Summer is finally here! I can remember sitting in my desk in school looking out the window wondering when I would be allowed to throw off the shackles of homeroom and homework, and frolic into the days that I’d fondly recall later in my life. As a child, summer was magical. It was the time felt I should be able to do as I pleased and if I had my way, it would have been filled with video games, basketball, and television. Thankfully, my mother had a different plan for me. Each summer, I was carted off to spend my time in structured activities ranging from sports camps to summer reading challenges. It was only many years later that I learned my mother’s parenting was ahead of the curve in stopping “summer setback.”
For more than two decades, educational researchers have noticed a pattern: during the summer, Black and poor children tend to have their academic growth stunted and in many cases have their educational achievement rolled back. While all kids fall back some in learning during the summer months, poor and Black kids are particularly susceptible to greater fall offs in achievement. This is known as "summer setback" or summer learning loss. Summer learning loss is most often tied to a family’s socioeconomic status (particularly things like income and wealth) and what activities their children do during the summer months.
On average, White and affluent families are more likely to enroll their children in structured activities like summer camps and travel to social and educational venues like museums; whereas Black and poor families tend to have less structured summer activities for children with fewer educationally related offerings. If we want to make sure our children do as well as they can in school, we’ve got to make sure what they do outside of school during the summer months feeds into their social and academic development.
Researchers have found that during the summer months poor children on average lose up to two months of reading achievement. However, this does not have to be the case. Multiple studies have found that providing children books during the summer months and encouraging reading can help combat summer learning loss. While not every family will have the means to purchase books for their children during summer months, making sure their child’s library card is current is a great strategy. Exploring your local library's summer program offerings can provide information on a safe space that will help with academic development; checking online for program offerings is also a smart move.
It has also been found that mathematics takes a hit in the summer for many of our children. While gaining access to direct math programming is a greater challenge than reading, there are still things that can be done around the home and in the local community to encourage problem solving and engagement. I can remember the summer that my father made me begin to calculate the amount of change he would receive from a purchase. While at first this was very arduous, likely for the both of us, I can now see how that small exercise kept me on my computational toes. Whether counting change or establishing and maintaining a budget, there are many everyday math skills that can be continued in the summer months with little effort, but for significant returns.
While every family may not have the means to send their child to expensive science camps or travel across the country, they all have a chance to make their child’s summer as rewarding as possible. Making sure that children have a some structured activities, set some learning goals, and taking some trips to educationally and culturally enriching venues are keys to successful summers that will help them during the school year.
Dr. R. L'Heureux Lewis-McCoy is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Black Studies at the City College of New York. His work concentrates on race, education and gender. You can follow him on Twitter at @dumilewis or visit his official website