerged. The first five years of life set the stage for everything a child can do and understand in the next 80!

Movement stimulates and contributes to all of these critical developments. That is why it is essential young children are able to take advantage of spring to explore outdoors and practice their budding large and small motor skills. There are many ways children do this naturally when they play at a playground or in their backyard alone or with other children. Time for solitary exploration and cooperative play with other children is critical for their brain and body development. Outdoor play and games are an important way for children to develop autonomy and problem-solving abilities, as well as oral language and social skills.

It is also important for children to experience positive interactions with adults through movement and play. Take this season’s opportunity to:

  • Go on a listening walk with your child. There are all kinds of sounds to be discovered outside. Listen for, imitate, and then talk about the sounds that are all around.
  • Take advantage of spring showers that leave perfectly sized puddles for jumping, stomping, splashing, and giggling!
  • You can even accomplish your own tasks while having fun by working on spring cleaning together. Give your child a soft cloth or small duster and let them help, or let them practice collecting sticks and planting seeds outside. Through ordinary chores and tasks, children learn autonomy, cause-and-effect, empathy, and perseverance – all skills they will need to master to do well in school!

In short, take some time to include your child in activities this season to make them fun and encourage them to play outside. Here are some ideas from our friends at NAEYC. Search for a few that work for your family and enjoy watching your child delight in spring and sprout up with new life. These seemingly small investments made now add up to a lifetime of joy and success for your child.

Unsung Heroes Make All the Difference In Children’s Lives

Each year, as part of its mission to help foster good child development in at-risk situations, Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee (PCAT) honors three caregivers — one in each of the state’s grand divisions.

This year, the “Unsung Hero” awards went to three outstanding women who have gone “above and beyond”, and we’re excited to tell you about them.

Wanda Newman, Mountain City.

During her first and second pregnancies, Wanda was part of Healthy Families Tennessee, an evidence-based home visiting program that is one of PCAT’s most successful programs. She received in-home visits from her Healthy Families coordinator to help learn about everything from bonding to safety to child development.

“If I ever have any questions with discipline or with trying to feed my child because he’s a picky eater, we just go over everything,” Newman says of the support she receives from Healthy Families’ advisers. “And the books that she has, if I have any questions we’ll look it up, and we’ll figure it out together, and we’ll work with him. We do everything from making toys out of household items to, like, she went over electrical safety and stuff like with me and my child. And the ABC’s of safety. She just helps me out tremendously with everything and understanding everything because this is my second child, but there is three and half years between my first one and him. So, everything feels new in different ways.”

Newman was nominated in part because of her enthusiasm for referring other caregivers to Healthy Families and PCAT programs such as parent connection parties and community baby showers. She was also recognized for her compassion and generous spirit, reflected in many ways, including her frequent donations of baby clothes, breast pumps and other items to families in need.

Michelle Williams, Memphis.

Sometimes family members become heroes just by stepping into their families’ lives during times of need. Michelle Williams certainly fits that bill.

After raising three sons of her own to adulthood, Williams became a parent again following the unexpected death of her sister in September of 2017. She took responsibility for children ages 13, 11 and 8, gaining custody of them through the courts and providing a nurturing environment for them during a crucial time in their lives. Most importantly, Williams immediately sought counseling for the children to deal with the loss of their mother and any trauma they might have suffered prior to her death.

Teachers and neighbors alike have praised Williams for her selflessness and devotion to the children, with her nominator noting that she is “parenting them with devotion and purpose. She has made it her mission to raise them in a loving, caring, and structured home. She is succeeding and so are the children.”

Ethel Johnson, Nashville.

While almost every family member who steps into a caregiving role because of a biological parent’s inability to provide a home is an unsung hero, Ethel Johnson has been described as redefining the role.

Already caring for her 11-year-old granddaughter, Johnson helped intervene in the case of her 2-year-old nephew when his mother was unable to care for him. After she saw signs of difficulty coping and and processing emotional cues — both of which were causing him to act out be labeled as a “problem child” — Johnson found help in the form of a therapist, who diagnosed her grand-nephew with autism. The pair also worked for more than a year with an in-home behavior analyst to support his development.

As a result, Johnson has given her grand-nephew the ability to communicate with his friends and family, and she herself has become a passionate advocate for other caregivers with children on the spectrum.


Tennessee is full of great people who are making a meaningful difference in the lives of young children.  We appreciate PCAT for bringing these three women to our attention, and we are grateful to Ethel, Wanda and Michelle for inspiring us!


By Mike, Lisa and the TQEE team

Beyond ”Thank You”

We found this great article from PBS and thought you’d appreciate the useful tips and info – including how to make a gratitude jar!

According to the Harvard University Healthbeat, “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”

For young children, gratitude looks like consistently saying “thank you” to others, making thank you cards, and identifying things that make them feel thankful, such as a favorite toy or a visit from grandma.

Here are three quick and easy ideas on how to teach your young child to be thankful, and pave the way for their healthy, happy future!

  • Model Gratitude
  • Make a “Gratitude Jar”
  • Share “3 good things” Each Day

Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Lisa, Mike and the TQEE team

I did it!

Sometimes a picture says a lot.

Hunter is building a tower out of colored blocks with his mom and his friend Tevri at home. It’s a photo that was years in the making, in part because of his involvement in one of Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee’s most successful development programs.  The “I did it” badge he’s wearing reflects the confidence and accomplishment Hunter has experienced through his family’s participation in the program.

After she became pregnant, Hunter’s mother Tyne was referred by a friend to Healthy Families Tennessee, a home visiting program that provides weekly support for parents from pregnancy through when their child enters kindergarten. That’s how she met Tevri, a PCAT visitor.

