Summer vacation… Most kids have been dreaming about the last day of school for weeks (if not months), and there are probably plenty of teachers doing the same! Long summer days with no homework, tests to study for, or projects to complete sounds like a dream. But beware! Summer brain drain is lurking and could turn an otherwise perfect summer into a real nightmare.
Summer brain drain, the summer slide, summer learning loss, — or whatever you want to call it - the learning leak that can happen over a summer break from school has been well studied. These phrases all describe what happens when a student stops learning and potentially loses some of the knowledge gained during the school year. It was first documented in 1906 and has been researched extensively in the decades following. The theory has been measured by having students take a standardized test before and after summer break, then comparing their scores to find a decline in performance.
Most students lose two months of mathematical skills and reading progress every summer.
Struggling readers need 10x-30x more practice to catch up to their peers.
Summer learning loss in the elementary school years alone accounts for at least half of the ninth grade reading achievement gap.
Parents consistently cite summer as the most difficult time to ensure that their children have productive things to do.
Summer learning loss is NOT correlated to race, IQ or gender.
Students who read or are engaged in another form of learning just 2-3 hours per week during the summer prevented summer slide.
High-quality summer learning programs have been shown to also improve school attachment, motivation, and relationships with adults and peers.
9 in 10 teachers spend at least three weeks re-teaching lessons at the start of the school year.
The lack of a structured classroom experience doesn’t have to mean an imminent backslide for your child, though. There are so many valuable skills and lessons to be learned in non-traditional ways throughout the summer! On their website, the National Summer Learning Association states: “Students who fall behind over the summer are less likely to graduate from high school or go on to college. Creating opportunities for summer learning sets the stage for innovation, creativity, and leadership in every community.” So, what’s a parent to do with summer vacation coming up? Invest in your child’s summer learning success at every age:
Tips for Elementary School Students:
Master the art of the open-ended question. Take time to just chat with your kids and learn more about what gets them excited, what problems they want to solve, what they think about the world.
Plant a garden. From a windowsill herb garden to a fruit and vegetable patch in the backyard, letting your elementary students get dirty and plant and harvest their favorite foods, herbs, or flowers is a great way to keep them engaged in their environment this summer. Use the garden to talk about everything from where food comes from to how seeds grow! When it’s time to harvest, let your child plan a menu and help prepare a meal for the family too!
Plan an adventure. Whether it’s a day trip to the aquarium or a longer vacation, get kids involved. From planning what to pack to researching things to do along the way, this is a fun way to use a lot of their skills, including reading to math, in a really rewarding way.
Embrace quality screen time. That’s right, we said it. There is a place for quality, educational screen time in your child’s life this summer! From great educational programming on TV to the right computer programs (like a computerized reading intervention program focused on helping kids pay attention longer, process information faster, and comprehend what they're reading, for example), the right apps, programming, and software can be the strategic tool you need. Whether you’re playing catch up, trying to prevent summer brain drain, or are looking for ways to have a jump start on the new school year, technology can be a huge help for elementary school students. Fast ForWord lets kids complete a variety of auditory processing, attention, and memory exercises that look like reading or pre-reading games to provide a fun educational experience!
Start a journal. Encourage younger children to document their days or use it to spark their imagination and start a storybook. Their reading, writing, and spelling skills will all benefit from some fun journaling over the summer.
Maybe most importantly at this age, let kids be kids! Let them play and encourage their curiosity! Answer their questions and consider taking them to the library to learn more about what they're passionate about. Let them use the summer break to explore the world around them and develop the drive and research skills they’ll need throughout their life.
Tips for Middle School Students:
Make them try something new. Whether it’s a new sport, summer school class, or book series, expose middle schoolers to something new and exciting. Have them work with their hands to build a project or cook their way through a cookbook full of new recipes or flavors. This can help them apply what they already know to a new interest or hobby and open their world up even more.
Encourage some drama. Have your child gather up a group of friends and plan a performance for their families! From a talent show to a play performance, they can write their own script or do some research to find a play written for their age group. They’ll need to work together, plan ahead, and use their reading and memorization skills!
Focus on their attention skills. Middle school, and 7th grade in particular, is a huge turning point for students in this country. Instruction transitions from visual to auditory and middle school teachers have less time to spend with individual students. If your child needs materials repeated, or additional time to process what they learn, this can be a particularly challenging time. An intensive reading program like Fast ForWord can address the root causes of your child’s challenges, to boost his or her performance in school and build confidence and self-esteem. The game-like exercises were designed with students in mind to make their time with Fast ForWord fun!
Learn the art of hand lettering. Typing skills are so important, but handwriting has taken a back seat. Encouraging children to practice their penmanship or master the art of hand lettering can be a fun and artistic outlet for them! From brush lettering to cursive worksheets to calligraphy, there are a lot of resources out there to help budding graphic designers, crafters, and artists perfect their skills.
Start a Non-Book Club. Organize a reading and discussion get-together that centers around reading materials that aren’t books. Find an age-appropriate blog, magazine, graphic novel, or comic to have everyone read, then jot down some discussion questions for the group! Explore ways to encourage a love for reading that goes beyond the traditional, and get your child’s friends involved for even more fun!
Plan experiences. Summers get busy, but a trip to a local museum or art gallery can be a pivotal point for many young learners in this age range. Help them experience what it is they may have been learning about through books all school-year long in a more dynamic way. Help carry the lessons from school through the summer by connecting their lessons with real-world experiences.
Tips for High School Students:
If they aren’t working during the school year, encourage high schoolers to find a summer job or regular volunteering opportunity. From time management to interpersonal skills, there are a lot of lessons to be learned and skills to be refined in a workplace setting!
Focus on fact vs. fiction. High schoolers may be able to text with their eyes closed or make an iMovie faster than you can ask Alexa the difference between a gif and a meme, but that doesn’t mean they can tell the difference between fact and fiction online. With all of the fake news, trolls, and inauthentic behavior making headlines these days, teaching your child to think critically, fact check, and understand how search results and social algorithms work is important. Help your high schooler understand what a reliable source is and how to find it. Talk about the dangers of using and spreading false information. These are lifelong skills that will serve him or her well both in school and out!
Start a summer movie series and expose teens to new genres, classics, and your favorite movies when you were their age. Take some time to discuss the move after you’ve watched it together. This is a great way to facilitate better communication with really fun, natural teaching moments mixed in.
Pick up a new language. High schoolers may be learning Spanish or French in school, and keeping up with those skills over the summer is important. However, it’s also a great time to expose them to computer coding languages! They may find they love to code, which opens up a lot of career opportunities down the road. Or, they may find that it’s not for them. Either way, it can help reduce the fear of technology and build their self-esteem and problem-solving skills, which is a huge plus!
If your high school student doesn’t love school, you’re not alone. Whether he or she is overwhelmed by the pressures of what comes next or struggling to catch up or keep up with their peers, summer can be a great time to prevent summer brain drain and actively address any areas your teen has fallen behind. There may be foundational weaknesses that were missed by their teachers so far, that you can get to the root cause of this summer. We developed an online reading and language intervention program that focuses on the underlying issues (but look like games), to help students read better, understand more, and improve their focus.
Encourage them to have a little fun. High school can be stressful and summer is a great chance for high school students to take a step back and regroup. Let them focus on their passions. Encourage them to take an art class or join a sports league. Or you could take a family trip somewhere and work in some fun educational opportunities.
Summertime can and should be a chance for your child to relax and have fun, but it doesn’t have to lead to a backslide in his or her school performance! Your child can end the year strong and make solid gains into the summer with Fast ForWord, our home-based reading program for children who need a little extra support.