As parents and students anticipate and plan for summer vacation there’s a lot of buzz about Summer Learning Loss. Businesses selling academic camps, learning services, books, etc. are turning fear about Summer Learning Loss into profits. It’s a good strategy, because fear is a powerful motivator, and parents want to be sure that their children don’t lose hard-won learning and end up starting the next school year on the wrong foot. However a lot of what people believe about Summer Learning Loss isn’t true.
Summer Learning Loss is not a problem for most children. Research shows that some low-income students lose reading test scores over the summer but most other students actually gain in reading. There is some generalized loss in math, but that’s as measured by standardized tests which focus on rote fact retention rather than understanding concepts. A child may forget the answer to a multiplication question, but that doesn’t mean they can’t multiply. If learning is lost in 2 months, was it really “learning” in the first place?
These nuances in Summer Learning Loss are glossed over by those selling camps, study guides and learning services. They’re trying to scare middle-income families (the ones with the money) so they’ll buy what they’re selling.
Children never stop learning, whether in school or at home. Families can do a few easy things to tap into this and improve their child’s learning over the summer. The best news is they’re all free:
Talk To Your Kids– In his 2012 study “Summer Learning Inequality in Canada” McMaster University sociology professor Scott Davies discovered that middle-income children don’t gain in reading because they go to camp or take vacations, but because their parents talk to them. Dr. Davies said “It’s the daily conversations that are sophisticated and expand children’s vocabularies, and being read to regularly by seasoned readers, one-on-one,” that make a difference. Adults should engage with children, ask them questions, share opinions and expose them to advanced vocabulary.
Let Them Get Bored– The first few days of summer vacation are fun, as children enjoy the freedom, but the novelty quickly wears off and parents start to hear “I’m bored”. The temptation is to step in with a programmed activity or turn on a screen, but research says parents should hold off. Dr. Teresa Belton found that boredom is an essential part of the creative process. She writes that “when children have nothing to do now, they immediately switch on the TV, the computer, the phone or some kind of screen. But children need to have stand-and-stare time, time imagining and pursuing their own thinking processes or assimilating their experiences through play or just observing the world around them”.
Visit The Library– In 2010 Dr. Richard Allington at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville reported the results of a three-year study where five self-selected books were given to low-income students. This simple practice, allowing children to choose 5 books over the summer, eliminated summer reading loss in those children. According to Dr. Allington, letting children choose books is “less expensive and less extensive than either providing summer school or engaging in comprehensive school reform, (but) the effect was equal to the effect of summer school”. The local library is a terrific place to let children take their time, browse and choose some summer books.
Let Them Sleep In– Sleep deprivation in Canada has been called a “National Epidemic” and the effect of sleep deprivation on children and learning is well established. In 2013 Chad Minnich, of the TIMSS and PIRLS International Study Centre said that “…children who have more sleep achieve higher in maths, science and reading. That is exactly what our data show”. Making sure children get enough sleep and recharge themselves after a long school year is key to good learning. Help children establish good sleep habits over the summer so they can enter the new school year rested and refreshed.
Take Them To The Park– One of the hottest trends in Canadian education is “Forest Schools” where students learn outdoors. These schools build on research which indicates that children learn better when they spend time in outdoor, natural spaces. “Nature can buffer children from stress and improve their cognitive ability. Outdoor spaces also give children the opportunity to have space away from adults, allowing them to develop friendships and social interactions”. Allowing children to play outside, in natural surroundings makes them smarter, happier and helps them develop independence and autonomy. There’s even a growing movement touting the benefits of leaving your kids at the park for a while.