Stop Summer Learning Loss
School may be out, but learning is always in! Check out our insanely fun tips to keep your child's skills revved and ready for the new school year, plus even more fun, educational activities for your kids
Like many moms, I can't help thinking of summer in terms of fun with my family. I dream all winter about lazy days in the backyard and nights free of homework and projects. I want to see my girls blow bubbles and draw with chalk on the sidewalk. Which is why all the anecdotal and statistical information on what happens to kids academically over the break can seem so depressing. Virtually all kids will lose some hard-won math knowledge, and many will experience setbacks in reading. As a result, teachers will start the next school year reteaching the same material in the fall for a month or more. So how can summer-loving families reconcile these two seemingly separate camps—summer as fun and summer as academics? Here's how to get started.
In the Middle of Summer, Plan for Fall
Talk to your child's upcoming teacher about the curriculum ahead, recommends Harris Cooper, Ph.D., chair of the psychology and neuroscience department at Duke University, who has done extensive research on the summer academic slide. “If kids have heard the words they are going to hear or have some prior knowledge about the subject waiting in their brains, they will be more likely to make a lasting link,” explains Judy Willis, M.D., a neurologist turned schoolteacher. Without this early introduction, it can take longer for the knowledge to stick.
Look for an astronomy program at a museum if you know stars are on the upcoming school-year schedule, go out to dinner at an ethnic restaurant if your child will be learning a foreign language, or plan a mini-vacation around a subject he'll be studying—say a trip to Boston if your kid will be tackling the Revolutionary War. Fractions on deck? Cook together and divide the servings. You can even introduce the concept of right angles and geometry by building something or just playing with blocks.
Don't Underestimate Fun and Games
Having fun is not the opposite of learning things. In fact, the two are intricately connected in the brain. “Learning is more memorable when the mood is positive,” emphasizes Dr. Willis. Kids who are laughing and smiling are more likely to be learning in ways that last. That can mean playing charades using characters from books. Many popular board games reinforce language or math (think Monopoly, Battleship, Clue, Scrabble, Boggle, chess), as well as skills like making predictions, seeing patterns, and using logic. You can also practice spelling and cursive with chalk and play word games in the car. Physical activities like a game of tag or a walk in the woods are also proven brain boosters.
One of the biggest concerns for parents is the digital beast consuming ten-plus hours a day of our children's lives during the school year, according to research from the Kaiser Family Foundation. But educators say it isn't just the technology that is the problem; it's how it's used. Milton Chen, Ph.D., a senior fellow at the George Lucas Educational Foundation (edutopia.org) encourages families to make a strategic plan for how technology will fit into each day. This might mean screen-free hours during certain time periods or a basket where cell phones or game devices are dropped (in the “off” position) during meals or at bedtime. In adopting these approaches, parents will do more than simply diversify their children's activities; they'll be teaching them how to strategize to make the best use of their time.