Summer Vacation Is Nice, but Is It Worth the Loss?
May 30 2012
By Karen Hopper, Policy Fellow, Office of Research, Advocacy, and Legislation, NCLR
Memorial Day has come and gone and the unofficial start of summer is upon us. With the last day of school not far behind, students everywhere are dreaming of warm weather, fun summer activities, and—let’s not forget—no school.
When Americans first began formal schooling for their children, school calendars were designed to fit the needs of each community. Agricultural communities gave students time off in the spring and fall to help with planting and harvesting, while urban schools operated on an 11- or 12-month calendar. The nine-month calendar we know today emerged when there was a need to standardize schooling nationwide; 85% of Americans were working in agriculture, and climate control in school buildings was limited—factors which made it unbearable and impractical to have children in school during the hottest and busiest months of the year.
But what about today? Only 3% of Americans work in agriculture, and air conditioning comes standard—so shouldn’t we keep kids in school longer to maximize their learning potential as they grow?
The more I think about it, the more summer breaks don’t make sense. Long vacations lead to students forgetting what they have learned in school. In fact, research shows that children forget up to two months of grade-level material over the summer. Unstructured time for children can also be bad for their health; crime, obesity, drug use, and risky sexual behavior skyrocket over the summer months when supervision is at a minimum.
Long summer breaks have a greater negative effect on students who are from low-income families or who are English language learners (ELLs). Researchers find that middle-income students are able to access educational opportunities such as summer camps and travel, and their parents stay engaged in keeping their skills up over the summer. We all know about the achievement gap between affluent White students and minority and low-income students, but did you know that by ninth grade, two-thirds of that gap can be attributed to unequal learning opportunities during summer months in the elementary school years?
When kids go back to school in the fall, teachers must spend a significant amount of time reviewing material from the previous year before moving on to new material, and students struggle to get back into the rhythm of classroom learning and proper school behavior.
Schools and communities should be maximizing time, especially out-of-school time, to give students opportunities to keep learning. We can’t expect to close the achievement gap between Latino students and their White peers unless struggling children are given ample resources to learn, and we certainly can’t expect it to close while allowing learning to lapse during the summer.
This summer, make it a priority to keep your children engaged in learning—even if you don’t have access to traditional summer camp, summer school, or community-based programs. There are hundreds of free resources out there, and many are available in English and Spanish! Here are a few to get you started:
Earn a free book from Barnes and Noble by reading: www.barnesandnoble.com/u/summer-reading/379003570
Log your reading minutes to earn prizes! www.scholastic.com/summer
Recommended reading by grade level, from Just Read, Florida!: www.justreadfamilies.org/SummerReadingList.pdf
Find a library near you: summer reading programs are fun and often come with great rewards!
Math challenges, also in Spanish: www.figurethis.org/index.html
Keep skills sharp at any level: www.bbc.co.uk/schools/websites/4_11/site/numeracy.shtml
Many more math resources here: http://tutoring.sylvanlearning.com/newsletter/0704/math.cfm
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