School summer holidays stir up a chaotic concoction of activity and emotion; the seemingly endless days, the boundless energy, the eye-popping costs, the pulling out of hair (parents!), the unmeasured pleasure of spending time with your children, the whines of ‘I’m bored’, the late nights, the house filled with an often delightful, often headache inducing, noise.
The summer stint is long. Too long, some would suggest, with recent talks looking at reducing the traditional 6-week school holiday. But just what does a long period off from a learning environment mean for our children?
Summer Switch Off
In anticipation of the summer holidays beginning children can lose their spark for learning days before they run out of the school gates. We know as adults how our brains can switch off and we find ourselves in a daydream state when a holiday is nearing. Our ‘brain holiday’ has begun. We are in switch off mode, we resist new tasks and adopt a ‘sorry I can’t do that as I have a holiday coming up’ attitude. As humans we want to protect the period we have to relax and quite simply, we relax by not thinking! This is fine for 1 – 2 weeks… but for 6 weeks or more, children can experience summer learning loss.
What Is Summer Learning loss?
Coined the ‘summer slide’, it is quite simply a prolonged lack of educational activity, which children can experience through the summer. This can have negative effects when returning to school and cause children to underachieve.
Some believe children can regress by a few months in the summer due to this:
“The loss in learning varies across grade level, subject matter, and family income. A common finding across numerous studies is that on average, students score lower on standardized tests at the end of the summer than they do at the beginning of summer (on the same test). Summer loss for all students is estimated to be equal to about 1 month.” (Cooper 1996)
This was also found to vary in subject matter with Mathematics being over 2.5 months regression and reading up to 2 months.
This means on their return their razor sharp brains have become rusty! Time is then taken to re-teach and re-train their brains, much like an athlete would if they took a break from training. And shockingly, summer learning loss is also cumulative, which means every year children can fall further and further behind.
What can we do to prevent this?
Encourage learning during the holidays! This doesn’t need to be in a ‘classroom style’ way, we are not asking parents to take on the role of a teacher. It is about engaging children in discussion, ensuring some of their time is spent effectively, thinking and considering, planning outings where they can learn a fact or two, giving them opportunities for their brains to stay active once or twice a day, consistently, during the holidays.