8 June 2009 05:37 PM

Summer Learning

by Dr. Rick

It’s summertime, and, as the song says, the livin’ is easy.  Summer vacation is an American tradition, as honored as apple pie, almost a sacred cow, not to be tampered with.  For us adults, it conjures up halcyon days of leisure, carefree, with plenty of time to let our imaginations and adventures roam.  I have my own memories of summers with neighborhood “shows” we’d put on, of hours of sitting in my grandparents’ grape arbor with Cousin Denny and stuffing ourselves, of endless games and play.  How sweet.  Could it really have been that idyllic?


Other adults have similar memories, according to websites I’ve seen recently and folks I’ve talked to.  Some people lament that today’s youngsters don’t have the same experiences, that we’ve “scheduled” them too much, that we expect too much from them, that they don’t have the freedoms just “to be kids” as we did.  Some people even belittle the idea that kids actually learn something during the summer, that the “brain drain” educators talk about is somehow false, misleading, or irrelevant.


As a teacher, I know summer brain drain is real.  Nothing’s more frustrating to a teacher – and students – than spending the first few weeks of a school year reviewing and re-teaching skills that students have forgotten to maintain during the summer.  There’s plenty of research to back it up – summer learning loss is real.  You can look it up.


So it surprises me when so many otherwise well-meaning American parents say to me that summers should be the equivalent of learning-free times for kids.  Forget about schedules and routines, let the little dears find their own happiness, indulge in what will somehow magically become future memories of summers gone by.  They’re “learning” all kinds of unspecified things.




Summer, of course, is a time for different schedules and routines, a time to be away from the formalities of school. But it’s a time for slowing down, not shutting down.  Summer’s no excuse to put kids’ brains on hiatus.  Summer’s for a different kind of learning.

  • The truth is that many kids could benefit greatly from a couple of hours a week reviewing math or reading or writing.  Just as any skills improve from a couple of hours a week practicing (think athletics or music or art or horseback riding or video game designing or, well, you get the idea), so will their academic skills improve from the same investment of time and effort.  Confidence rises, and the new school year suddenly seems that much less scary.

  • Many parents know this and make sure their kids’ summer time is a good balance of free discovery, play, leisure, and a realistic eye to the inevitable beginning of school in the fall.

  • They find it compatible with summer memory-making to have their kids read a book or two, maybe with the whole family, and then discussing it, acting out favorite scenes, or seeing the movie.

  • They find ways to write about summer – scrapbooks, family memories from grandparents, picture books, photo albums – that reinforce skills while still being fun.

  • They find ways to sneak math into days by having kids help with travel plans (What’s the most direct route? What’s the most economical motel?), or preparing for family events (What’s the best buy for hamburgers and charcoal?)

  • If their kids need extra help to catch up for next school year, they get that help, from tutors, from bored but smart high school kids who can offer help, from libraries, from online sites, from any number of other sources.

None of this detracts from summer fun, especially if it’s done with light-heartedness, an absence of pressure, and plenty of family quality time.  Going back to school with a sense of readiness, confidence, accomplishment, and happy memories will more than make up for any time lost idly watching reruns on TV or worse.


It’s never a good idea to let a day go by without leaning something.  That’s true the world over, any season.  Including summer in America.




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