We all need a break once in a while. No one can argue with that. However, the long summer break can be challenging for low-income families with regards to child care and food security, as discussed in a previous post. Another downside to long summer breaks is the well-documented learning loss that occurs when children are not engaged in educational activities for long periods of time.
The good news is that this “Summer Slide” is not inevitable. By taking part in special activities, kids can have a fun and educational summer. Researchers have found one reason for the achievement gap between low- and middle-class students is a lack of access to quality summer enrichment programs among lower-income families.
Summer learning loss is cumulative, building over time so that many kids from low-income families fall further behind their peers year after year. According to the National Summer Learning Association, most students lose two months of grade level equivalency in math during the summer break.
Studies also show that while students from middle-income families make slight gains in reading skills over the break, students from low-income households lose more than two months of reading achievement. While a number of districts have turned to year-round schedules or extended school years to combat summer learning loss and meet the child care needs of working families, summer programs offer a slightly less expensive way to target educational enrichment courses to high-risk students.
According to a 2011 Wallace Foundation report, Making Summer Count, school districts running their own summer programs spent less per-week, per-student than during the normal academic year. In some cases, the cost of summer activities was less than two-thirds the cost of programs offered during the regular school year. Yet, even at this reduced cost, many schools are dropping summer programs in order to balance their budgets due to recent funding cuts. (See: Pittsburgh Post Gazette for an example of schools cutting programs due to budget concerns, and The Wichita Eagle on how additional funding sources made summer programs possible).
Cutting these optional summer programs seems like a sound fiscal policy when funds are tight, but it does come at a cost. A key finding of the Wallace Foundation report is that students who attended summer programs had better educational outcomes than their peers who did not attend similar programs. Many students who did not attend a summer program not only fell into what some educators call the “summer slump” but they also missed the chance to master subjects they struggled with during the school year.
While finding a free or affordable full-time summer program may not be possible for all families, the good news is that there are some alternatives. Making Summer Count evaluated voluntary summer programs, mandatory summer programs and programs that encouraged kids to read at home. They found all three can have positive effects and help prevent summer learning loss.
There are also online programs designed to help parents keep their children’s math skills sharp during the summer break. Below I’ve listed several resources related to programs and ideas that address students’ summer learning loss. (Also, be sure to follow the “Summer Learning Day” discussion on Twitter this Friday, June 21st using the #SLD2013 or #SummerLearning hashtags.) Tulsa Area
- The Tulsa City-County Library has an extensive Summer Reading Program. In addition to hundreds of events occurring at various library locations, families can pick up a reading log at any library. If kids visit the library four times this summer and read at least 8 books, they can earn a medal and book of coupons good for food and entertainment, which includes discounts for sporting events and museums. (In 2013, Prizes were awarded June 17th to August 3rd, see the Tulsa City-County Library’s Children’s Summer Reading Program Event Guide for more information. For 2014, sign-ups begin May 27th.)
- The Oklahoma State Department of Education has provided a link to a Summer Math Challenge designed for students who have completed Grade 2 through 5. It is a free, six-week, email based program incorporating both state and Common Core standards. The e-mails begin June 24th and end August 2nd. Parents can print out an award certificate at the end of the summer when their child completes the math challenge.
- PBS has a list of free resources to help families keep their kids learning all summer long.
- A recent Edutopia blog post also provides ideas and projects to keep children engaged in learning over the summer.