Books, online learning key to battling ‘summer slide’

Page turner: Summer reading is a key component to keeping youngsters academically engaged during their long break.

Longer days, warmer weather and the approach of summer vacation excite students, but many educators and parents worry about the toll that long break from school can have on academic gains students worked hard to achieve.

Dubbed the “summer slide,” the time spent away from the classroom can be especially hard on students in lower socioeconomic areas that lack the same opportunities as their wealthier counterparts (access to private tutors, summer classes, specialty summer camps, educational trips with parents, etc.).

Students from rural school districts are also at a significant disadvantage due to limited educational and mentoring resources.

A break from school should not be a break from learning. Keeping children engaged throughout summer vacation is key to ensuring they’re ready to take on the challenges of a new grade level in the fall.

The need for summer stimulation is clear: Studies have shown that, on average, students lose more than two months of math skills, two months of reading skills and one month of overall learning while on summer break.

And when students return to school in the fall, teachers can spend up to two months getting them back on track and re-teaching old lessons.

Harry Aurora: Working vacation.

Summer reading is one of the most effective ways to combat the downward summer learning spiral. Summer reading programs have been proven as effective ways to raise test scores, and can have a particularly high impact on students in low-income areas.

One easy way to do this is to take advantage of the local library. The American Library Association publishes an annual summer reading list of appropriate titles for each grade level.

Samuel Fragomeni, head of school at Annunciation Orthodox School in Houston and the founder of the Harlem Village Academies school network in New York City, stresses that parents should “get books in front of your child as often as possible during the summer.”

Summer homework is another way to keep student minds stimulated. Though parents and educators may be concerned about burnout – a very real phenomenon in today’s work culture – some form of engagement is necessary to prevent a detrimental summer “brain drain.”

Opinions differ on how much summer homework is too much summer homework and the types of summer work that most effectively prepare students to return to the classroom in the fall.

On one end of the spectrum, about 4 percent of U.S. public schools have adopted a year-round academic schedule, eliminating one long break from learning and inserting a handful of smaller breaks throughout the year.

On the other, some educators argue that forcing students to complete summer assignments ultimately takes away from the benefits of unstructured time away from the classroom, when students can explore other types of learning.

Summer does afford students opportunities to engage in educational activities not available in traditional classroom settings. Visiting a cultural center or museum can reinforce classroom learning while still allowing students to feel relaxed. Many museums, parks and historical sites feature seasonal admission discounts, making this a particularly effective solution for students in low-income areas.

Parents should also encourage students to pursue educational hobbies that offer a different type of productive stimulation, like cooking.

Some students, however, may need a more targeted approach to summer learning to prepare them for the forthcoming school year. Online tutoring and educational programs can bridge the summer disconnect between school and student, and also particularly benefit rural students, for whom distance is a disadvantage.

Summer online tutoring programs provide a reduced workload and a good balance of studying and relaxation, allowing students to recharge while still keeping up with their studies. Since these programs can be tailored to a student’s schedule, they promote the best of both worlds.

Combating the summer slide takes involvement and buy-in from all parties – students, educators and parents, who should work together to do what’s best on a case-by-case basis. The key is to identify the needs of each specific student and to create a summer environment that best supports individualized learning.

Harry Aurora is the founder and CEO of Jericho-based digital-education innovator iTutor.