This summer is key to continue children’s learning.
Summertime in Southern California means beach trips, road trips, swimming pools and shaved ice. And after more than a year of enduring the challenges of a pandemic, many students and teachers are counting down the days until a summer break with no schedule — and no Zoom.
This year, schools have struggled to teach students remotely or in classrooms as children wear masks and sit behind plastic shields. One national testing organization reported that the average student in grades 3-8 who took a math assessment this fall scored 5 to 10 percentile points behind students who took the same test last year, with Black, Hispanic and impoverished students falling even further behind. Some districts report that the number of students who’ve missed at least 10 percent of classes has more than doubled.
This academically challenging year for students all across the country is now bringing to light the realities of summer learning loss — otherwise known as “summer slide.” Summer learning loss is when students return to school at a lower academic level than they were at the end of the previous school year. This occurs when a child does not practice the skills they have learned at school during their summer vacation, and the statistics are staggering.
According to Oxford Learning, the equivalent of one month of learning is lost after summer vacation for students. About two months of math skills and reading are lost over the summer, and about six weeks are spent re-learning old material in the fall to make up for summer learning loss. During this year of increased learning loss due to virtual learning and even social isolation, supplemental activities are now making this summer the most important season of the pandemic when it comes to education.
The good news in all of this is that it only takes about two to three hours of educational activity per week to prevent learning loss over the summer. Here are some ways parents can bridge the gap and support their child’s valuable and powerful mind this summer:
1. Read. Studies show that reading just four or five books over the summer has a positive impact on a child’s learning and comprehension. Summertime allows students to forget about assigned reading and choose books that spark their interest and get them curious about exploring the world around them. Visit the local library as a ritual in your summer routine. Remember, books can go wherever you go — to the beach, park or on a road trip. Reading just one chapter every morning — when students are usually learning the most in school — can get the day started in a positive and inspiring way.
2. Create. Getting creative, in learning and in play, has been proven to directly help with subjects of English and art. It also is proven to increase emotional success — a skill we all need sharpened during the pandemic. Higher-level thinking and skill development create neural pathways between different parts of the brain when children create, research tells us. Getting creative doesn’t have to be complex, either. Buy a summer journal and encourage daily creative writing, find crafts at your local craft store, decorate cookies or cupcakes for neighbors and friends or just print out coloring pages for busy hands.
3. Explore. A full day or a half day of exploring nature trails, hikes, museums or aquariums gets kids curious and inspired to learn. It’s also a great way to involve the entire family. Exploring cultural places can foster learning in areas of history and science, and people are often surprised at how many historical landmarks are located within a 50-mile radius of their own home.
4. Play. Physical fitness levels can take a hit over the summer months. Movement and activity are key to a well-rounded mind, and the warm summer months make it an ideal time to get outside and play. Promote simple outdoor play in your own backyard or front yard — a skill many families have been forced to develop during the pandemic. Children are yearning to be with their friends, yearning to be outside, to move, dance and explore.
5. Summer Camp. Summer camp offers children an opportunity to move beyond what is comfortable and to expand their knowledge of the world around them. Children learn in a variety of ways, but when they are given hands-on opportunities, broader concepts become concrete. For example, reading about velocity introduces the concept, and building a model rollercoaster makes the concept real. Children need these opportunities to see concepts in action, and summer camp does just that. YMCA OC offers summer camps designed to nurture the development of the whole child. This informal learning allows children to explore, create and wonder, while reinforcing concepts such as math and science through activities like exploring nature, cooking and even making “Flubber,” a YMCA camp favorite.
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Dorain Cassell is executive director of the North Division of Child and Youth Development at YMCA of Orange County.