Tips to Minimize Summer Learning Loss
Professional educators know that if students don’t do anything meaningful during the summer months, they’ll lose what they learned during the school year. It’s really that simple.
Summer learning loss is a problem because students lose progress they’ve made during the school year and miss out on opportunities to get ahead. A study from Johns Hopkins University found that students lost two months of reading progress over the summer. Once students return to school in the fall, it can take a few weeks for them to get back into the learning mindset.
In the past, summer school was only for students who failed their classes. However, now people realize that summer school can give children a big advantage. It’s a chance to help your child succeed.
Policy makers have mostly been focusing on reforming education during the school year, even though there is a big lack of opportunities for students during the summer. Parents often have to work and might not be able to provide their kids with educational enrichment activities, or might not even know that these opportunities exist. Some parents also think that kids need to have a break during the summer, when in reality the opposite is true.
Why do we have a summer break to begin with?
Most people think that the reason for the summer break from school has to do with early agriculture and the need for families to have children help them with planting and taking care of crops during these months. However, it is much more likely that a combination of different factors led to this idea of kids taking a break from school during the summer months. Obviously, in urban areas, buildings became hot without air conditioning and it made sense for kids to be outside during these hot days. In addition, colleges and universities usually had their breaks during summer months. For the middle and upper class people who were living in hot cities during the summer, it became a time when they could go to the country and get relief from the summer temperatures.
There are those who have a lot of fun in the summertime, and those who don’t have as much fun.
Families who have the money to do so make sure their children are in enriching activities during the summer, whether that be summer camp, day programs, or 1:1 tutoring. Even if the activity is not directly aligned with what the child is supposed to be learning, there is still information transfer that occurs, especially when students are in social settings that are language-rich environments. Also, many students who attend private schools are given summer learning packets that review material from the previous year as well as suggestions for summer reading that often require papers to be written and presented upon arrival back to school.
Kids whose parents are busy working and can’t afford full-time childcare often end up spending a lot of time in front of screens. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not the most enriching way to spend a child’s time.
A well-balanced approach of relaxation and academic enrichment can lead to a confidence boost going into the next school year.
What are some ways that you can ensure your child is fully enriched during the summer?
It’s important to plan out your child’s summer so they can take advantage of opportunities to learn new things. Look into what activities are available in your area that will help your child grow and develop.
Here are some suggested tips and advice:
- Summer Reading: Make sure your child has 4-6 novels to read during the summer. There are many summer reading lists that separate novels by grade level, so using this as a guide can be helpful. Every selection does not have to be a great literary classic, but make sure the novels are at the appropriate grade level for the reader and at an interest level so as to motivate him/her to want to read. In addition to reading, provide the youngster with incentive to keep a reading journal where they can reflect on the novel and keep a vocabulary list of words that are new to them.
- Day Trips: Arrange for trips to enriching environments such as zoos, museums, and playgrounds where open-ended play is encouraged. Having other kids join you can also add to the language of the endeavor, making the activity even more enriching.
- Physical Activity: Keep your child moving during the summer. Walking and hiking have been proven to boost active working memory, and movement helps the brain in general. Swimming, running, and playing other gross motor activities promote brain development.
- Math Practice: Research shows students lose up to two months of math progress during the summer months. There are several ways to prevent this. For example, one can arrange weekly tutoring sessions, or take a more homeschool approach and provide a child with workbooks and/or worksheets that have guided examples as well as answer keys. It’s as important to check the work as it is to do the work. Retaining information, especially in math, is all about practice, practice, practice— repetition, repetition, repetition. There are also some excellent math websites to keep a student on track, though some of these are difficult to navigate and knowing which activities a child should do can also pose a challenge.
- Tutoring (online or in-person): Tutoring is not just for kids who are behind. It’s a great way to give a child the 1:1 attention that can truly make a difference. And now, accessing 1:1 tutoring has never been easier and more affordable. Depending on the region you live, in-person tutors can charge from $60 per hour all the way up into the hundreds. If budget allows, you can consider in-person tutoring, or seek online tutoring, which is often a fraction of the cost.
