When the final bell rings signaling the end of another school year students leave behind thoughts of textbooks and test scores for some much desired fun in the sun. Though some youth may go off to summer camps, or spend their free time exploring museums and nature, others may find themselves without these important learning opportunities. Inevitably, a lack of exposure to learning opportunities from one school year to the next leads to summer learning loss.
All young people experience learning losses when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer. Research spanning 100 years shows that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer. (National Summer Learning Association, 2009)
The hardest hit curriculum area for summer learning loss is mathematics. Most research agrees that students lose an average of two months’ worth of math abilities over the summer months. Researchers have also seen a backward slide in reading and spelling abilities from those students who come from low-income households, whereas their middle class counterparts either maintain their abilities or show slight gains in this subject area. “Gaps in reading and math skills grow primarily during summer vacation, suggesting that non-school factors (e.g., family and neighborhood) are the main source of inequality” (Downey, Von Hippel, & Broh, 2004). Having access to quality summer programming plays a role in minimizing the achievement gap to set all children on the path to college and career success.“We found that summer learning loss accounts for about two-thirds of the difference in the likelihood of pursuing a college preparatory path in high school. And that matters a great deal in terms of what happens later on” (National Summer Learning Association, 2009).
The first step to combating summer learning loss is to shift our thinking from the romantic view of what a summer vacation is supposed to be—rest and relaxation—to what it could be—an opportunity for growth. Exposing children, especially in their elementary years, to a multitude of activities that give them the opportunity to experience something new such as visiting a museum, sporting lessons, and regular visits to the library enhances brainpower. To be even more effective these activities can be paired with structured programs. Individualized programs, parent engagement, and the freedom to explore new areas have all shown to be an effective way to maintain the knowledge developed over the school year.
Reading and spelling skills are greater maintained over summer break because parents and families know which activities their children should be doing. Often, they are able to do these activities, such as reading, with their kids. Knowing which activities are best to engage youngsters in math can be more difficult. However, more options are becoming available to help parents and families.
For example, this year, educators at Wheelock College are hoping to combat summer learning loss with a first-of-its-kind web application to engage families with elementary-age students in STEM activities. “STEM activities for families and students are not readily accessible,” says Barbara Joseph, Learning Solutions Program Manager at Wheelock and co-designer of the application. “We know that families have limited time to search online for these types of activities and even when they are able to find it, the information is not structured for parent/child engagement.” The web application has shown very positive results in pilot tests, including increasing a child’s interest in engineering, as well as parents’ comfort level discussing the topic.
For more information on the STEM app and other options to combat the summer slide please refer to the following resources:
Downey, D. B., P. T. Von Hippel, and B. A. Broh. “Are Schools the Great Equalizer? Cognitive Inequality during the Summer Months and the School Year.” American Sociological Review 69.5 (2004): 613-35. Web.
National Summer Learning Association. 2009. http://www.summerlearning.org/?page=know_the_facts