Summer vacation provides a much-appreciated break from the busy school year. But a couple months away from the classroom can also lead to learning loss between grades.
"Summer learning loss – also called 'brain drain' or 'the summer slide' – is real and has been documented by researchers for decades," says Melinda Lauer, Educational Specialist at Children's Health℠. "The good news is it's also very avoidable."
When comparing fall and spring test scores, it appears that students can lose about 1-2 months' worth of education during the summer break. This seems to affect math skills the most but can also affect reading. The older the child, the more detrimental the summer learning loss.
Fortunately, there are several things you can do to help prevent summer learning loss in your child. The fun part is this doesn't mean forcing your child to do school workbooks every day.
"The most important thing is to engage children's brains in creative activities to offset screentime," Lauer says. "We live in a world of screens, and summer is a great opportunity for parents to expose their children to experiences that stimulate thinking and imagination."
How to prevent summer learning loss
To keep your child engaged during the summer, start by creating a schedule. A summer schedule is one of the best ways to help your child maximize their time. It can include chores, day trips, reading time, learning goals, scheduled family time, vacations and more. You can also plan different themes for each week to add some fun and differentiation to the calendar.
"Develop a family calendar. It can help prevent boredom and the unknown," Lauer says. "When children know what to expect and have something to look forward to, things run more smoothly in general."
When brainstorming activities to help prevent summer learning loss, it depends on your child's age, interest and learning goals. Involve your child in creating a schedule and goal for the summer. Giving your child several educational options during the summer can keep them engaged and interested in learning.
Consider these seven activities to help prevent summer learning loss.
1. Summer reading
Your child doesn't have to read a classic book – it can be any book, magazine or newspaper. The point is to get them reading. Making it fun by taking a book outside or to the park. Or, similar to "movie night," schedule a "reading evening." Make some snacks and encourage everyone to read for 30 minutes. Be sure you participate. Your child is watching your behavior, too.
2. Summer camps and programs
Libraries, local recreation centers, nonprofit groups and universities frequently offer week-long themed programs. Is your child interested in robotics, cooking, plants or art? Look around for a summer camp with a focus that will get your child excited about learning.
This can be a great individual or family option for learning and exploring new interests. Animal shelters, libraries, hospitals, charity organizations and even tutoring are good volunteer options. Your child will learn through their experiences, and if they're older, it could inspire their future career.
4. Travel (near or far!)
First-hand experiences are a fun and engaging way to teach kids. Museums, aquariums, farms and historical locations offer a wealth of information. Let your child select a destination based on a place or activity they studied during the school year. Even planning a guided tour of a bank or local kitchen exposes your child to interesting professions and valuable life skills.
5. Summer courses
Is your child interested in a subject their school doesn't offer? Maybe it's a foreign language or a musical instrument. Schools and community organizations offer summer classes for all ages. Your child can get one-on-one or small group instruction and will head back to school with brand new knowledge in their heads.
6. Family projects
Help your child hold onto their math skills by identifying a practical project you can work on together as a family. Building a sandbox, plotting and planting a garden or baking a cake from scratch can help them practice.
7. College prep work or tutoring
If your child is older, preventing summer learning loss is even more important. Encourage them to use a few hours here and there to take practice versions of standardized tests or write personal statements for college applications. It's also a good time to brush up on any subjects that frequently give them trouble. Look into local tutors or online courses for help.
More summer activities to engage your child's brain
Looking for more ideas of what your child can learn during the summer? Here are a few more options to stay active and engaged:
- Explore local parks and nature areas
- Make new recipes for family dinners
- Pick up a summer job (babysitting, lawn work, pet sitting, etc.)
- Start a daily journal
- Write letters to friends and family members to surprise them
- Take a CPR or First Aid course
- Make flashcards for self-quizzing (vocabulary, presidential facts, math equations, etc.)
- Create a bucket list and start to check things off
- Stay physically active (See tips to stay active in the summer)
Not all screentime is bad: Choose educational options
Even with all these options, there will be days during summer break when your scheduled activities don't go as planned. Rainy days, sick days and busy days at work happen. It's OK for children to have some screentime.
If your child enjoys screentime, look for websites that offer educational benefits (and set time limits!). Some good options that encourage learning include:
- Fun Brain
- National Geographic Kids/National Geographic Little Kids
- PBS Kids
- ReadWriteThink (Grades 6-8)
- SciFRI (Grades K-12)
- Wizarding World (Formerly Pottermore)
- Woot Math (Grades 9-12)
Ultimately, Lauer says, if you focus on keeping summer learning entertaining, your child will likely have more success retaining their knowledge.
"Creative learning is so fun and can be very different than classroom learning with a little thought," she says. "Use learning as an incentive, not a bribe – and most of all, have fun learning together!"
See more summer resources
Children's Health is here to help keep your family healthy and safe this summer. See more summer safety tips and activity ideas.
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