Studies show that this brain drain can result in as much as a few months’ worth of learning lost over the summer. The achievement gap widens in the fall as students struggle to “relearn” what they knew the spring prior.
"Typically, teachers spend the first week to the first two months of the school year trying to bring student knowledge up to a specific level in order to advance their learning," says Debra Hill, associate professor in the College of Education at Argosy University, Chicago and immediate past president of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. "This is found most commonly in math, where review can last through the first full semester in some grade levels."
So when all your kids want is down time, how do you keep their minds tuned up?
While proactive summer learning can certainly improve a child's retention rate, the way that they learn in the summer may be different from how they learn while in the classroom. "Learning is an ongoing, lifelong activity," says Hill. "A mental break for your kids in the summer should occur not based on learning, but based on the activities students engage in related to learning. Summer should be about more reading for fun, exploration, communication and application of what they have learned.
"Since students do not often practice by doing or by teaching others, it would follow that the application of what they have learned in school through hands-on activities in the summer will assist in retention in the fall," says Hill. "Hands-on experiences, conversations and physical activity will help kids continue to be mentally active." Providing students with opportunities to participate in activities they consider fun will not lessen the learning.
"The more you can keep your students accessing previously learned knowledge in a new and practical way, the more it is likely to get implanted and permanently ingrained in their brains," says Kevin Yeoman, an instructor in the Game Art & Design program at The Art Institute of Fort Worth.
Family meals, trips to the store, collecting shells on the beach, heading to sports camp and almost any other activity can have a learning component if parents engage in conversation with their kids about the activity. "Learning a new skill, or about a new place, or a different way of doing something, or meeting new people are ways of studying. There will not be a test, yet the new information contributes to the overall mental growth of the individual," says Hill.
"Keep your students actively engaged in the world," says Yeoman. "The more they can apply their book knowledge to new experiences and activities they enjoy, the more learning will take place.
"You don't want to create a resistance to learning by forcing your child into the same types of activities they do during the year," says Yeoman. "Instead, take the lessons they've learned in school and apply them to everyday situations. Whether it's having your child map out the route to the grocery store or use basic geometry to create a sandcastle, you're providing them the opportunity to apply their book knowledge in a new way."
And that can even hold true with video games. "There are excellent technology tools such as video games and online projects that are educational and engaging," says Hill. "The key is balance and not encouraging kids to focus most of their time on their electronic toys.
"Ask kids what they like and want to do," suggests Hill. "As an adult, examine what learning can take place when your child gets to select the activities they participate in. Talk to your kids, ask questions, provide problems to be solved, give them opportunities to explore and model what it's like to be a life-long learner."