As if parents need anything else to worry about amid the chaos and expense of summer childcare arrangements, comes summer learning loss.
Also known as “summer slippage”, it’s the loss of learning opportunities during the summer vacation that leaves children’s skill levels stagnant – at best – or below what they were. were before when they go back to school.
There is “compelling evidence” that summertime learning loss is real, Paul G. Fitchett, professor and department head of the College of Education at Auburn University in Alabama, told HuffPost. “Some studies suggest that up to a month of school year learning is lost during the summer,” he added.
“Although the concept has been around for a century, we have started to pay more attention to it in COVID-era schooling, due to what many children and educators have experienced as the longest summer break of their careers. “, Sally G. Parish, associate vice president for educational initiatives at the University of Memphis in Tennessee, told HuffPost.
If you’re thinking, “I don’t want my kids practicing their multiplication tables over summer vacation instead of horseback riding and roasting marshmallows over a campfire,” then your kids actually are not those that worry educators.
Laura Bronstein, dean of the College of Community and Public Affairs at Binghamton University in New York, told HuffPost that “activities that get their minds moving during the summer” are what prevent learning loss. Any kind of engaging activity that promotes children’s overall development — like travel, the arts, or athletics — will help them learn important skills.
It’s the kids who don’t have those kinds of opportunities who lose out, and those losses get worse as the years go by.
In a research paper for the National Summer Learning Association, Karl Alexander, a sociology professor at John Hopkins, says his research found that about two-thirds of the achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged ninth graders can be attributed to the loss cumulative summer learning throughout the primary school years.
The impact of this doesn’t stop in high school. Disadvantaged children are less likely than their more advantaged peers to pursue a college preparatory pathway, and two-thirds of this disparity was also attributable to summer learning loss. In Alexander’s study of approximately 800 children from grade one to adulthood, 40% of students did not graduate from high school, limit their job prospects and earning potential for life.
Families need to understand that summer learning loss is a systemic issue and not their fault.
The good news is that by enrolling children in summer enrichment programs or providing learning opportunities for children at home and in their communities, we can stop and even reverse the learning loss of summer, creating a more equitable education system.
Use local resources and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
One of the greatest resources is your child’s teacher, who knows the students well after a year of working together. “Our teachers are true content experts and need to know where each child is in their learning journey and what supports will take them to the next level,” Parish said.
Fitchett noted that his university, like many, offers an assortment of camps and programs for local K-12 students over the summer. Public schools have received federal funding to address learning loss that has occurred during the coronavirus pandemic, and many are using that money to run free summer programs for students.
Bronstein works with community schools in Binghamton that provide students and families with comprehensive services such as health care, counseling, after-school care and summer learning opportunities.
These community schools, she said, “have shown remarkable success in terms of graduation rates” and as “a way to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty.”
“We work with a lot of families where no one has graduated from high school. And when we talk to these families and say, “What do you want for your children? They always say, ‘I want them to graduate. I want them to be able to go to college…or at least have a career that feels meaningful to them.
“One thing COVID has done for us is teach us that…there are ways kids can continue to learn when they’re not in the classroom.”
– Suzanne Barchers, Chair of the Educational Advisory Board of the Lingokids app
While much of the disparity can be attributed to income, since summer camps and other activities are prohibitively expensive for many families, there are other contributing factors.
“[It] depends on families being able to access these programs, get on waiting lists, fill out applications – if English is not your first language, if you are not used to being in these areas,” Bronstein said. Some families drop the idea of summer activities because of cost — not realizing scholarships are available — or because they feel embarrassed to ask about them.
When researching a program, you want to see that there are goals beyond keeping kids occupied. Is an athletics camp meant to foster good sportsmanship? Is social and emotional learning a priority?
If there is a program that you think would be suitable for your child, do not hesitate to apply for financial assistance. If you live near a university or other institution, funds may even be set aside for community members to attend summer youth programs. You can also talk to your child’s school counselor about opportunities available in your area.
Low-tech activities can provide high-impact learning.
Whether you’re looking for a summer program or trying to plan your own days off with your kids, preventing summer learning loss doesn’t have to sound fancy. A simple activity like a hike, for example, can feel like exercise. But Bronstein says planning a route, reading a map, deciding what to pack and preparing for the weather sharpen kids’ thinking skills before they’ve even put on their shoes.
While “traditional academics” like you might see in a summer school class can come in handy when “kids who need extra support,” Bronstein said, “anything that engages the mind “can help prevent learning loss during the summer.
“Rather than stressing over extra summer tutors, consider a shared ‘learning’ activity with your kids,” Fitchett advised. Potential ideas include:
- Read books together
- Listen to audiobooks in the car
- Read a book, then watch a movie based on it, compare the two
- Go to the library
- Make arts and crafts
- Museum visits (check low cost or free days).
“As a mother of two school-aged children, I cannot stress enough the value of your public library as a resource for preventing summer learning loss,” said Parish, who visits her local library every week with her children.
Parish recommended “finding ways to incorporate children into daily household activities that can incorporate the skills they have learned in the classroom.” Calculating mileage for a road trip or metrics for a recipe are two examples. An activity such as planting a vegetable garden requires the use of a number of important skills.
“I like to think of it as sneaking into reading your summer activities and making it a natural part of everyone else, because parent modeling is so important,” Suzanne Barchers, chairman of the educational advisory council of the application lingokidstold HuffPost.
She suggested incorporating math or spelling drills into bouncing on the trampoline or passing a soccer ball back and forth – each jump or kick could be the answer to an equation that you give them, or to the next letter in a word.
Another strategy is to team up with other families and capitalize on your strengths. Maybe one parent does informal swimming lessons with a small group of kids at the pool one day a week, while another leads a cooking activity another day.
“One thing that COVID has done for us has been to teach us that … there are ways kids can continue to learn when they’re not in the classroom,” Barchers said. Parents can encourage this in their own attitudes towards learning, she explained. “They must show children that they read, that they are curious, that they discover things, that they are ready to devote time [and] read aloud to the children, ask the children to read to them.
There’s a dizzying array of learning apps with fancy animations promising to turn your child’s screen time into something more interesting. And these can be great resources for independent learners, i.e. children who need them the least.
But most children cannot be expected to stay on task meaningfully without the watchful presence of an adult. Once their attention begins to wane or material becomes difficult, children often begin to guess answers and click randomly in order to record the “progress” or “achievement” of an activity that will appear somewhere in the a bar chart, but does not. corresponds to the actual learning.
If you have a learned child who wants to use a language app to learn Swahili over the summer, don’t be shy. But if your child needs some basic math practice, taking them with you to the grocery store or baking muffins at home with them will likely be more effective than any number game.