For me at least, last week was Spring break! Freedom from the stress of midterms and busy schedules. A week to vacation near or far, a chance to finally just relax. Spring break allows the student to forget school for just a week (although more and more students both in high school and college complain of having a lot of work to do over spring break). Retention is one of the most important goals in education, but this does not seem feasible if the student forgets everything they had spent weeks learning because of a break!
In my own experience, I struggle more with my classes fall semester, because I have allowed myself to get out of the practice of studying. During winter, spring, and summer breaks I often read novels for fun, but I dare not pick up a textbook. Breaks allow me to shove aside either a year or a semester’s worth of memorization and replace facts with thoughts of new adventures. This sparked the idea that this is probably a very challenging situation when teaching children to read. If a child goes all summer without practicing their reading and writing ability, how do they maintain a similar reading and writing level to where they were during the school year? How do they maintain a similar level to that of their peers?
“Summer learning loss” is a real problem, especially for low SES households who may not have the opportunity to engage in summer learning programs or take part in daycares facilities that encourage math, reading, or writing practice. Websites that recommend extended education at home suggest that parents or tutors should be sure to stay within the schools guidelines for reading and writing, and follow a curriculum similar to what the child is learning in school. However, the children that receive extra at-home education during breaks, are children whose parents can afford to spend the extra time with their child to ensure they receive the best education. Many children are not lucky enough come home to an environment with supplemental learning materials. This is a very complicated situation, and leads to inconsistency between students that can affect the course of their entire educational career.
What can we do to close the education gap you may ask? In the western world where most households have internet access of some kind, there is a free website called educationcity.com that is designed to prevent summer learning loss. If that is not an option, then perhaps the local library can be of service for materials that parents can check out for their children, things such as activity books with reading and writing exercises can be completed by the child while they are on a break from school. With only minimal effort, that teachers could suggest to the parents, small changes could be made that can significantly impact retention and learning over these learning-loss breaks away from the classroom. Although it is tempting to go on vacation or allow the child to have a break from the routine of school, taking 15 to 30 minutes out of the day to practice reading and writing skills, to remind the child of what they learned in school, could be immensely helpful in forming a solid foundation that the school alone cannot provide.
I wish it was as easy as the options could be or materials that could be made available but money and time stand in the way as an impermeable force. One of the biggest challenges to the educational system as a whole is money, time, and choosing what is worth spending time and resources on. The Politics of Reading course here at UNC Chapel Hill is helping me understand where educational policies come from, but the heart of the matter is finding out how to get involved for myself in these policy decisions. I have not quite figured that out yet, but before summer break where I will face my own battle with summer-learning-loss, I am certain that I will figure something out. What do you all suggest as methods to prevent “summer learning-loss” or what options are there to close the education gap between low, medium, and high SES households? How can educational policy makers encourage learning for children with parents who don’t have the ability to take part in their child’s educational lives?