Helping youngsters gain, rather than give ground over the summer

Jul 19, 2011 by

Joe Nathan – Educators throughout Minnesota offered several suggestions last week for families to help overcome “summer learning loss.” Sometimes families forget that young people can lose between two and five months over the summer in key areas of reading and math, unless families step in. Youngsters can have plenty of fun, and still gain, rather than give ground over the summer.

Little Falls Superintendent Curt Tryggestad recommends, “Don’t over-structure the summer. Kids need that time to recharge. Parents need to make sure their children have lots of down time over the summer. This helps make the start of school more exciting in the fall.
Read to your child. Have your child read to you. Just read.

Identify areas that were difficult for your child and use the summer as a time to catch-up.
Try to incorporate learning into real-world situations.

A little counting doesn’t hurt. For elementary students, math facts are easy to embed in their brains over the summer. Adding, multiplying, whatever the level – find a way to make a game out of it and use that time in the car to get in a little practice.

Help your child learn about what interests them. A child who thinks mountains are cool might like to check out some books on the Rockies or Himalayas from the library. During the school year, kids don’t have much choice on the subjects they study. Summer is the perfect time for learning to happen on their terms. Ask your child what he or she is curious about. You may be surprised at the answer.

Do your best to limit your child’s time spent in sedentary activities such as watching TV, using the computer, and playing video games. Encourage him or her to spend time exploring or playing outside.”

Bruce Novak, Cambridge/Isanti Superintended wrote, “The most easily accessible and relatively low or no cost is the local public library reading programs. I believe they range from pre-school to middle school (I am not sure about high school age). Summer camps are great – science and math camps, language camps, etc. (The downside is they have a hefty price tag associated with them). Any time parents or grandparents can do hands on day trip experiences with their children it is great – for many different reasons, inter-generational opportunity – but also the cultural development opportunity – Science Museum, Conservatory, Art Museums, Zoo, etc. Sometimes just camping and hiking and learning about birds, plants, reptiles and other mammals are important.”

Daniel DeBruyn, Administrator of PACT Charter in Ramsey, wrote, “Summer should be a fun time for students to get outside and spend time with their family and friends. It is also important for parents to schedule in some time to help their child(ren) retain their skills and knowledge to ensure that they are well-prepared to enter the next grade level in the fall. Parents can read to their kids or as a family. Kids can set personal reading goals for the summer as well. The local libraries also have many free programs for kids during the summer to inspire reading. Students can write journals of summer trips, camp, etc. Utilizing current technology can also allow kids to incorporate pictures and video and make amazing electronic creations out of their life stories. Students can continue using their math skills at every turn. Old fashioned flash cards are still a good tool, but there are hundreds of educational and fun games available online as well.”

James Steckart, Director of Northwest Passage (Charter) High School in Coon Rapids, believes, “We encourage all of our students to read over the summer time. In that vein we help students develop reading lists and summer projects. Because we use Project Foundry,, our staff is able to continue the learning conversation with our student during break.”

Steve Massey, Forest Lake High School Principal believes, “The summer, for students, is filled with work, play, and relaxation… We encourage all high school students to read a minimum of three books in the summer.”

James Stewart, a Macalester professor, suggests that “families and students work together to identify a person, living or dead, in which the student has compelling interest– sports figure, musician, military figure, politician, artist, whatever. The idea would be the student to become that person’s first hand “explainer’, in other words, a biographer— to read, take notes etc, yes, but also to write about specific points of interest and illumination about the chosen person and even to prepare oral presentations, an exhibit, etc.

Marcia Welch, principal at Vandenberg Middle School in Elk River wrote, “Let your children choose the books, magazines they want to read and read it along with them. Check out two copies of the same book and discuss it at the dinner table. Have your child become a pen pal to a friend at school. Buy postcards, pens, etc and have your child start writing to a friend at school through the mail versus the internet.

Welch wisely concludes, “The key is consistent reading, writing and speaking throughout the summer with the adults that matter in a young person’s life.”

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