“[Tevri] would just come once a week and she would go over where I should be at in my stage of pregnancy and just help me get ready for the baby,” Tyne says. “And then after Hunter was born, she would still come by on a weekly basis and teach me about his milestones.”

As Hunter got older, Tevri would mark his progress on everything from word acquisition to motor skills, often working with Hunter outside, drawing shapes with sidewalk chalk and mastering colors. The program provides what Tyne calls a “full spectrum,” helping her son master everything from letters and numbers, to recognizing emotions, to how to deal with them effectively.

Healthy Families is an evidence-based home visiting program (EBHV) that provides support during one of the most important periods in a child’s life, birth to age 5, when 80 percent of brain development occurs. Getting the right start is crucial, because healthy brain development is essential for later learning and health. Research on home visiting program shows it improves maternal, newborn and child health, reduces child maltreatment, improves parenting skills, improves school readiness.  And these programs are backed by compelling proof of a strong ROI: it gets returns of up to $5.70 in taxpayer savings for every $1 invested through reduction of costs for remedial education, child protection and criminal justice.

The program also gave Tyne and her spouse effective coping techniques, something she says she never learned growing up.

“We learned a lot of stuff as a family, but also my husband and I learned a lot as a couple,” she says. “The main focus was on being a healthy family as a whole, but it also helped me and my husband because, I’m sure you know, husbands and wives have stupid fights over stupid things.”

Hunter’s success in the program will lead to his graduation in December. Tyne says he’s currently on the letter “G” and in the advanced part of his daycare class, in part because of the leg up that Healthy Families Tennessee and Tevri gave him. As he approaches his fourth birthday, the Paw Patrol-obsessed Hunter even likes a little homework.

“It’s crazy, I know,” Tyne says. And then you begin to realize why he got the “I Did It” button in the photo.

The program has had such an impact that Tyne has even become an advocate for PCAT, speaking before the state legislature about her experiences.

“I actually highly suggest it to any of my friends that I know that are going to have a baby,” Tyne says. “I recommend it any time that I can because the benefits that we have received through Healthy Families have just been amazing, and I honestly, I don’t know where I would be at without the program.”

Today, Tennessee only supports programs like this in about half of our 95 counties.  We can do better!  Stay tuned for emails that let you know when and how to share your voice of support with our elected leaders!

By Mike, Lisa and the TQEE team

A Young Mother Learns to Help Her Baby Girl Thrive

Itzel is protective of her mother today, forgiving her with words even though she didn’t have the easiest childhood.

“My mom didn’t know any better and she definitely didn’t have anyone to turn to,” she says.

Itzel’s mother called her names and made her daughter feel unwanted and unloved. It’s tough to grow up strong when you are neglected and told that you are a burden.

As a young adult, Itzel found support four years ago at a community baby shower on the Tennessee State University campus. Newly pregnant and “completely scared,” she learned about Healthy Families, an evidence-based home visitation (EBHV) program from Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee (PCAT) designed to support parents from pregnancy through kindergarten.

Determined to be a better mother than her own, Itzel was attracted to an opportunity through Healthy Families to obtain strong parenting skills and to make certain her daughter has a bright future.

EBHV is nationally proven programming that is successfully applied in many Tennessee communities to assist young parents, improve their parenting skills, reduce abuse and neglect, improve health of parents and babies, and readly children for learning. EBHV is backed by compelling proof of strong ROI: a return of $5.70 in taxpayer savings for every $1 investment through reduction of costs for remedial education, public financial support, criminal justice and other societal impacts.

Through the course of her pregnancy, PCAT resources Nurturing Families and Healthy Families Tennessee provided in-home support that helped Itzel bond with her baby. Once a week, a PCAT representative came to Itzel’s house to help monitor her daughter’s progress, showing her how big Alia was growing while also counseling Itzel on what to expect once she arrived.

After Alia’s birth, the focus of Healthy Families turned more toward the young girl’s development, tracking progress and strengthening her bond with Itzel. For a new mother, every milestone presents challenges: Why is my baby crying? How will she learn to crawl? To walk? To speak? Dealing with development can be stressful and PCAT was there at every step along the way, from potty training to preparing Alia to begin school.

Through proven education and instruction from trained professionals, Itzel is now establishing a foundation for ongoing nurture of her child’s physical, cognitive and emotional development. The earliest years of a person’s life are foundational and long lasting.

Healthy Families is PCAT’s largest and most intensive program, intervening at a time in a child’s life when 80 percent of brain development occurs. This period is an essential building block for child success as it is fundamentally related to lifelong learning and health. .

The nonprofit uses the Growing Great Kids curriculum to teach a wide array of topics, including child safety and all aspects of development. The evidence-based program has been proven to improve maternal, newborn and child health as well as reduce child maltreatment. And for Alia, now 4 years old, it’s improved her readiness for school.

Itzel said the organization has made a difference in two lives.

“Without Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee and the support of my home visitor,” Itzel says, “I know that my relationship with Alia would have been exactly like what I had with my mom. And I’m so grateful that it’s not.”

Healthy Families helped again when Itzel met her husband Carlos, with a visitor helping the couple learn how to co-parent effectively, ensuring that Alia’s physical, social and emotional development continued.

“I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned from this program is how to develop trust between myself and Alia,” says Carlos. “I didn’t have that with my parents, and I think our relationship was negatively affected.”

The result of all of the time invested in Alia’s early years? She earned a scholarship to Overbrook School, a prestigious private elementary school in Nashville. Now she’s on a path for success with a strong home to support her.

Mike, Lisa and the TQEE Team

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