Kristina Scott & Mark Halpert
Our current school calendar today is based on society’s needs in the 1800s. Schooling did not occur during the summer months in rural areas because children had agricultural responsibilities to tend to. While children in urban schools often did not attend school (though they could have) during the summer months because the conditions (the city heat and lack of air conditioning) were not looked upon favorably by wealthy and middle-class families. Our current school calendar was never created with student achievement as its mission—and these summer months without schooling can often lead to an academic plateau or academic regression.
When researchers study the effects of students taking the summer months ‘off’ from school, they usually discuss Cooper et. al’s (1996) study that found students at best plateau over the summer months (not gaining any academic skills), but at worst they lose one month of skills (or learning) that they gained during the school year. So, how do we combat these results? How do we have our children ready to learn at the beginning of the next school year?
Some of our students would qualify for extended school year services and this academic programming provided by the school would be working on the maintenance of skills learned throughout the school year. Other students, however, may not qualify for these services. To keep all of our students learning throughout the summer months, we should be looking for ways to embed learning into our summer routines. This could be as simple as scheduling family trips to the local library, reading during our beach vacations, using our math skills while shopping calculating change or discounts, calculating equivalencies while preparing recipes, or winding down each night as a family by either reading together or through playing games like Yahtzee, Blockus, or Monopoly.
To accompany all these embedded learning opportunities we can also have our child attend a summer camp. Some summer camps have learning components associated with them and this is another way to prevent this summer slump. Technology camps are abundant and these camps help prepare our student with the science, technology and math skills that they will need in tomorrow’s job market. Most of these camps not only support learning that occurred during the school year, but can also help students learn new skills they may not have been exposed to. Other organizations offer writing camps and camps that focus on the arts to keep our creative flow during the summer months. It’s important to use your child’s interest to find a summer academic camp that would be both engaging and fun for them!
If your child loves electronic devices, have them spend some time on apps that enhance their learning. One place to start is your child’s school; the school may have a publisher they use, which allows online access to learning material throughout the summer months and this would help maintain skills learned during the school year. Another simple search for educational apps related to a specific subject would also yield learning opportunities you could download and your child could access at their fingertips.
Although our current school calendar is based on the work schedule and needs of society over 200 years ago, we need to prepare our children for the expectations of society today. This means that there needs to be some sort of summer academic enrichment opportunities for our children! This engagement in learning throughout the summer should have our children ready to perform when school starts up again in the late summer/fall.
Cooper, H., Nye, B., Charlton, K., Lindsay, J., & Greathouse, S. (1996) The effects of summer vacation on achievement test scores: A narrative and meta-analytic review. Review of Educational Research, 66(3), 227-268.