Five strategies to help combat summer learning loss

It’s been called the summer slide, summer learning loss or summer brain drain.

These are terms that describe how students can fall behind academically during long periods with no school-related tasks. As a result, many teachers are forced to start each new school year by going over material from the previous year.

An image of a girl reading at the beachAnalyzed and discussed extensively, the phenomenon is known to affect students of all backgrounds. But the National Summer Learning Association says summer learning loss tends to take the greatest toll on economically disadvantaged children, reinforcing achievement gaps that separate students by household income.

According to the association, low-income students with fewer learning opportunities over the summer lose the equivalent of two to three months of reading while their higher-income peers actually make modest gains.

These losses add up over time. Research indicates that by grade five, summer learning loss can leave children of low-income families up to three years behind their classmates. (Summer nutrition is also a big issue, and fortunately there are a number of free meal options in Orange County.)

While kids should benefit from a little rest and relaxation during the summer months, it’s also important to keep the academic momentum going. With that in mind, here are five ways to ensure young minds stay sharp from June through August:

Volunteer in the community. 

Volunteering offers opportunities for hands-on learning and skill-building while developing a sense of community. Consider taking part in a coastal clean-up activity with your child during a beach visit, or volunteer with an animal welfare organization. (And don’t forget to log volunteer hours as acts of kindness at kindness1billion.org.) You can find additional opportunities to get involved throughout Orange County at oneoc.org.

Discover hobbies or interests.

Begin by having a conversation with your children about the subjects and activities that interest them. An extended break from school allows parents and children the freedom to explore topics they may not have had time for during the school year. From making videos to planting a garden, hands-on learning opportunities abound.

Use technology to reinforce skills in reading, math and writing.

There’s no shortage of educational websites and apps that can benefit a student’s literacy, numeracy and creativity. Sites like Khan Academy, which last year partnered with OCDE and other county offices of education, provide engaging lessons along with an effective SAT practice program for high school students thinking about college. Or help your child start a blog, which is a great way to pair technology with writing. Computers are free to use at most libraries if one isn’t available at home. Speaking of which …

Visit your local library.

We all know reading builds comprehension and vocabulary skills, and the library offers plenty of sources to dive in and learn more about those hobbies and interests we mentioned earlier. Seriously, libraries literally have something for everyone. Along with thousands of books and magazines, you’ll find computers, graphic novels, audio recordings — and let’s not underestimate the allure of free air-conditioning and lunches at select locations.

Enroll in an educational summer program.

Cities often offer low- or no-cost summer camps and lessons that include everything from sports and the arts to coding and robotics. Check your city’s parks and recreation website for recommendations.

Looking for more ideas? The Orange County Department of Education also has resources for fun literacy activities, and the PBS Parents website has some good ideas as well.