By Danielle Rice
Most children and parents look forward to summer as a carefree, relaxed, happy time free from constricting routines. And it should be. Kids do need a break and time to ‘just be kids.’ Yet research shows that all young people experience learning loss when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer.
- Two thirds of the achievement gap at 9th grade is attributable to elementary school summer learning loss.
- Students who do not practice math over the summer are 18 months behind their peers by 5th grade.
- Summer learning loss is not correlated to race, gender or IQ.
So, does this mean parents need to put summer fun on hold and sign their children up for summer sessions, tutoring, and other formal education experiences? Not necessarily.
“Learning and fun don’t have to be mutually exclusive, and there are ways for kids to enjoy the relaxed schedules of summer while keeping their minds actively engaged,” says Donna Lasinski, President of ThinkStretch, LLC, an organization that offers summer learning programs. “It’s a terrific summer when kids combine academic skill maintenance with new experiences.”
But, notes Lasinski, knowing how to keep kids academically engaged isn’t always easy. “Research has shown that parents express their highest levels of anxiety during the summer regarding academics and how to engage kids in learning,” she says.
Helping your children maintain academic knowledge and engage in educational experiences over the summer doesn’t have to be stressful, or even very formal. Here are some ways for parents to help children retain learning, prepare for the next school year, and still enjoy the freedom of summer break:
1) Look for learning opportunities in your daily activities. Learning doesn’t have to just take place in a classroom or come through a formal education program. Visit a museum or art gallery with your children and research the artists that intrigue you or check out a library book on the exhibits that interest you most. Cook with your child; he’ll be practicing reading comprehension as he follows a recipe and math skills as he measures and calculates temperatures. Go on a treasure hunt…find rocks, leaves, seeds, flowers – and then research them online to see how many you can name or find ways to describe or catalog them.
2) Build on your child’s interests. If your child has a hobby or activity that he loves, but maybe doesn’t have time for during the school year, take advantage of the relaxed summer schedule to take an art or cooking class, explore musical instruments, take photographs, build a birdhouse, learn a new language – or whatever else your child wants to explore.
3) Connect with the curriculum. Talk with your child’s teachers before school ends and find out what they will be learning about in school the next year. Plan local trips or research at the library to support the subject matter. For example, if your child is studying the civil war, plan a trip to a local battle field or museum. There are many websites that can help kids learn math, reading, science, and more: scholastic.com, khanacademy.org, www.rif.org (check out the literacy resources), or for fun learning games sumdog.com or coolmath.com.
4) Visit your library. In addition to having lots of books, videos, and magazines for your child to choose from, the library often has fun and engaging summer programs that are academically enriching and age-appropriate.
5) Read. Experts agree that children who read during the summer gain reading skills, while those who do not often slide backward. According to the authors of a report from the National Summer Learning Association: “A conservative estimate of lost instructional time is approximately two months or roughly 22 percent of the school year…. It’s common for teachers to spend at least a month re-teaching material that students have forgotten over the summer. That month of re-teaching eliminates a month that could have been spent on teaching new information and skills.” Tips to encourage your child to read.