The transition from the lazy days of summer to the back- to-school crunch can be jarring. Studies documented by The Johns Hopkins University's Center for Summer Learning show that all students fall almost 2.6 months behind in math skills over the summer. For low-income children, the slip in reading is particularly harmful: They fall behind an average of two months in reading while their middle-income peers tend to make slight gains.
That learning loss — known as "summer slide" — means it can be tough to get back into the swing of things academically. To avoid back-to-school "shock," Ron Fairchild, executive director of the Center for Summer Learning, recommends ramping up before the school year begins. "Like any skill, learning is a skill that requires practice," he said. "High-quality learning opportunities should be a part of every child's summer, but particularly as the school year approaches, it's important to participate in stimulating learning activities that stir up motivation in preparation for the coming year."
Some of his suggestions:
Reading, Reading, Reading
Research shows that reading may be the single most important activity children can do over the summer to stay on track during the school year. Fairchild suggests organizing a library trip where kids can explore whatever strikes their interest. "Once the school year starts, there's more structure to learning," he said, "but late summer can be a time for kids to explore subjects that capture their imaginations. And when we can learn about what we love, that momentum can carry over into other areas."
Searching out biographies of people who have overcome adversity can also be an inspirational way to highlight the value of hard work and perseverance, which will be valuable as children dig in for the rigors of another school year.
Make Math a Part of Everyday Life
Depending on their ability level, Fairchild said, children can help develop a budget or keep track of expenditures. Families can practice math and measurements while making a meal together. Sports fans can track statistical averages or percentages. And a car trip can provide opportunities to add and subtract miles or compare distances.
"Look for teachable moments," Fairchild said. "We use math every day, sometimes without even thinking about it. And as a parent, you may be helping to plant an interest in a future career as an accountant, an athlete, a chef, or even a mathematician. If kids can see a connection between numbers and what interests them, it might be the motivation they need."
Take Family Field Trips
Visits to museums or other educational or historical sites might build on current interests or spark new ones. "If your child likes art, for example, you might visit an art museum and talk about famous artists," Fairchild said. "Museums are also great places to learn about science and nature. Field trips can take us out of our ordinary routines and stimulate an overall interest in learning about our fascinating world. Make it a time of creative exploration and enrichment."
The good news is that the more students can make learning a part of everyday life and not just a seasonal exercise, the more likely they are to retain and build on what they've learned, Fairchild said. "Our goal is to help ensure that all kids have access to learning opportunities and resources that level the playing field between the affluent and economically disadvantaged, but the critical thing is to keep making progress. And that's something all kids can do."
More information on summer learning and related resources is available on the Johns Hopkins' Center for Summer Learning Web site at www.summerlearing.org . For more information, or to arrange interviews, contact Jeanne Johnson, 443-791-0226 or Debra Carroll, 443-340-4641.
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