Don't let summer break erode child's skills
Reading, camps can stimulate minds - By Chris Kenning
It's called the summer slide -- the vacation learning loss that forces teachers to spend weeks repeating lessons in the fall.
Students can lose as much as two months of math and reading performance over the summer's "brain drain," educators and experts say.
Research shows it especially hurts low-income or at-risk children who don't spend summers visiting museums, traveling, attending camps or working through well-stocked bookshelves at home.
"It's critical they do something educational during the summer," said Carol Miller, principal of McFerran Preparatory Academy, 1900 S. Seventh St. in Louisville.
Summer reading is particularly important, and it helps develop the habit of reading for pleasure while sharpening literacy skills. Jefferson County Public Schools is currently working to get all students reading on grade level by 2008.
"My boys like athletics, and we tell them they need to read during vacation or they can't play," said Herbert Houston of Louisville, who has two sons, 11-year-old Jeff and 6-year-old Jalen.
The Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins University and education advocacy groups suggest the following strategies for parents:
Visit the public library regularly and join library summer programs. The Louisville Free Public Library has a program that gives children who read 10 books by July 29 rewards, including a backpack, a Louisville Bats baseball ticket and more.
Practice math skills in everyday situations, such as using cooking to teach fractions, tracking weather or playing math-oriented board games. Buy number puzzle books.
Check out educational camps held by groups such as the YMCA, the Boys & Girls Club and schools. McFerran, for example, offers a summer program that mixes math and reading with recreational activities.
Visit parks and museums. Foster your child's hobbies. Limit time in front of television and video games.
Last week, McFerran librarian Joan Frazure read "Mr. Wiggles" and other books to more than 20 kindergartners, taking the opportunity to urge them to join a summer reading program.
"Raise your hand if you have been to the public library," she asked, after which about half the group's hands shot up. "They have a summer reading program. If you read 10 books, they give you cool stuff."
Dakota Emmett, 6, said she participated in the program last year.
"My cousin helps me read," she said. "It helps me because then I can read all kinds of books."
A Johns Hopkins study showed that summer learning helps fuel the academic achievement gap between affluent and low-income students.
That's partly because children's learning loss can build up over the years. Research indicates that children who read six books over the summer will maintain their skills, but those who read 10 to 20 will improve them.
Ursula Tarrence of Louisville, who works as a preschool teacher, said she requires her 9-year-old daughter to read many books over the summer.
"Things you don't use, you lose," she said.
Reporter Chris Kenning can be reached at (502) 582-4697.