After 10 months of hard work at school, you can hardly blame your kids for wanting to take it easy over the summer. However, research shows that over the summer months, students who don’t engage their brains may experience a summer learning loss, particularly with regard to math and reading skills.
Scott Davies, professor of Sociology and Child Studies at McMaster University and co-author of the report "Summer Literacy Learning Project”, says that due to long summer holidays, about a month or two of academic gains can be lost.
“If you add that up over consecutive summers, for some students, that could mean falling a whole year behind,” says Davies. “September and October of each school year is generally spent on remedial activities, helping students catch up.”
The gap can be most prolific among children who are deemed at-risk. One US study shows that by Grade 9, most of the achievement gap between low and high income students can be directly attributed to summer. But that doesn’t mean that kids who live in wealthier families are off the hook. “Even kids who are doing well have a setback,” Davies says. “It’s important for all children to use their brains, even when a teacher isn’t asking them to.”
Some schools understand that summers off can create lower achievement, particularly for at-risk youth, and have implemented a year-round schooling model. However, the majority of schools still subscribe to the traditional, historically agricultural, 180-day school year.
“Because the agricultural calendar is so institutionalized, we’ve seen some pilot projects that offer staggered holidays, but there’s no wide scale movement towards this type of schooling,” says Davies.
You don’t have to hire the best tutors for the summer, or send your children to expensive academic camps; there is a lot you can do to minimize the summer learning slump, and it doesn’t necessarily have to feel like summer school or homework. Davies recommends:
- Encourage your kids to keep reading. Check out our summer reading lists.
- Reinforce learning skills like reading and math by playing board games, or have kids write a journal or letters /postcards to relatives.
- Have children in younger grades practice their writing and digital skills by having them e-mail you everyday.
- Have your kids start a blog that chronicles their summer activities.
Davies says educational can be fun. “Learning during the summer doesn’t have to be boring and tedious,” he says. “Reading and writing are both enjoyable; using technology to reinforce literacy skills only makes it more fun.”