Summer learning loss is not a new or complicated phenomenon. After students spend most of the year cooped up in classrooms and studying for tests, most of them are ready for a break when May and June come along. But this drop-off in learning can hurt students.
"Students lose ground academically over the summer. They forget some of the skills and content if they're not practicing those skills," says Jennifer Peck, executive director of the nonprofit Partnership for Children and Youth, which is spearheading the California-based Summer Matters campaign.
In high school especially, students need to be sharp year-round for difficult class assignments, SATs, graduation tests, and college applications. After summer break, high school students must be able to quickly transition back into a full academic schedule.
[Read how seniors can use the summer before college wisely.]
Parents can help prevent their teens' summer learning loss by following these tips from Peck.
1. Talk to your child's teacher: Use these last weeks of school to get summer learning suggestions from your child's teacher, Peck suggests. With younger students, parents can often handle teaching basic skills themselves, but as teens delve into more difficult classes such as calculus and AP English, Peck says parents should turn to teachers.
"This is a place where parents can be really proactive," Peck notes. "Go to the teacher and say, 'What do you suggest my student be doing over the summer? Are there online resources that you can recommend, or are there free or affordable activities … that my student can engage in over the summer?'"
2. Help your teen find a job: "I can't think of a single work experience that doesn't involve reading or writing comprehension," Peck acknowledges, citing office and administrative positions, specifically. Parents and their high school students should be open to internships and volunteer opportunities, too.
"While we know that paid job experiences are not always available," she says, "If it's possible for a family to have their young person engaged in an unpaid work experience over the summer, that could be extraordinarily valuable in keeping their skills sharp."
[Learn how parents can help their teens find summer jobs.]
Parents and teens should look for opportunities with parks and recreation departments, schools, local businesses, and city governments, which often have summer job programs, Peck says. Working at a summer camp can also be a valuable learning opportunity, Peck notes, because teens are taking responsibility for younger children and often teaching a skill.
3. Choose fun learning activities: Summer learning doesn't mean teens should be hunched over textbooks at the library for three months, Peck says. And even if that was the goal, parental control varies as teens become more independent. Parents can most effectively engage their teens in summer learning by choosing fun activities.
"Doing something that's fun and engaging over the summer is just about the No. 1 thing that a young person would respond to," Peck notes.
She says parents should work with their teens to find learning opportunities that relate to their interests. If the teen likes children and sports, for example, he or she could become a camp counselor or even a coach—fun jobs that build skills in communication and organization.
"Summer is a great way to reinforce learning and to build skills in an environment that's really different than school," Peck says, "through opportunities that are more fun and more relevant to young people."
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