We all feel it, the summer lassitude that settles in sometime in June and doesn’t lift until trees start losing their leaves. Autumnal shedding reminds us that time is passing and we have to hustle in order to catch up.
For kids, the casual days of summer present an opportunity for adventure–and the risk of diminished academic skills.This is especially true for lower income children.
In general, children lose about 2 months (according to standardized tests) in math performance and about the same in reading over the summer months. The result, however, is not consistent across income levels. Children from middle and upper income homes do not on average experience this decline in reading scores. On the contrary, in many cases there is actually a bump in those scores. In seeking a reason for the disparity between middle and lower class outcomes, one study suggests that the answer lies in access to books.
This study is described in an article published by The Institute for Educational Sciences (a US government organization). According to the study: “…family socioeconomic status has been linked to the access children have to books in their homes and neighborhoods”. In order to reach this conclusion researchers divided a cohort of lower income students into two groups. In one group, students were allowed to self-select books for summer reading. The second group served as control; these students were not given access to books.
The results, as interpreted by the study’s sponsors, showed that access to books had a “significant effect”. The effect was more pronounced in students from the lowest income group.
Of course, this is one study; its conclusions may be accepted or rejected. However, most people will probably not be surprised by the authors’ analysis. It’s pretty much accepted by parents and educators that the more kids read the better their skills are likely to be. Increased access to books, particularly ‘self-selected’ books, certainly increases the chance that reading will take place.
While most parents may be in agreement with the basic principle that more reading makes better readers, encouraging a reading regime in the lazy summer months can be a challenge. What the study and others like it show is that rising to this challenge is worth the effort.
Kids take the summer off; parents can’t. Parents don’t get a vacation from their job, not until a child is grown and parental responsibility has been fulfilled.
The American Library Association claims that 95% of all public libraries have a summer reading program for kids. Interested parents can check local libraries to see if one of these programs is near them.
Besides engaging in a reading program, parents may find that summer is a good time to offer so-called ‘enrichment’ material that the crowded school curriculum increasingly neglects. The flexible summer months may be seen as an occasion to round out a child’s academic experience with informal exposure to ideas and subjects that otherwise might not be covered.
A summer break from school need not be paid for with a ‘setback’ in skills. Children learn in many ways. What they learn–academically, socially or culturally–depends largely on environment. With access to the right environment, including books, children may not only maintain skills but may experience a ‘bounce’–in academic skills and in their general store of knowledge.
In that case, when summer’s done and leaves turn orange, time’s passage may be regarded not with regret but with anticipation.
Books to consider: What is Radioactivity?; The Modern British Empire; Marie Curie; Jonas Salk; Rabindranath Tagore; Florence Nightingale and The Artist Inside