While the summer is meant to be a time for school-aged children to recharge their batteries before the start of a new school year, learning loss, sometimes referred to as “the summer slide”, can affect students when they’re not engaging in educational activities over the summer.
According to a study by the National Education Association, while any student can be susceptible to summer learning loss, the problem especially affects low-income students who are already vulnerable to falling behind their classmates. Childcare, in general, and especially educational and enrichment summer camps/activities, can be very expensive, and unfortunately, not all children have access to these kinds of programs.
According to the study:
“While all students lose some ground in mathematics over the summer, low-income students lose more ground in reading, while their higher-income peers may even gain. Most disturbing is that summer learning loss is cumulative; over time, the difference between the summer learning rates of low-income and higher-income students contributes substantially to the achievement gap.”
Lisa Saunders, a fifth-grade teacher at Bicentennial Elementary School in Nashua, N.H. has seen the realities of the “summer slide” throughout her 20 years as an educator. So when it came to her own son, in between the summer swimming, camps and bike riding, she made it a part of his summer vacation to read a book a week off the summer reading list, take educational “field” trips and partake in activities like geocaching, a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices, around the neighborhood. Incorporating learning into his summer was as second nature as having to wait 30 minutes to swim after eating.
To help offset learning loss for all students, Saunders shared some of her tried and true approaches to help curtail the summer slide for elementary-aged students.
Keep on reading and take trips to your local library
“There is no excuse not to read over the summer! A good book is all you need to get lost in the world of literature,” Saunders said.
The educational blog Book Source Banter says that reading is “the single best predictor of summer loss or gain. And as with classroom reading, the three keys to engaged reading remain true for summer reading too: students need access, choice and just right books that they want to read.”
“Parents and children should set goals together at the beginning of the summer. Encourage reading from the get go, and have a conversation on what your child’s reading goals may be, whether you choose to read books together, or decide on a number of books to aim for,” Saunders said.
“Also, encourage your child to bring a book everywhere they go. Instead of scrolling through a smartphone, spend any downtime reading. It also won’t be hard if you help your child find a book (or series) they don’t want to put down.”
Saunders also advises to take trips to your local library.
“Libraries are and always have been a great resource for not only books, but [free] educational programs and activities. Plus, if you need to beat the heat, there’s always that air-conditioning.”
Schools typically share their recommended summer reading lists, but libraries have their own, too. If your learner needs a little extra motivation, there’s online challenges to participate in, where just by reading, students can earn money in a savings account, get a free book, and even pizza.
Most importantly, “encourage kids to talk about what they’re reading,” says Saunders. “If they’re excited about what they’re reading, they’re going to want to talk about it. Keep that conversation going.”
The world is your child’s classroom
The summertime can be a great time to use the world around you as a classroom.
“Forget things like math workbooks. Where’s the fun in that? Just keep those wheels in the brain turning,” said Saunders.
Summer affords families access those creative parts of the brain, from visiting zoos to historical places. Even being outside, exploring nature and getting back to the basics can be enriching for students of all ages.
“On your next road trip, help your child choose something to keep an eye out for, whether it be a type of animal or a color car. Have your child keep track of how many of these things they see. At the end of the trip, have them add up how many of their items were spotted. As your child gets the concept of the game, add attributes to the items. For instance, certain types of cars and their colors, or how many horses versus cows are seen.”
You can also incorporate the lesson of time into your summer trips. Instead of answering the question “are we there yet?”, incorporate time telling by having your child wear an analog watch to grasp the concept of time, and compare it to the digital clock in the car.
“But even if you’re not going to be taking a road trip, math skills can be honed anywhere, even on a trip to the supermarket. Little activities like asking your child to estimate the cost of a cart-full of groceries on a shopping trip.”
Saunders says, “in the long run, math and language arts aren’t just things you do in school, they’re things that should be incorporated in everyone’s lives. Keep your child curious, this summer and always.”
Aubree Kammler is a public information specialist for Capital Region BOCES. She is the mother to a one-year old son – together they’re exploring the world one wobbly step at a time.