Today's column is the first of a three-part series on summer learning for kids. Here, I provide a brief review of why summer learning is important and highlight 3 approaches to summer learning. The idea is to create a well-rounded plan that provides learning fun for your kids throughout the entire summer.
The Importance of Summer Learning
Proponents of summer learning programs typically point to the "summer slide" (also commonly referred to as the "summer loss" or "summer fade") as a key detrimental factor to children's educational progress. The term refers to the decline in learning retention during summer break for children without exposure to educational activities during the summer. Studies have shown that this effect disproportionately impacts certain groups of "at-risk" children more when it comes to reading achievement. Data also suggests that almost all children experience learning losses when it comes to math skills. The National Summer Learning Association has been at the forefront of promoting research and resources regarding the summer slide effect; you can learn more about their initiatives here.
Additional research shows that the "summer slide" goes beyond cognitive impacts, and also affects physical fitness. Research has shown that children's body mass index (BMI) increases 2-3x more rapidly over summer break versus during the school year. Less regimented eating habits and physical activities are seen as the main culprits for abnormal summer weight gain amongst children.
3 Useful Approaches to Summer Learning
These findings suggest that a successful approach to stemming the "summer slide" calls for a multi-disciplinary approach. Below, I've highlighted 3 useful approaches for navigating the summer learning conundrum, and how they might fit into your child's summer break. Within these approaches, I have tried to include a diverse set of ELA, STEM, and health & wellness resources to address various subject matter needs.
1. Summer Learning Challenges
Many summer learning challenges are conducted online, with a gamification element added through printable completion certificates and contest prizes. These initiatives usually encourage kids to maintain or improve their learning skills, typically focused on a specific subject area. Notable examples for Summer 2015 include Scholastic's Summer Reading Challenge, MetaMetrics' Summer Math Challenge, and the Adventure to Fitness Summer Adventure Challenge. The benefits of these programs are that they're typically self-paced, free/affordable, and provide high quality educational content. On the flip side, they tend to have minimal peer interaction opportunities, provide less structure for kids, and usually focus on a single subject area versus taking a multi-disciplinary approach. By participating in a diverse set of summer learning challenges, your child can enjoy exposure to multiple learning areas.
2. Specialized Summer Immersion Programs
Many communities offer day camps and community programs, typically run out of local schools and childcare centers as a combination of child learning and supervision services. Other organizations take this concept a step further, with specialized immersion experiences in STEM, sports, nature, and other subject areas. For example, Girls Who Code provides their skills-based mentorship programs to older children through their seven-week Summer Immersion Program across 14 cities. The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign's Sports Fitness Program has one of the longest running summer youth fitness programs in the country (started in 1951), originally created to provide opportunities for children to stay physically active in an organized environment during the summer months. Audubon Society, which focuses on saving birds and preserving nature, has over 6,000 day camp visitors each year, plus residential camps for teens and adults. These specialized programs tend to take an experiential approach and immerse their participants in a variety of activities to help them explore and define their interests and talents. They provide a great deal of personalized attention, but they do tend to be more geographically-based, and typically involve higher costs and an application process.
3. Self-Guided Learning Resources
For parents and kids who don't require pre-packaged goals or resources, and perhaps have less flexibility for summer travel, these resources are great for providing summer learning experiences online. For example, Exploratorium provides day camp services at its San Francisco headquarters, but it also shares a wide variety of apps, interactive games, and videos on its website to facilitate learning from anywhere. Science Buddies provides over 1,150 science project ideas on its website, suitable for anything from casual family science activities to science fair submissions. The U.S. Department of Education also has a great resource for parents called "Helping Your Child Learn Mathematics" on their website, including math activities ideas for pre-schoolers to fifth graders. Perhaps the biggest challenge with this category of resources is having the time and expertise to curate what each child needs most from the sheer breadth of resources available.
Depending on your child's needs, you may find it most helpful to apply one or two of these resources to a particular subject area where your child could benefit from some extra help. Or, you may find that using a blend of these three approaches across multiple disciplines is a great way to keep kids' brains active overall and their learning retention rate up over the summer months. I will be delving into how parents can help their kids maximize their summer learning potential and mitigate the summer slide in my next column: "Taking a Hands-on Approach to Preventing the ‘Summer Slide.'"