The end of school often brings the end of structured academic activities – at least during summer break. Teachers, researchers, doctors and parents call the phenomenon of losing acquired skills and knowledge over the summer vacation by a few names: summer brain drain, summer slide, and summer learning loss.
The National Center on Afterschool and Summer Enrichment reports the summer learning loss during elementary school years accounts for at least half of the ninth-grade reading achievement gap.
However, summer break is very important. It allows students to recharge and connect with their family and be ready for the next academic year. Lack of such a break can lead to chronic stress, student burn out and loss of motivation.
Too often, active learning and play is replaced with TV, video games and other screen time. From a health standpoint, too much non-active/sedentary time also contributes to childhood obesity and a variety of physical and emotional health issues.
So, how can parents and other caregivers make sure their kids have a break from school but not a break from learning and being active?
Learn Through Realistic Play
There are so many different ways in which children can play, enjoy, and at the same time learn in a fun way. Students don’t always need textbooks to learn something. Try:
- Counting money before or during a trip to the grocery store
- Count and organize loose change before taking it to the bank
- Help figure out the amount to tip when dining out
- Measure ingredients while cooking or baking
Exploration can keep a child’s mind sharp and active, so send your child out into nature. •Play in a backyard or nearby park
- Plant, harvest, or somehow participate in gardening
- Go to a zoo and learn about different animals and habitats
- Visit a museum, any kind of museum, to see something new and different
Read a Book
Go to the local library or your own bookshelf and find something to read. Encourage your child to select a book that interests them as they are more likely to read if the book appeals to them. And check out your local library’s summer reading program! These are free programs with fun activities and often include great prizes.
Take a Trip
Summer is also a perfect time to have a family vacation. Kids can learn about geography, history and more while visiting different places—and you don’t have to break the bank, as there are many local attractions that can provide this experience. Children can take pictures, make scrap books, write stories or create a video of their adventures. Spending time with family and friends in a new environment makes memories and builds relationships.
Go to Camp
Research by the RAND Corporation funded by The Wallace Foundation shows that high-quality summer learning programs can curb summer learning loss and boost student achievement. The study cites three characteristics as most important when choosing a summer program. They are:
- Highly-qualified and specially trained staff
- Smaller class sizes, individualized instruction, and sufficient time on task (operating the program for at least five weeks, with three to four hours of academics per day)
- Involving families and maximizing student attendance with firm enrollment deadlines
Community centers, schools, churches, libraries, and other local organizations often provide summer learning programs. Families will need to look at several options to find the best fit for their specific circumstances.
Get a Job
For older kids, summer might be a good time to find a job or participate in volunteer work. Whether paid or unpaid, work teaches kids to be independent, make decisions, solve problems, and develop self-confidence.
The key to success with summer learning is personalization. Get to know your child’s interests and find ways to include those interests in activities, book selection, camps, and other local events. Summer is the perfect time to focus on hobbies, talents, and projects. So, take guitar lessons, design a comic book, paint, draw, dance… spending time doing what you love never feels like homework but keeps your brain active and ready to learn.
In summary, keeping your child’s brain and body active during the summer will make them happier, healthier, and ready to return to a productive school year.