Summer learning gains

Summer Learning

In a Twitter conversation recently I was asked the following question:

What should parents do to prevent summer learning loss?

As an educator you’d think I would have a great answer to that question that I could instantly reply with – for some reason this one caught me off guard.

Having spent a great majority of my career at the high school level, my first instinct was to suggest signing up for summer school. What a great way to get ahead, knock out some of those quick graduation requirements, accelerate a math class, or take an extra elective. I taught summer school for 5 years – great teachers, a nice, relaxed environment to learn – not a bad suggestion. That was not my reply.

As an elementary parent living in the Bay Area there are a great many academic focused summer experiences. Engineering, computer science, adventure education, maker camp, and STEM learning are certainly some of the most popular themes. Great programs with skilled teachers and well-developed project based curriculum – that was also not my reply.

Certainly bookstores or teacher supply stores have a great selection of learning “workbooks” that allow kids to work through skill building activities in math, reading, science, etc. Parents may suggest that each day their kids may complete a page or two.  (In our house those types of workbooks are not usually cracked open until mid-July and even then it is only with bribery or empty threats that pages are completed… “we’re not going swimming until you finish page 5!”) That was not my suggestion either.

Summer learning loss is very real – research would suggest that its impacts are most significant for traditionally underserved student populations. Children from families in poverty or those who are learning English as a second language lose valuable knowledge and skills over the summer months at a much faster rate than their peers. I grew up in a family that just couldn’t afford many of those extras. I think back to my summers as a student and cannot recall “formal” learning experiences in June, July, or August.

My response to the question was directed to all of those parents who want to really help their kids but who may not have the means or the ability to follow through with some of the valid options above.

My response was to simply:

Parents should read with their kids, talk to kids about their jobs and life, take them to parks, and have them help around the house – real world learning!

A final thought

I do think back on my childhood fondly and recall many times where my parents included me in regular parts of adult life. They encouraged me to ask questions and seek out answers. They provided me with explanations and opportunities to help out and provide my own input and voice. Sure simple chores can put food on the table, get the lawn mowed, and the floor vacuumed but they also be a way for kids to ask about where the gas in the stove comes from, why there are so many thorns in our yard, and how a vacuum cleaner works.

I guess I have to say thanks to my Mom and Dad for making me allowing me to do those things around the house.

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