We all love vacations. That break from the daily routine helps us relax and recharge, but we notice that even a three-day weekend comes with consequences. That first day back at work is usually lost to getting back in the groove. After a week off, it takes a couple of days to regain that work rhythm. After a two- week vacation, who knows?
It's the same with your children and summer vacation. Education experts differ about the severity, but everyone agrees that there's a noticeable loss in math and reading skills during the summer and kids forget much of what they learned the previous school year. And it's all because they've fallen out of practice.
They say there's no off-season in professional sports, and it's much the same with kids. Teachers will tell you they spend as much as the first two months of a new school year helping students relearn what they've forgotten from the previous year. Researchers have even given it a name: "Summer Learning Loss."
How do we stop Summer Learning Loss without carrying around the guilt of being the parent who won't let our kids enjoy their vacation? The answer is to make it enjoyable. No child will complain about learning something as long as he or she is having fun doing it.
Here are some suggestions on ways to effectively fight Summer Learning Loss:
Ask the teacher. Talk to your child's teacher before summer vacation begins. He or she can provide valuable insight into possible academic weaknesses. Summer isn't just a time to maintain academic skills; it's also a perfect time to address learning deficiencies.
Visit the library. Every educational study shows that maintaining reading skill is the single most important thing you can do to stop Summer Learning Loss. Find out what interests your kids and help them find books on those subjects.
Take field trips. Expand your child's horizon by going to museums and historical sites. Even trips to the Post Office and the supermarket can be learning opportunities.
Encourage writing. Most children hate to write – not because they lack ability, but because they lack confidence – and the best way to overcome that reluctance is through regular writing. It doesn't have to have perfect grammar; the goal is getting kids used to the writing process and helping them find their "voice."
Stay on a schedule. Staying up too late and then sleeping in has sabotaged many a summer. It's okay to let your child have some time to recuperate when vacation starts, but far too many parents let an irregular schedule continue all summer. A lack of routine quickly leads to idleness and, with it, Summer Learning Loss.
Math matters. Find ways to make math a part of your child's day. Having them help with cooking (measuring ingredients is a great way to work with fractions), or shopping (perfect for learning addition and subtraction), or watching a baseball game (keeping score, figuring batting averages) are all fun ways to keep math skills sharp.
Summer enrichment. Watch for information on summer workshops and camps. Most of these only last a few days, but they give children a chance to expand their horizons through art, science or special interests.
There's an app for that. Most kids spend a lot of time online – either on a laptop or a smartphone. Rather than letting it be "lost time," find phone apps and educational websites that stimulate learning.
Child's play. Don't discount "busy work." Most dollar stores have inexpensive activity books and games. Your kids may think they're just playing, but matching games, dot-to-dot puzzles and even coloring sheets stimulate thinking skills or eye-hand coordination.
Finally, keep your kids active. Researchers have discovered that fitness and learning go hand-in-hand. Whether it's playing in a summer league or just playing in the park, it's better than being a couch potato. •
Keith Mitchell is the Director of Communications and Public Information at Lawton Public Schools. He is a nationally award-winning education writer. He and his wife have three sons.