This is the time of year when I hear parents talk about how they look forward to sleeping in a little more, running to fewer after-school activities and simply relaxing at the beach or pool. Should we encourage our children to sit back and do nothing this summer when experts are confirming that summers off are one of the most important, yet least acknowledged causes of underachievement in our schools?
Research confirms that summer learning loss is real. It’s called “the summer brain drain” because during those long, hot months away from school, kids supposedly forget a lot of what they had learned in class. Researchers from John Hopkins University confirm that students can lose approximately 2.6 months of grade learning loss in mathematics when they stop using computational skills. A local first grade teacher in Bergen County confirms that kindergarten students who do not continue to read on their “guided reading level” throughout the summer months often return to school and fall behind two levels. It takes almost 6-8 weeks to recuperate those lost reading skills, and it’s not good for their confidence.
Educators confirm that retaining a reading level over the summer is possibly the easiest one to tackle. Children simply need to read, and it’s important to make it fun. Let children pick the books they want to read, and even if it is a bit below their reading level or if they have read it before, it should be allowed. Summer is a perfect time for children to really read for pleasure. Ask the teachers to give you a summer reading list to make sure you do have guided reading level books available for them, and going to the library and asking your librarian for that same information is priceless.
Working on children’s speech and language progress should also be a year-round priority. As speech-language pathologists well know, children learn through play as a natural part of their development. If schedules or budgets don’t allow weekly sessions, talk to your child’s therapist. Therapists might be able to work with you on a more flexible schedule or even help in organizing group sessions so that children can participate in fun summertime learning activities that promote speech, articulation and language expression. Others may offer enrichment sessions over the course of a few weeks during the summer.
Speech and language therapists can also give parents ideas on how to build speech and language practice into summer activities. Guessing games like 20 questions, rhyming and giving directions or descriptions are all means of stimulating language skills. Ten minutes a day right after your child brushes their teeth or takes their bath is a good time to tackle some speech practice.
Summer brain drain is real, but that doesn’t mean we have to encourage our children to take classes all summer long. Children are developing their language, vocabulary, social and sensory skills when they are with their parents and caregivers doing any of the following: blowing bubbles, playing outside, swimming, going for walks, finger painting, playing at the park, visiting the zoo and going on vacation. In other words, our children can continue to learn and still have fun.