8 evidence-based tips to prevent summer learning loss
1. Get started on a summer reading program, and make sure your child is reading books that are both interesting and challenging.
Summer reading is beneficial, but it does not always improve skills.
In one study, a summer reading program failed to have any effect on children’s literacy skills because the children who participated got to choose their own books, and they consistently chose books that were too easy for them.
It is important to pick books for your child that they are excited about, but you also want books that will help them improve their skills by introducing them to new words and ideas.
If you’re looking for help finding the right materials, your local library is a great resource. Talk to the children’s librarian for recommendations.
2. Set aside some time to review mathematics concepts.
Although it’s not very probable, kids could improve their math skills without being prompted. This would be more effective than being taught regularly, but it would also be more boring for the child.
A study showed that people who were asked to recall a set of facts for 35 days improved the most when they held review sessions every 11 days.
This means that kids shouldn’t practice their math skills every day during summer break, but they can still retain what they learned during the school year.
3. Play “unplugged” number games to help kids sharpen their math skills.
According to research, young children can improve their understanding of numbers by playing certain board games. Their performance in school is known to suffer when they lack a strong grasp of “how much” different numbers represent. You can read more about it and get instructions for making your own game here.
In addition to practicing their basic addition and subtraction facts, young children can also play the board game, “Sum Swamp.” The game is a race, and players must roll dice and calculate the number of spaces they must move in order to win. The current price for the game can be found on Amazon by clicking here.
To finish, I have seen a lot of books for kids that help them see mathematical ideas, and some even have directions for mathematical activities and games. You can check out my suggestions in this opens in a new windowParenting Science guide.
4. Develop spatial skills through spatial rotation games and construction play
Users who practice spatial skills regularly can see an improvement in their abilities, and those with better spatial reasoning skills tend to do better in math and science.
An example of this would be when young school children were asked to do mental rotation tasks – tasks that required them to predict how two geometrical shapes would look when put together – these kids later showed improvements in their ability to do basic algebra problems (Cheng and Mix 2012).
To encourage spatial play, see my articles about tangrams, blocks, and other activities that boost a child’s spatial skills.
5. Take trips to museums, zoos, and nature sites. But don’t merely attend. Help children enjoy hands-on experiences, and engage in family conversations.
Children learn more from museum experiences when they are able to touch and feel the exhibits. They also benefit when their parents ask them questions about what they are seeing.
In one study, kids learned more when their parents asked them open-ended questions about the artifacts they encountered.
What do you think this tool was used for? – It was probably used for chopping vegetables or meat. What do you think it is made of? – It is most likely made of wood. How do you think it would feel to sleep on this mat? – It would probably feel rough and uncomfortable.
6. Choose STEM summer camps that emphasize informal, hands-on learning.
Research indicates that summer camps in STEM may help increase children’s interest in these fields.
A great program is one that allows kids to actively engage in STEM activities such as building, coding, robotics, or science labs. This type of program is beneficial because it allows kids to tinker and solve problems themselves.
To find a summer learning program in your area, look online and contact local schools, public libraries, museums and zoos. If you can’t afford to pay for the program, ask about free or low-cost options.
7. Can’t find an affordable summer camp? Create your own.
The nonprofit organization Reading Rockets offers materials for a 5-day program called “River Rangers” that helps kids learn about everything from the formation of rivers to riverine ecosystems and the management of human drinking water. Materials for this program are available for free on the Reading Rockets website.
In my article, “Suddenly homeschooling? Here’s help for getting started,” you will find links to many educational resources.
If you are looking for ideas for preschool science activities, visit the Parenting Science pages.
8. Let kids explore interests that don’t fit into the standard, school-year curriculum
Evidence shows what we know instinctively – personal curiosity is a huge motivating factor in learning. Summer is the perfect time to let your kids’ interests be our guide. There is a vast amount of resources on-line and at your local library that can spark an interest in cooking, photography, sewing, drawing and thousands of other activities to keep the brain engaged.
Summer is not only a time for parents and caretakers to relax and have fun, but also a great opportunity to prepare their children better for the next school year. This is called front-loading in the education business, which means providing students with a preview of what is to come, so that the curriculum feels somewhat familiar and not completely new.