Preventing Learning Loss During Summer: Five Strategies to Keep Kids Engaged

School’s out, temperatures are soaring to record levels, and children nationwide are at risk of losing the reading and math skills they acquired during the school year.

On average, students tend to regress by approximately 20% in reading and 27% in math over the summer break, as indicated by a 2020 study analyzing data from 2008 to 2016 published in the American Educational Research Journal.

Students face varying degrees of learning loss, especially when they don’t engage in summer school or other educational activities, as highlighted by the U.S. Department of Education.

According to education researcher Andrew McEachin, formerly at NWEA, the summer activities of students significantly impact their performances on tests at the beginning of the subsequent school year

Experts advise family members and summer instructors to strategically consider supporting children’s retention of their acquired knowledge.

During interviews with USA TODAY, education experts and school leaders shared five crucial methods to prevent regression. They advocated for encouraging students to read books, utilize technology for ongoing practice of math concepts, and taking them on educational field trips to museums where they can apply and expand their science and math skills.

Concerned about summer learning loss? Here are four methods to prevent it before the new school year commences

Explore libraries, collect free books, engage in contests

Experts stress the importance of sustained reading over the summer to uphold literacy skills, emphasizing that parents should make reading enjoyable. Families are encouraged to participate in summer reading programs at local public libraries. According to the Colorado Department of Education, officials revealed that just reading “four to six books during the summer” can thwart the decline in learning.

Libraries across the nation organize various initiatives to promote literacy during the summer. For example, the New York City Public Library hosts early literacy storytimes, reading competitions, and teen writing challenges, enhancing engagement with local authors and illustrators. Similarly, libraries in San Jose, California, are offering incentives for young readers in July, rewarding them for their literacy efforts. Additionally, the Iowa State Library is encouraging student participation in the national iREAD program, focused on species conservation and biodiversity.

Various national booksellers are presenting initiatives to combat the summer learning decline. Barnes and Noble provide complimentary books to children who submit journal entries reflecting on their favorite book excerpts. Scholastic offers an online summer reading program named the “digital destination” where youngsters can interact with authors, characters, and engage in book-themed activities from home.

Summer educators are adopting innovative strategies to keep youngsters engaged in reading. At a literacy magnet school in Chicago, librarian Lies Garner initiated a summer book club for incoming students. Additionally, educators at a public school in Chicago transformed a classroom into a café-like space, complete with glass walls, bean bag chairs, chess sets, and even a record player for students in fourth to sixth grade, revealed Evan Moore, Chicago Public Schools spokesperson.

Math Adventures and Traditional Worksheets

Following the closure of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic, educational institutions have increasingly leveraged digital platforms for students to tackle math problems and practice arithmetic online.

A diverse range of digital math programs incorporated into the academic year are now accessible online. Educators nationwide have compiled their preferred online math learning resources on Edutopia. These resources, many of which entail fees, include Moose Math, a game-based math app, the subscription service Happy Numbers, and web-based learning system Zearn. Scholastic recommends free alternatives like interactive math challenges from Khan Academy and Parcc Games.

Richard Blankman asserts in an article on Houghton Mifflin Harcourt that video games integrating math or science elements offer an engaging learning avenue. The popular math-based fantasy game Prodigy serves as an example.

Moreover, families and caregivers can introduce children to new knowledge realms by delving into budgeting and financial concepts or exploring sports statistics while watching sports events, as suggested by Blankman.

“Sports inherently entail mathematical concepts. For younger learners, it can be as straightforward as tracking goals, identifying shapes, or comparing 2-point and 3-point shots,” he elaborated.

If traditional worksheets suit a child’s learning style best, families can access printable math worksheets containing equations for kids to practice.

Explore Astrophysics or Interact with Scientists at Museums

Parents can utilize science and math museums to introduce their kids to new concepts and provide opportunities for applying learned skills, as outlined by Blankman. Museums frequently host summer educational programs and exhibitions tailored for children.

Several communities offer reduced family entrance rates to museums during the summer. For instance, the San Francisco Museums for All program grants local residents with CalFresh or Medi-Cal cards free or discounted access to several participating museums like the Walt Disney Family Museum and the Aquarium of the Bay.

Furthermore, the national Museums4All program extends free or discounted admissions to over 1,300 museums across the U.S. for families receiving food assistance during the summer. Military families can also avail themselves of museum discounts during this season.

Some museums offer classes where kids can apply their math and science skills. Teens in New York have the opportunity to participate in free science classes covering anthropology, astrophysics, conservation, and evolutionary biology at the American Museum of National History. The museum further provides summer internships for older students and camps for younger attendees.

Engage in Music or Career Tech Courses at Summer School

A wide array of summer programs catering to music and STEM education is available for families interested in enriching their children’s learning experiences.

The Boys and Girls Club of America organizes a summer learning loss prevention initiative named Summer Brain Gain, supported by Disney, aimed at combating the summer slide for students of all ages.

Various school districts offer free academic programs for eligible families. For instance, the Philadelphia Public School District is hosting a summer camp for sixth to eighth-grade students keen on exploring career and technical education paths. Additionally, a spokesperson for the district, Monique Braxton, mentioned an extended school year program offering specialized support for students with special education needs.

Summer school also presents an excellent chance for children to explore new interests. Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, highlighted that their summer school curriculum incorporates electives such as music and fashion alongside essential subjects like math and reading.

Seek Counselors and Embrace Summertime Joy and Play

Educators and researchers emphasize the importance of children taking a break from structured learning during the summer. It’s crucial for parents to observe their children’s emotional well-being and provide opportunities for social interactions when needed, recommended McEachin.

“It’s vital for children to have time to simply be kids during the summer, engaging in both learning and social development,” he remarked.

Some children rely on mental health counseling and support provided by schools that may not be available during the summer months. Certain summer camps are incorporating activities focusing on social and emotional well-being, while some institutions are continuing counseling services throughout the break.

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