Ah, summertime. No more pencils, no more books, no more … well, you know the rest. Children burst through classroom doors like bubbles out of a well-shaken soda bottle, and sprint onto playgrounds, campgrounds, beaches and ball fields. And well they should. After 10 months of classroom instruction and homework, they’ve earned it.
But just because school is out doesn’t mean the learning should stop.
Summer – with its swaying hammocks, treks in the woods and sleeping bags beneath starry skies – holds a host of teachable moments. What could be better company in a hammock than a good book? Why not study the flora underfoot and fauna all around while roaming the Adirondacks? And just imagine all the lessons that lurk up there among the constellations.
Without a steady drumbeat of learning, students stand to lose some of the academic ground they gained between September and June. Time and time again, research has shown that children who do not engage in educational activities over summer break lose as much as two months of math and reading skills, and teachers can spend up to six weeks re-teaching material in the fall.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, more than half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth can be traced back to disproportionate access to summer learning opportunities.
And the losses add up. Kids cannot simply catch up in the fall, because curriculum moves forward not back. Studies have shown that children who’ve consistently lost reading skills over the summers are a solid two years behind their classmates by the end of sixth grade.
The good news is there are steps parents can take to stem the so-called “summer slide.”
Research has shown that children who read four or more books during the summer score better on reading comprehension tests in the fall – which could explain why libraries have been offering summer reading programs since the 1890s. New York state’s libraries are no exception.
For its 2013 summer reading program, the state library system has created suggested reading lists of books that highlight the history, diversity and culture of the Empire State. Some of the books on the elementary-level list include: “When Did the Statue of Liberty Turn Green? & 101 Other Questions about New York City” by Jean Ashton; “Hudson: The Story of a River” by Robert C. Baron and Thomas Locker; and “If You Lived When Women Won Their Rights” by Anne Kamma and Pamela Johnson.
And, since few kids can resist a competition, why not encourage yours to participate in publisher Scholastic’s Summer Challenge, in which kids can log their reading minutes to earn rewards and also help set a new 2013 world record for summer reading? Last year’s participants logged more than 95 million minutes.
With so much to do and see in summer, suggest your child keep a journal of his or her vacation adventures or even start a blog on one of the many free blogging platforms (TypePad, WordPress, Blogger, etc.).
Whether it’s s’mores over the campfire or shish kebobs on the grill, cooking offers great opportunities to learn about fractions, temperature and time. And don’t forget the lessons in personal finance that a trip to the supermarket can provide.
Need we say more?
Check with your local library or museum to see what summer programs they offer. A report released this month by the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, highlighted the importance role these institutions should and do play in early learning.
“We have to do everything we can to give all our children opportunities to get off to a strong start, and community institutions play a critical role,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said when the report was released. “Public and school libraries as well as all kinds of museums, science centers and zoos are trusted, welcoming places where children can make discoveries, deepen interests, and connect their natural curiosity to the wider world – developing the skills they need for a lifetime of learning.”
To read more on this topic:
Growing Young Minds: How Museums and Libraries Create Lifelong Learners from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.
Seize the Summer: Keep Kids Active & Engaged in Learning U.S. Department of Education blog.
The Importance of Summer Reading: Public Library Summer Reading Programs and Learning, New York State Library.