Summer Learning Loss: year-round school or year-round learning?

Are your kids counting down yet? As the spring weeks slip by, the emerging green grass, warm sun, and bright blue sky prompt most children to start thinking about that happy moment in June when the final school bell will ring, ushering in that magical privilege of childhood: summer vacation.

Summer is almost here!

It’s no surprise that hard-working teachers also welcome a respite from routine. However, some express concern about the effects of the long break on children’s educational progress. Students’ loss of academic skills and knowledge over the course of the summer is a widely studied phenomenon, commonly referred to as “summer learning loss.” Often, students who have had to struggle to reach grade-level expectations in reading or math for their end-of-year report cards have lost those hard-won achievements by the time they return to school in September.

Although research shows that summer learning loss varies across grade level, subject matter and family income, at Touchstone we recognize that all students are affected to a certain extent. Teachers note that precious class time in September and October has to be dedicated to reviewing last year’s lessons. That time would be much better spent on identifying students’ individual needs and helping them take the appropriate next steps in key subject areas.

Internationally, recognition of the problem has led to a variety of proposed solutions. Some teachers, school officials and parents believe that the school year should be extended. They point out that the 9-month school calendar is a historical hangover from a period when children’s attendance varied seasonally, and education often took a backseat to families’ labour needs. Since then, labour patterns, public education systems, and even prevailing concepts of childhood have all evolved, but the school calendar has remained unchanged. Some people believe that stretching out instructional time across the full 12 months would prevent learning loss by allowing for uninterrupted student progress.

Others have strongly registered their objection to the idea of “year-round” school. Many parents want their children to enjoy the freedom of an annual break from the highly structured school environment and schedule. And some teachers feel that the long break is needed to recuperate from the intensity of their workload during the school year.

Recognizing that children don’t have to be in a classroom to practice academic skills, some families have adopted an alternative solution. Learning-focused summer camps provide a great strategy for combatting summer learning loss, and can even facilitate substantial advances during the break. For kids, learning begins with curiosity and imagination. In a camp program, children experience different forms of instruction and can pursue individual interests.

To prevent learning loss, choosing the right camp for your children is essential. Summer programs vary widely. Some are mainly focused on providing childcare for working parents. But with a little searching, you will also find programs that offer opportunities to delve into science, music, art, computers, sports and an array of other interest areas.

By tapping into your children’s interests, you may open up a floodgate of learning that would not be feasible during the busier school months. Once a child’s interest in a subject or activity is piqued, the learning follows naturally. For example, after attending a local basketball camp, one ten-year-old found a biography about a favorite NBA player at the library, and spent hours reading and analyzing the tables of player and game statistics that he found in the book and online. The summer basketball camp led to a self-directed daily reading habit and encouraged this student to use his math skills in a way that his teacher would have celebrated!

One of the most unfortunate lingering effects of maintaining a traditional school calendar may be the way that it encourages us to imagine a sharp divide between learning and recreation. At Touchstone, we recognize that learning is the fundamental mental activity that children are born to do. They can learn no matter where they are, but they will do it best in a space that sparks their curiosity and imagination. Altering the calendar so that school lasts a little longer may be a solution to summer learning loss that parents, teachers and education policy officials continue to debate.In the mean time, do your kids a favor: send them to camp!

Posted in on May 20, 2014