Secrets from the Classroom: Avoiding Summer Learning Loss

In June, elementary school children across North America cheered as they packed up their bags for the final time, and began a much awaited summer vacation. For many this two-month academic hiatus is cause for celebration. However, it can also be a factor in a long standing, yet little publicized, childhood affliction: Summer Learning Loss (SLL).

In 1996, in a synthesis of 39 separate studies, researchers found that the average student, returning to school in September has lost the equivalent of 1.0 to 2.6 months of previous learning-in effect, erasing this amount of learning from their mind. According to the report, the biggest losses occur in the areas of spelling and computational math (multiplication, addition, etc.).

The good news for both parents and students is that this "academic atrophy" can be reduced and even eliminated. While traditional workbooks and review methods work well, why not look for natural opportunities in your day for your children to grow as learners. Here are a few for your consideration:

Kids in the Kitchen. Cooking touches on so many academic skills for kids. The kitchen provides a fun hands-on environment to learn about fractions, measurement, multiplication, division, nutrition, hygiene, and artistic presentation of food. As well, reading cookbooks not only develops literacy skills but can entice reluctant readers to dive in. Get kids involved in measuring and doubling recipes. Learning never tasted so good!

Shopping. Clothes? Food? Tools? It doesn't matter. Younger children can count or add the number of items in your cart, while older ones can keep a running total of the cost. In the store or using fliers at your house, have your kids estimate the differences in prices. Which brands are better deals? Use a calculator, or do "mental math". Shopping in any store also is also a great time to practice handling money skills such as counting change.

Family Trips. Going on a vacation? Have your kids read brochures or go online to learn about things to see or do (reading). Using pen and paper or even a spreadsheet, give them a budget and see if they can plan meals, activities and lodgings for one of the days (math & problem solving). Designate one of your children the trip mapmaker (art, math) or map reader (math). Still others could be in charge of creating a family journal or scrapbook (writing, art). The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

Have a Family Games Night. Traditional board games give so many opportunities to reinforcing acedemic skills-reading cards, adding dice together, counting spaces, and using money. Games such as Scrabble, Spill & Spell, Scattergories, and Balderdash are not only fun but also strengthen reading skills.

Start with a Hobby. Use your child's current hobby or interest as a starting point. Sports abound with numbers and statistics. Track personal or family stats, or those of famous players. Pick up books or magazines from the library on a favourite topic. Consider a family field trip to a park or museum. He/she doesn't have a hobby? Pick a topic that interests both of you and learn something together.

Combating Summer Learning Loss doesn't have to be complicated or boring-all it takes is a focused effort to find the educational opportunities in what you are already doing. Not only will they be keeping their brains active, they will likely be having so much fun, they won't even know that they are learning!

Award-winning educator, author & parent coach, Rob Stringer is currently working on his first book, Parenting with Intention, and has launched a free monthly newsletter by the same name. Visit http://www.ParentingWithIntention.ca to subscribe, access resources, or learn more about PWI's parent coaching services.

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