Summer learning loss is the real deal.
For more than 100 years, scholars have discussed how, during summer vacation, a student's academic development declines relative to the school year. The average student will score lower on the same standardized test at the end of the summer than at the beginning (White, 1906; Heyns, 1978; Entwisle & Alexander 1992; Cooper, 1996; Downey et al, 2004).
While the severity of summer learning loss varies by grade level, by subject matter and by socioeconomic status (SES), summer loss for all students is estimated to be equal to about one month of learning.
About two-thirds of the ninth-grade achievement gap between lower and higher income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities during the elementary school years. As a result, low-income youth are less likely to graduate from high school or enter college (Alexander et al. 2007).
Looking just at mathematics, summer learning loss can jump to 2.6 months in a student's primary school years. While summer reading programs alleviate learning loss for English, no such programs exist for math.
Below are our favorite tips for helping parents conquer summer learning loss.
1. Balance Work & Play
Learning doesn't have to be a chore, and summer vacation shouldn't be an opportunity for your child to turn his or her brain entirely off. Make sure to intersperse small opportunities for learning throughout the day. Use math games when eating a meal together to calculate tip. Have your child estimate how much money filling your gas tank will be. No need for worksheets or exams - math can be fun.
2. Make Goals
Identify certain key math concepts that need work, and then set a goal. If your child can show they have mastered the concept, then they’ve earned a reward. Goals can be both large and small—accomplishable within a day, a month, or an entire summer. Once the goal has been reached, you decide what the reward should be!
3. Consider Your Presentation
Chances are, if learning is presented as an unpleasant task, a child will not want to do it. Even using different language can help. For example, instead of saying, “Once you finish your work…” consider something like, “Let’s see if you can figure out what the answer might be . . .” When learning is presented as a challenge rather than a chore, it often seems more rewarding—and more fun!
4. Change Roles
Ask your child questions. Maybe they’re covering a topic that you’ve forgotten—have them explain it in their own words. When a student is made the teacher, they are challenged to understand the material better, and often have more fun doing so.
It is summer, after all. There are no deadlines looming for tests, no major assignments. Allow your child a chance to explore their learning interests. Feed them different learning opportunities—you can use online resources, books, or summer school, whatever seems to work. The key is that they continue to learn. Because when learning stops altogether, that is when learning loss begins to occur.