Inactive Summers Could Mean Learning Loss

July 11, 2013

Do you notice that, over the summer, your kids lose a lot of what they learned during the school year? It's probably not your imagination. As a teacher, I watched each year as students slam-dunked notebooks into trashcans, happily turned in textbooks, and enthusiastically waved goodbye from open school bus windows as they left school for the summer. Some were more than excited to embark on a summer filled with video games, TV, and vacation. However, I could not help but notice that many students came back to school with a little less than they left with. This summer brain drain is a real phenomenon that was revealed through research conducted by Dr. Harris Cooper a Psychology professor at Duke. Dr. Cooper's research recently gained attention in 2010 when President Barack Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan suggested reorganizing the outdated vacation schedule to make the United States more efficient and globally competitive.

For many students, summer is a time of rest, reflection, and renewal, but could too much relaxation actually be a bad thing? Research shows that kids who do not participate in structured and stimulating summer activities lose out academically. So yes, not only is summer inactivity boring, it can also be extremely detrimental to prior learning. According to Cooper's research, after the summer months, test scores reflect, on average, one month's loss in knowledge, as compared to the previous spring. Revealing that, a break from all academics might do more harm than good.

Not all skills are affected. Areas most impacted are those that require repetition and practice, such as spelling and math computation. In fact, regardless of income level, students lose an average of more than two months of math skills over the summer. This may be because unlike reading, math is less likely to be naturally embedded in a child's environment. Consequently, over the summer, they may get very little math practice, causing a significant loss of math skills. Similar to how a musician or athlete must practice to maintain their skills, a student must sustain a certain level of practice to stay in tip top academic shape. However, Cooper's research shows that after three months of lost learning, reteaching must occur. This learning loss and subsequent reteaching time can add up to years of schooling lost by the time students reach high school.

However, there is a lot that parents can do to prevent summer learning loss. A research synthesis by Cooper et al. (2000) revealed that summer programs focusing on remedial, accelerated, or enriched learning have a positive impact on the knowledge and skills of participants. Parents can look for ways to maintain students' academic skills over the summer, especially those that involve facts and procedures like math and spelling. The most effective programs, according to Cooper's research, are those that are small and offer individualized instruction. There are a wide variety of programs like this available in the Fredericksburg area. Taking this small step may save you months of hassle and frustration at the beginning of the next school year.

-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.
Parrish Learning Zone, LLC 
@parrishlearning | | Like us on Facebook
(540) 999-8759

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