You don’t have to be a Tiger Mom to worry that your child is losing brain cells while he soaks up R&R over the summer break. And you’d be right to be concerned—summer learning loss, as the experts call it, is real. The typical child loses two months’ worth of the math skills he gained during the school year over the summer due to lack of practice, and lower-income kids also fall behind in reading. This summer slide is especially critical for those children without access to summer learning programs, who are more likely to spend summers on the couch in front of a television instead of going to camp or engaging in educational activities with their parents.
For this reason, extending the school year has become the issue du jour for many prominent education experts. “There’s a small positive effect on kids when they go to school year-round and a much larger effect on students who are struggling,” says Harris Cooper, Ph.D., chair of the psychology and neuroscience department at Duke University and a summer-learning expert. But should summer learning be happening in a more formal academic program, at a traditional camp, or right in the backyard? Not surprisingly, parents have their own opinions.
Yay or Nay to Summer Education?
“Kids need to keep up their learning in a structured way over the summer, not only to ‘compete’ but to guard against losing what they’ve learned. I wish we had year-round school, and it’s not because I’m a mean mom. I just want my kids to be prepared, and I’m not able to teach them.” —Eileen Z. Wolter, Summit, NJ
“They will really benefit from continued education. My wife and I put our daughters into two classes—one we felt they needed and one they got to pick.” —Lewis Hall, Los Angeles
“Summer school has been woven into my second- and fifth-graders’ plans since their kindergarten years, academics in the morning and sports in the afternoon. This summer they will also attend a Spanish-immersion camp with their cousins. Kids need academic goals—realistic ones!” —Cyn Hawkins Davis, Silver Spring, MD
“Summer should be a time to recharge and relax, with plenty of time for unstructured play. That said, parents can do simple things to make sure their kids don’t lose important skills. By incorporating fun learning activities into the routine, children will stay sharp and enjoy the summer.” —Erin Wing, Issaquah, WA
“Kids in grade school need to experience life, and learn through doing during their summer vacations. My kids, husband, and I take day trips to museums, parks, zoos, and the beach, and we go camping, too. Our summers are full of learning—just not the traditional classroom type.” —Sarah Caron, Sandy Hook, CT
“It saddens me when parents put their kids in programs all summer. What happened to letting them be kids? Childhood is way too short, and they are already inundated with stress.” —Nancy O’Neill, Temecula, CA
How to Pick a Summer Program
The most learning occurs in programs that are more informal than school and teach to smaller groups. Typically, they include field trips, hands-on learning, and sports, along with math and reading-skills work. In Pittsburgh, the public schools partner with local organizations to offer kayaking, fencing, and theater. Kids even built their own bikes, and then rode them on a field trip. How to choose one that’s right for your child:
Be a matchmaker. Your kid won’t get anything out of science camp if she’s crazy about creative writing. Ideally, you want a program that’s challenging but engaging enough that she wants to go. That may mean cobbling together a few different programs throughout the break.
Keep her health in mind. Does the program have a schedule that it follows most days?
A lack of structure suggests a disorganized program. Also check to see that it takes advantage of its space to offer sports or physical activities—and that it serves healthy lunches and snacks.
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