Pop quiz: What's the most critical time of the year for American students?
If you guessed back-to-school season or final exams week, you'd be wrong. Believe it or not, summer vacation has an enormous impact on everything from mathematics to reading development for young learners.
Just a couple months of away from the classroom can result in significant learning losses for students. For over 100 years, researchers have found standardized test results are dramatically lower immediately following summer break than they are before school lets out. And when students lose ground early in their education, it can have a dramatic effect on their long-term prospects.
That's the bad news. The good news is there's a lot parents and caring adults can do to ensure summer vacation doesn't bring an education slump. Here are five easy ways you can help prevent the "summer slide."
1. Look for books that correspond to your child's interests.
Choosing the right reading material is also a crucial part of getting kids to read during the summer. Is your son obsessed with dinosaurs? Does your daughter love mysteries? Find books that feed these curiosities. And familiarize yourself with what your kids will be learning in the fall and make a point of discussing those topics throughout the summer. Whether it's long division or American history, offering students a preview of the coming school year will ensure they're prepared.
2. Incorporate reading into your child's summertime routine.
As any parent can tell you, summer is often the most difficult time of year to find constructive projects for kids. On a hot summer day, try stopping by the local library to see what programs and activities are available. Or bring a bag of books along next time you take a trip to the park.
3. Find new ways of making learning fun.
Technology can play a big part in making learning fun. E-readers, tablets, and smart phones allow young learners to enjoy digital books. Introducing an exciting piece of technology can go a long way toward holding a child's interest.
Also, be on the lookout for opportunities to introduce math into your child's everyday life. This can be as simple as measuring household items, teaching how to tell time, noting the temperature every day, or adding up prices at the supermarket.
4. Tap into local resources to enhance your child's reading opportunities.
Check with local schools, community centers, and universities to find summer learning programs that will keep your child engaged over the long break. When planning a vacation, try heading to a place that offers educational opportunities. Historic sites, museums, national parks, and zoos all provide young learners with chances to enrich themselves in fun ways.
5. Finally, consider volunteering to help students outside your immediate family fall in love with reading.
Many parents are well aware of the value of continued summer education, but they just don't have the time or resources to provide one for their own kids. Helping them out can make a profound difference. Even small acts, like reading with a nephew, tutoring at a summer school, or volunteering at a local library, can generate major educational returns and help ensure that the students in your life don't suffer the summer slide.
The "summer slide" can have a devastating effect on student achievement. Luckily, it's a problem that parents and caring adults, can do something about. Taking steps to ensure that your child is intellectually stimulated all year round can bring benefits that will last a lifetime.
Laysha Ward is president of Community Relations for Target.