Whether it’s called “summer slide,” “summer brain drain” or “summer learning loss,” the National Summer Learning Association claims that loss of academic skills over the summer is a distinct, measured phenomenon.
Teachers agree. Before she retired, Caren Cranston taught at an all-girls elementary school for 40 years. She says she’d devote “the whole month of September” to reviewing the previous year’s work. “Kids have forgotten a lot,” she says. “September is tough.”
According to the NSLA, this loss disproportionately affects students who live near or below the poverty line: students who don’t have access to the summer camps and resources their wealthier peers have. The achievement gap widens in the summer, says the NSLA, to the point where summer learning loss accounts for at least half of the reading achievement gap by ninth grade.
What can parents do in June to prevent summer learning loss? Start now, and stay vigilant all summer, say two Baltimore-area principals: Zulema Moore, principal of Baltimore City Public School’s William S. Baer School, and Alicia Danyali, principal of the New Century School, a language-immersion independent school.
- First, says Moore, “Definitely contact your child’s teacher before the end of the school year. Ask them for three specific things in each area your child can work on.” Even if your child is doing well in school, Moore says, “Still ask for three things they will need to practice for the next grade level.”
- Identify four books to read by the end of summer, Moore suggests. But that’s not all: “Have your child produce a project or paper. Have them do a formal presentation on the book to the family. Make sure some of the projects or papers they write align with what classroom expectations will be for the next school year.” And let the child choose half the books: “You choose two and they choose two.”
- Pick two academic areas on which to focus. Moore says: “One should be an area [in which the child] struggle[s] and the other should be an area of success.” For example, if your child struggles in math but loves reading, focus on both these areas.
July and August
- Read, read, read, and visit the library. “Reading is key in the summer to encourage and reinforce a love of reading…as well as discussions related to comprehension and how authors can open a wide range of interests,” Danyali says. Try “visiting the library weekly and allowing your child to choose books of interest.” Also, she suggests, make it social. “Forming a summer book club can bring like-minded kids together to make it a rewarding experience.”
- Establish a summer schedule similar to your child’s schedule during the school year. If your child is younger, Moore says, “try to do instructional things early and then the afternoon [can be] more relaxing.”
- Visit museums, says Danyali. “Between DC and Baltimore there are an abundance of great, educational opportunities. Depending on the age of the child, together or independently, visit the museum website [before] the visit. If the museum has dedicated tabs for educators or parents, peruse [them] to get ideas…for activities to make the experience a learning one.”
- Have your child try an online course or refresher. “Khan Academy is one of the best, in my opinion, with its interactive and descriptive teaching tools — video, examples — built into practice.”
Wait! Isn’t Summer Supposed to be Fun?
Of course, says Moore. “Even if your child is struggling in all areas at school they should still get a break.”
But learning doesn’t have to be formal, both Moore and Danyali agree. Moore suggests the following ways to incorporate learning into everyday activities:
- Identify colors of toys in the pool;
- Do estimation/probability problems on how many people will get chocolate ice cream vs vanilla while standing in line;
- During a car trip, pick the name of one of the areas you pass on an exit sign and research it on a smart device;
- Play an educational ‘I Spy’ game with cars. Identify a car and use a smart device to research that car and have your child tell you more about it;
- Run a race in the backyard and have your child research what types of flowers, grass and weeds exist in your backyard space;
- [Create math games such as] ‘How many steps does it take to walk around the house the same number of [times as their age?]’ For example, if the child’s age is 8, have them walk around the house 12 times, counting the steps.
Danyali agrees it’s important to seek out opportunities to think creatively and practice skills. “Whether it is on car rides to camp, the grocery store, at breakfast, or together time,” she says, “play math and vocabulary games to keep skills fresh.”