The summer slide of knowledge – true or false?

Does knowledge take a step back during summer break?

Summer activities can be fun and educational.
Summer activities can be fun and educational.

As summer vacation approaches, families start making plans to camp, go to the beach or to a baseball game. It is a great time for families to reconnect, give kids’ brains a well-deserved break from the demands of school as well as spend quality time with friends. Many educators fear youth fall behind on their academic achievement over the summer months. They feel youth could use this “free time” to practice essential skills that would narrow the achievement gap that many young people, especially low income youth, experience.

A phenomenon known as the “summer slide” indicates most low income youth lose about two months of grade level equivalency in math skills and reading achievement over the summer. This deficit, or gap, widens every year for this population of students. For this reason, many families look for summer programs that look and feel different from the traditional school year, but still deliver an educational component.

According to a 2010 John Hopkins University report, roughly six million kids attend school-sponsored programs each summer. Kids make significant gains in reading and math when attending these five to six weeks of quality summer-learning opportunities. Often, these youth are retaking classes to get a better grade in a class from the prior school year. An additional 11 million youth attend summer camp each year as parents struggle for ways to keep their children productive over the summer.

While we focus mostly on this steep slide of learning loss, a new setback has been rising over the past several years. Federally subsidized meals have declined significantly. Therefore, many kids are going without meals during summer.

Children who participate in five to six weeks of quality summer learning opportunities can achieve significant gains in math and reading, especially those from different socio-economic statuses. These opportunities should include activities like the arts, physical education, science and math and community service. Joining a summer reading program at the local library is a great start and a way to possibly make new friends.

The juggle of family time, work and helping our children be successful in school is a struggle for many. As parents, some of us did not do homework, take classes or pick up a pencil over the wonderful summer months when so many memories were made. It is possible, however, to have a quality summer vacation and stay ahead in school at the same time. The key is a healthy balance and finding activities your kids enjoy while sneaking in an educational component at the same time. Hands-on learning is brains-on learning.

Michigan State University Extension recommends the following resources to find educational yet fun activities for your children this summer:

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the MSU Extension website.

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